Two other Bavarian beer festivals

Two other Bavarian Beer Festivals

Location of Forcheim & Kulmbach in Germany & Bavaria
Location of Forchheim & Kulmbach in Germany & Bavaria

If you mention the phrase “Bavarian beer festival” to anyone other than a Bavarian I’m willing to bet that 99 times out of 100 the comeback will include the word “Oktoberfest”.  There is nothing quite so grand as Oktoberfest, or “Wiesn” as Bavarians call it and I’ve been fortunate to enjoy it several times over many decades.  Oktoberfest remains the elephant in the room when it comes to beer-oriented festivals, but if you begin looking around a bit you will encounter many other attractive events, big and small. This is my story of visiting two other Bavarian beer festivals that have their own distinctive charms.

The small cities (both have about 30,000 population) of Forchheim and Kulmbach each host an annual festival in late July/early August that prominently feature beer culture, but are very different in their character.  If you are coming from far away, the two festivals overlap so can easily be visited during the same trip.  Both places have frequent train service and great hiking nearby.  The great beer town of Bamberg is situated between the two places – I stayed there during the time I went to Forchheim.  During the visit to Kulmbach, I was involved in a Workaway stint staying at a nearby village.

Annafest Forchheim

Keller Map
map of the Kellerwald bierkellers (2018) – click for larger image listing bierkellers and brewery associated with each

I can’t imagine a more pleasing setting for a festival than the Kellerwald of Forchheim.  Imagine 24 beer gardens (they are called bierkellers in this part of Bavaria) that seat upwards of 30,000 people tucked into the trees of a forested mountain side known as Kellerberg.  Forchheim promotes the Kellerwald as the largest beer garden in the world and many of the venues are open all summer.  Pleasant pathways wind their way up the Kellerberg (a mini-mountain within the Kellerwald) and multiple beer lagering cellars are burrowed beneath the beer gardens.   The bierkellers range from being rustic outdoor operations to full up pubs and restaurants.

Annafest has been held each year since 1840 as a celebration of St. Anna (mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus).  The 2018 Annafest drew about 450,000 visitors during its eleven day run.  Like Oktoberfest, Annafest is a folk festival that is about more than the beer but I think you can guess what attracted me.  It is beautiful wandering in the trees from one interesting beer to another – beers from 14 different breweries (including Forchheim’s four breweries) are sold at the various establishments.  There are a couple of big breweries represented, but generally all of the beers come from small-town artisanal operations.  Energetic music venues are spread throughout, there is a midway with rides and a ferris wheel, and there are all sorts of traditional foods both at the kellers and at specialty stands.

Walk of Beer - Forcheim
Walk of Beer – click on image for interactive route map

It is a nice walk from the train station and an indirect route will take you on what is known as the Walk of Beer, a route that takes you to the Kellerwald via Forchheim’s four breweries.  Forchheim reportedly had 12 private and two communal breweries back in the 1850’s but the number of bierkellers has stayed pretty much the same since then.  Along the way you’ll find stars embedded in the walkways in front of the breweries and at the beginning of the Kellerwald.  QR codes on each star will lead you to online historical information about each.  There is also nice hiking when you venture into the Kellerwald past the area with all the bierkellers.

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BeerWanderer
The Beer Wanderer takes a photo.

I enjoyed connecting with a new friend at Annafest.  In preparing for the trip I came across a blog called BeerWanderers and I thought I had found my beer hiking doppelganger.  Rich Carbonara, the author of the blog is an American expatriate who lives in Munich where he teaches English and, on the side, blogs about and guides beer hikes.  Rich has a wealth of knowledge and experience with beers and beer hikes in the Franconia region of Bavaria.

Kulmbacher Bierwoche

Kulmbacher Bierwoche Stadl at Night
Kulmbacher Bierwoche Stadl (beer tent bottom right) at night in the town center. Plassenberg Castle is on the berg above. Photo Credit: Kulmbacher Brauerei

Kulmbacher Bierwoche prides itself as being THE festival in Bavaria that is solely about beer.  There are no rides or carnival midway.  It is also a relatively young event  having only been established in 1939 although the beer culture here goes back to ancient times.   The festival takes place in and around a single massive tent erected in the center of Kulmbach that is referred to as the Stadl.  The nine day run begins on the last weekend in July and attracts about 120,000 fest goers.

The feel of this festival for me was decidedly local in nature.  There was not an Australian, an Italian, or another American anywhere to be found as far as I could tell.  People seemed to be greeting other people as old friends every other minute.  I met a friend who lives near Kulmbach for a hike and a beer at the festival and she told me that it has been a tradition for her since she was a child to come there to catch up with friends and relatives from around the region – some that she would only see each year at Kulmbacher Bierwoche.  The family I was living with for my Workaway came as a family, met with family, and danced together on the tables.

FestbierAs you would expect, a broad variety of Franconian food specialties are served and the entertainment promotes toe-tapping and yes – alot of dancing on the benches that line the tables.  The beer situation is a bit different than any other festival I have been to though as all of the beer served comes from a single, large brewing company — Kulmbacher Brauerei.  This brewery has become a big one over the decades through the collection of a number of longtime breweries and brands into their company.  As I understand it, Kulmbach had more than 150 breweries in the 1800’s.  I’ve been told that Kulmbacher has generally supported the various collected breweries continuing their own operations so there remains diversity in the beer.  Four of the local brands are prominently featured at Bierwoche including Monschof, Kulmbacher, Kapuziner, and EKU.  Kapuziner beers are wheat beers, and the other three brands feature festbiers in the Stadl.  There is also a stand featuring a range of Monschof specialty beers.  Kulmbacher has also acquired other breweries and brands in the region and a beer called Sternla from their Wurzburg Hofbrau operation is featured in a beach-themed area just outside of the Stadl.

Kulmbach Rehberg Hike
Rehberg Weg – click on image for interactive route map

Plassenberg Castle, one of the greatest Renaissance castles in Germany dominates the view above the town.  My friend Julia led me up a steep lane to the castle and the starting point for our pre-festival hike.  Kulmbach is part of a region know as the Frankenwald (Franconian Forest) which has a highly developed system of hiking routes.  For our hike she chose a loop route called the Rehberg Weg (Deer Mountain Trail).  This route is mostly forested and heads mostly south on the east flank of a valley called Wolfskehle (Wolf’s throat) before crossing over and heading back north to Kulmbach.   A small country pub at a village called Tennach was a nice place to stop for refreshment.  Along the route from Tennach back to Kulmbach is a climb over Rehweg and an outstanding viewing point of the Plassenberg Castle across the valley.  A viewing tower called the Reh Turm gives the opportunity to augment the view.

For beer lovers, there are a couple of other stops in Kulmbach that I recommend.  The Bavarian Brewery & Bakery Museum is located at the former Monschof brewery and is a great visit – there is a small demonstration brewery within the museum.  Also, Kulmbacher Kommunbräu is a small brewery with excellent food and beers that you won’t find at the Stadl.  Kommunbräu is unusual for its cooperative ownership structure — it is owned and governed kind of like a grocery co-op would be in the U.S.A.

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One thought on “Two other Bavarian Beer Festivals”

  1. Nice to learn a bit about the Kulmbach festival and see a good hike that starts in town. It was fun meeting up at Annafest and hopefully our paths will pass again, obviously for a beer and hopefully next time, a hike.

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