17 October 2014

Into the forest

I left you yesterday in the pleasant surrounds of the Achhörnla brewpub in Forchheim, choking down their massively less-than-pleasant lager. We're staying in Forchheim today to see what the town offers that's actually worth drinking.

It was a quiet Monday afternoon when we strolled into the pretty village marketplace. Not much was happening on the streets but there was plenty of buzz in the front parlour of Brauerei Neder. It's one of those community-centre-style pubs, a hub for the retired and unemployed to share scandal, weather predictions and opinions on FC Nuremberg over beers. We got clay mugs of Neder Fassbier; most people had theirs from their personal glass, kept in a cupboard above the bar. Nothing so gauche as custom engraving, of course -- the majority looked like they came straight from the FC Nuremberg fan shop. The beer is one of those ones I enjoy massively but are really annoying when it comes to sitting down in front of a blank screen to write about. Honey, bread, smoothness. That's it. That's all there is to say about it. It's not one to sip and consider, it's one to chug down over a chat about something else, then set your mug on its side so the server can see you're ready for another.

I first heard of Forchheim via Ron's accounts of Annafest, the town's annual festival held in late July and early August each year. On my visit it was hard to imagine what the place is like when thronged with visitors. All the Annafestbier was gone but I did find Neder's year-round Schwarze Anna back in Nuremberg. It's another simple beer, a 5.2% ABV cola-coloured lager with lots of lovely fresh herbal hops and barely tastes dark at all. Good though.

Drinking at Neder was something of a beery Dian Fossey experience, where you quickly realise you're observing something you're not really a part of. I left a paltry €4 to cover the two beers and a tip and we moved on. We had a destination, after all.

But before that (and after lunch in the Forchheim establishment I mentioned yesterday), we stopped in at Greif-Bräu. After several days of drinking in inns that happen to have a brewery somewhere out back, it was very strange to arrive at a brewery that happens to have an inn up front. Amid the crates and kegs of the yard we sat down with a couple of halbes of Greif-Bräu, er, Bier. It was served beautifully clear from the oak barrel propped up at a serving hatch between a corridor and the brewery offices. It's a plain simple beer but, annoyingly again, nothing like the sublime Fassbier at Neder. The hop levels are low and there's a tiny trace of diacetyl, but it's really more boring than flawed, a lesser sin.

The main reason for coming to Forchheim was the Kellerwald, a hilly forest park rearing up behind the town with two dozen beer gardens of various sizes nestled between the trees. In contrast to Annafest, and probably any Sunday during the summer, it was quiet this Monday, and very atmospheric. Almost all of the establishments were shuttered up, though the brewery banners and party posters still hung from the trees, visual echoes of what this part of nature is normally for.

There was a small crowd gathered in the Glocken-Keller near the summit of the hill, perched on the bench under the eaves of the tiny shack which serves as a kitchen, office and rainy-day saloon. The beer garden tables occupy what must be a rare level surface and at the far end is the keller itself. Down a few steps the spritely old kellermeister pours Wolfshöher lager from wooden barrels into clay mugs. When I went down to take a picture of the arrangement he invited me in to see the rest of the cellar, tunnels stretching hundreds of metres deep into the rock, packed with kegs and casks and crates of beer, all at the perfect serving temperature, whatever the weather.

Wolfshöher itself is an extremely nettley beer and not without a dash of butter, but the two just manage to hold each other in check. The noble greenness is perhaps just a little too intense for comfortable drinking, resulting in something that bit too close to cabbage water, but that it's packed with authentic German flavour is not up for debate.

We stopped at another establishment on the way back down the hill, the multilevel Hebendanz-Keller. It had passed from afternoon into evening and a few families were beginning to file in for their evening meal. In the Hebendanz-Keller there is Hebendanz Kellerbier to drink: a surprisingly spicy, fruity, Christmas cake of a beer, yet not heavy or even especially sweet. One of those lagers you can enjoy as a casual quencher and a complex sensory experience simultaneously. We stayed for another before heading back to the station.

I'm sure Bavaria is packed with unspoilt little towns like Forchheim, serving amazing beer costing buttons in beautiful surrounds. I'm happy just to have seen one of them.

It's not the be-all and end-all of German brewing, mind. Other things are afoot.


  1. Of course! Thank you.

  2. I love both the Neder pub and beer. It's one of those German beers that's meant for drinking rather than geeking out over. If I lived in town, I'm sure I'd be a regular.

  3. I was in Forchheim on Sunday as it happens - third visit of 2014! Neder's my favourite pub in town and your review of the beer is absolutely spot on - definitive in fact. You fail to mention the nutters though. How can you visit Neder and not comment on the nutters?

    1. I dunno. I didn't think there was anything particularly special about Neder's nutters. Your local Wetherspoon will have similar at 11am any weekday.

  4. No these nutters are special nutters. In Wetherspoons people look down at the table disconsolately or huddle in little groups. In Neder everyone is immediately all up in your business, even (especially, perhaps) if you walk in at 9am on a Sunday.

    I have restarted my own blog bro. It was largely prompted by dipping back into yours.

    1. Yep, I've been reading your new posts. Welcome back!