The biggest surprise about Franconia, the thing that nobody tells you before you go, is that a fair bit of the beer is awful.
"But the dark beer," they told us, "Everyone goes to Klosterbräu for their dark beer."
So back we dutifully trooped and asked for some Klosterbräu Schwarzla -- the use of Franconian dialect means it must be special, right? It's not, but it's also not ruined. What you get is quite a dry and liquorice-filled dark red lager with not much going on. If you must tick your way around Bamberg, stick to the Schwarzla in Klosterbräu, but otherwise don't bother with the place.
The other disasterbräu in Bamberg was Ambräusianum, a couple of doors down from Schlenkerla so presumably making a handsome living on its spillover. It's the youngest of the Bamberg breweries, established in 2004, and has much more of the feel of a large modern German brewpub hall, showing off the brewkit instead of hiding it all out back.
A hell and a dunkel was the order. Ambräusianum Hell is a lemony yellow colour and very fizzy. I'm used to brewpub lager, and German brewpub lager in particular, tasting grainy, but this takes the biscuit. The soggy, mouldy, bottom-of-the-tin, fall-apart biscuit. There's maybe a trace of nice celery and asparagus, but not nearly enough to rescue the beer. Colourblind Ambräusianum Dunkel is a golden hue and started with a waft of vinegar in its aroma. From tasting, the base beer seems to be a kind of orange chocolate biscuit number, which would be perfectly acceptable were it not for the layer of brown malt vinegar sitting merrily on top of it pretending everything is fine. Regardless of how packed and loud Schlenkerla got, the phrase "Let's just go to Ambräusianum instead" was not employed at any stage.
We took one beery side-trip during our stay in Bamberg, to the little town of Forchheim, and I'll cover that more fully in tomorrow's post. But one of its breweries is definitely a soulmate of the Bamberg establishments described above. Achhörnla is a homely little place, all '70s-style pale wood panelling, a friendly welcome and down-home cooking. Its two beers, Achhörnla Pils and Achhörnla Vollbier, are almost identical, the latter just a slight shade darker than the former. I don't how the Franconian dialect would render the phrase "Butterscotch and Sick", but they should have it emblazoned over the entrance in nice gothic lettering. Two massively sweet beers, almost literally oozing with diacetyl: the Pils with a slight but distinct acridity, the Vollbier absolutely reeking of puke, though not tasting of it, mercifully. We were the only customers in the place: they needn't have rushed their lager on our account.
Before moving on, just a reminder that, of course, it's perfectly possible that we were unlucky with these. Bad batches happen. Recipes change. Reputation-killing brewers get sacked. Your mileage may vary a lot when you're in Bamberg (Doerthe's certainly did). My point is just this: don't expect it to be all sweetness and light when you go drinking in Franconia. Overly sweet and overly light are distinct possibilities.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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