Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier; the most intensely smoked of all the Rauchbiers produced in the Franconian town of Bamberg. I went on to promise that I would describe my first visit to this charming, Baroque city, and how I got to enjoy a few glasses of Schlenkerla Rauchbier in the world famous Schlenkerla Tavern.
The opportunity to visit Bamberg came in late November 2007, when I spotted an ad in one of the local free newspapers. It referred to a coach trip to a couple of German Christmas Markets, the main one of which was Nuremberg. A morning visit to the Christmas Market in Bamberg was also mentioned, and that was what really grabbed my attention.
I was definitely interested, so went ahead and booked my place - I think it was by phone, rather than online, but that's somewhat immaterial. As is often the case with these sorts of coach trips, the company offered an overnight stay, followed by an early morning pick-up from a hotel, en route. In this case it was a Holiday Inn, just outside Ashford, so it was from there at 4.30 in the morning, that we set off, bound for northern Bavaria.
I wasn't so impressed with the rest of the journey, especially after becoming stuck in heavy traffic on the section of the Autobahn around Frankfurt airport. The journey back by coach from former Czechoslovakia, touched on in my previous post, was extremely tiring, and I vowed at the time that I wouldn't undertake such a lengthy coach trip again. But here I was, sat on coach again, willing the traffic to ease so that our driver could put his foot down and speed us towards our destination.
I was up early the next morning for breakfast, having been woken by the bells from the nearby church clock. I wasn't the first down though, that honour went to the Yorkshire contingent, who made up a sizeable portion of the party. Having eaten their breakfast, they were busy making up rolls to eat "on t' bus." No comment!
I ended up slightly lost, finding myself at the cathedral instead, so I made my way back down towards the river, bumping into a couple of Schlenkerla brewery workers along the way. They pointed me in the right direction and before long, I found myself passing through the doorway of the world famous old pub, which is the home of Schlenkerla beer.
Almost coal-black in colour, and topped with a thick foamy head, this was my first experience of Schlenkerla Rauchbier, and it did not disappoint. The gravity dispense method meant there was no extraneous gas present; the result being a rich smooth beer with an intense smokiness, both in the aroma and in the taste, underlying the whole thing. In short it was delicious.
I sat there savouring my beer whilst soaking up the atmosphere of the centuries old pub, feeling a deep-seated sense of contentment and relishing the thought that I had finally made it to Schlenkerla. My idyll was soon shattered when three, well-dressed, middle-aged women came bursting in through the door and started making themselves at home,
There was a visible look of relief about him as he introduced himself and sat down. It turned out he was from Coburg, a town in the far north of Bavaria. He was quite a regular visitor to Bamberg, and was in the city on business that day. Stopping off at the old tavern, for a glass or two of famous beer was a regular feature of his visits, although i don't think he'd encountered the three weird sisters of Bamberg before.
Time was ticking on, and the coach was due to depart at 1pm. I had time for one last beer, going this time for a glass of the stronger, seasonal Bockbier. It was basically a stronger version of the standard Märzen Bier, and whilst it was good, I still preferred the normal, everyday beer.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, along with a carry-out case of six bottles. This stash would see me through Christmas that year!
With my arms practically dropping off, I made it back to the coach on time. Most of my fellow travellers had visited the Christmas Market, so I think they were quite taken aback when they saw me turn up with armfuls of beer. They obviously didn't know about the pleasures of Bamberg's most famous product, but as we were leaving it wasn't really the time to enlighten them.
A few years ago I remember reading comments that Schlenkerla Rauchbier had become lees distinct; dumbded down slightly in order to broaden its appeal. Drinking this beer now, and thinking back to my most recent visit to Bamberg, I can categorically state this is not true. The beer is as good and as distinctive as it's ever been, and if you want to experience this at first-hand, I strongly recommend you book yourself a trip to Bamberg, and spend a session or two in its most famous pub.
Footnote: I'd been home from that first trip for less than a week, when the shock news broke that Travelscope had ceased trading and gone into administration. I'd had a lucky escape as two hundred people lost their jobs and 45,000 people saw their holiday plans cancelled.