14 October 2014

The brewers about town

There are two breweries inside the walls of Nuremberg, both of which have pubs attached. Barfüsser occupies a very traditional-style cellar in the more commercial lower part of the city. The shining copper brewkit takes pride of place in the middle of the floor while windows behind it reveal the more modern, hygienic, tiles-and-steel side of the operation, including the foaming open-top fermenters. Barfüsser Blonde is the pale lager, a hazy yellow with lots of busy fizz and a slightly unsettling vinegary aroma. I could detect no trace of infection on tasting, however, or much else really. There's a vague noble hop grass and pepper thing, but otherwise it's a chug-and-forget number, probably by design. Murky brown Barfüsser Schwarze is much the same, though the flavour is a little more interesting with the addition of liquorice notes, as well as a heavier, almost sticky, texture. Solid but ultimately rather boring beers tend to be par for the course in German brewpubs. Perhaps we'd have better luck up near the castle.

Altstadthof is a massively grand project in the upper city. From the street it looks like it's just a pub and giftshop but go through to the courtyard and you'll find a large restaurant, a specialist beer off licence, a brewery, a distillery, and the glass-fronted room full of maturing casks of their organic single malt whisky. It doesn't stop there either: Nuremberg's soft sandstone geology has made it ideal for digging vast networks of cellars and Altstadthof offers a variety of tours exploring the passages beneath the city. Ours included an unadvertised visit to the brewery and distillery at the end - the first time I've ever gone on a brewery tour inadvertently.

To the beers, then. Altstadthof Rotbier is the flagship, arriving a clear garnet red colour. It starts with some jolly chocolate and caramel but these are quickly overtaken by a nasty nettle greenness that doesn't work at all well with it. While rustic and wholesome, it does come across more like something you drink because it's good for you than because it tastes good. Meanwhile Altstadthof Schwarzbier is properly black, with just some red highlights at the edges. It delivers most of what you'd want from a schwarzbier. Well, most of what I'd want from a schwarzbier as there's no liquorice, just clean, crisp dark roast and a sprinkling of sweet chocolate for afters. Very nice, but we still left the rest of the selection, figuring we'd probably do better elsewhere.

In the south-west of Nuremberg, beyond the city walls, sits the Schanzenbräu microbrewery. A few doors down the quiet backstreet from the brewery is its tap, Schanzenbräu Schankwirtschaft. With the elderly décor and formica-topped tables it has a rather bohemian vibe, attracting a mixed crowd of locals to eat, drink, play cards and just hang out. There were three beers on offer: Schanzenbräu Hell is one of those understated but perfect medium-sweet pale lagers, playfully tossing in some peach and pineapple with a stricter grassy bitterness. Schanzenbräu Schwarz is less enjoyable: sticky like a dunkel with bags of liquorice and treacle. It takes a bit of wading to get through. And finally Schanzenbräu Rot, a cloudy orange-amber kellerbier-style offering with lots of rustic husky porridgey cereal flavours, plus extra golden syrup and milk chocolate. Brimming with tradition I'm sure, but lacking finesse. Straight back to the hell for me.

Not far away, and a short stroll from Nuremberg's famous courthouse, is the Lederer KulturBrauerei. It looks impressive from the street: huge copper brewing vessels gleaming through the plate glass. Only when we were inside did it become clear that something was up. This 500-seater Victorian beerhall has a number of large rooms for eating and drinking in (as well as seating for another 1000 or so in the enormous garden), and one of them is the brewhouse. It turns out that the brewery was decommissioned in 1995 following a takeover by the Dr Oetker Group, so the Lederer beer is now brewed at their Tucher plant on Nuremberg's outskirts. Still, the work to transform the brewing floor into a restaurant was done thoughtfully and minimally, giving the impression of a live brewery furnished merely for a special party, and that the burly men will be back with their grainsacks and malt shovels tomorrow morning.

Lederer Premium Pils is another one of those big grassy fellas, 5.1% ABV and clear gold, tinged slightly with green. It did a fantastic number on my thirst, the intense herbal bitterness lending it superb refreshment power. The house ungespundet kellerbier is called Kroko after Lederer's totemic crocodile. It's a hazy gold colour and smells like a neglected fruitbowl, all heady sweet esters. It's rather drier to the taste, with maybe a little green banana sharpness. Unflawed as a kellerbier, but like so many of the style, not especially interesting to drink.

Nuremberg is a truly fascinating city, historically, architecturally, and geologically. It's a manageable size and packed with eating and drinking opportunities I'd happily spend more time exploring. But my meticulously planned itinerary had to be observed and after three days it was time to head further north, to Bamberg, to find out what they drink there. The answer may shock you.


  1. Martin, Cambridge7:52 am

    I'm back there at the end of October for family holiday, aiming to visit the pubs of German beer guide pubs we missed last time, so your report is really helpful.

    I found beers generally a bit gassy for my taste, but the pubs quite wonderful, although as often noted they are aimed at the diner/drinker, the Landbierparadies pubs apart.

    1. Sounds like you need to stick closely to the bayrischen anstich beers. Though now I think of it, I don't remember seeing any wooden barrels in Nuremberg city. Say, you wouldn't be a member of CAMRA by any chance? ;)