Nuremberg (Nürnberg or Nuernberg in German) is the second-largest city in Bavaria and the largest city in the region known as Franconia. Franconia is well acknowledged as a region with the highest concentration of breweries in the world, and many of the oldest. However, although I had no difficulty finding many fine beers to quench my thirst in Nuremberg, it seems a bit of a mystery to me why there are so few breweries remaining there and most are quite young in Franconian terms. Certainly, there are way fewer breweries everywhere than there used to be, but Nuremberg seems quite underserved compared to other cities in the region like Bamberg or Bayreuth.
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Nuremberg is an industrial city of a half-million people on the Pegnitz River in Middle Franconia. Located about 110 miles (170 km) north of Munich, it is glommed together with the cities of Fürth, Erlangen, and Schwabach making greater Nuremberg’s population more like 800,000. Mention Nuremberg and most people I encounter immediately think of the city’s notorious history involving major Nazi rallies and the Nuremberg trials which were held after the war to bring many major Nazi officials to account.
Nuremberg started with an imperial castle circa 1050. The castle was a projection of the Holy Roman Empire. Kings and emperors sanctioned by the Pope ruled from the castle in the middle ages and made Nuremberg an important node on trade routes connecting Italy and northern Europe. This historic significance was an important factor in the Nazi Party’s choice of Nuremberg for its prominent activities.
The city was nearly leveled by intensive Allied bombing from 1943 to 1945 — I’ve read estimates of 90% destruction. Thousands of residents were killed by the bombing and tens of thousands were displaced. The war ended there with several days of house-to-house and street-by-street fighting in the spring of 1945 after which the Allies gained control. A gargantuan reconstruction effort after the war rebuilt and partly restored Nuremberg’s historic appearance.
Throughout the city’s long history, beer has been an important tradition. Beer begins showing up in city laws and licenses around 1300 and per capita, annual consumption was recorded at 200 liters in the 15th century. More than 40 breweries operated at the time. That number steadily decreased to 30 or so in the 19th century and was pared down to just five by 1925. Some say that the reduction was related to modernization and the introduction of mechanical cooling systems (making the traditional cellaring less important). By the mid-1990’s, only one of the traditional breweries remained. All of the others were absorbed into Tucher, which is the only big brewery left. Some say that the devastation of WWII was also a factor. Since then, a number of smaller breweries and brewpubs have emerged so there are now more breweries in greater-Nuremberg than there were in the 1920’s.
First beer stop for me was Hausbrauerei Altstadthof nearby my hotel. Altstadthof is a jack-of-many-trades place with a small pub, micro-brewery, distillery, and tour operation. Tours are well organized and take you into the labyrinth of cool, rock-cut cellars that encompass more than 6 acres beneath the old part of the city. The cellars were excavated hundreds of years ago up to four stories deep into the underlying sandstone for fermenting and lagering beer. They served as air-raid cellars during the war, and artifacts from both of these uses were apparent. Altstadthof makes a small range of beers and distills brandy from some of them.
Their rotbier was the first one of several I encountered in the city. Rotbier, or red beer, is a somewhat roasty, smoky, hoppy lager with a distinctive red color. Although Nuremberg calls itself the home of rotbier, there is a dispute about whether this type of beer was first brewed in Belgium or in Nuremberg. There is no doubt though that rotbier figures deeply in local brewing tradition as more than 30 rotbier breweries were recorded in the late 1500’s. Rotbier had faded away in favor of more modern lagers until Altstadthof began brewing it in the 1980’s. There has been a resurgence of interest in rotbier in Nuremberg in recent times and several local breweries now make it.
Across the street from Altstadthof is Wirtshaus Hütt’n, a small tavern that serves a range of local and regional beers along with their own house-labeled beer.
Tucher is the remaining old-time, big brewery in Nuremberg. They brew from two facilities, both of which can be visited in normal times. Their Altes Sudhaus facility in the northern part of the city is where they brew their rotbier and their Traditionsbrauerei straddles the western city boundary with Furth. Frankfurt-based Radeberger Group, the largest brewery conglomerate in Germany, has owned Tucher since 2004. Over the years, Tucher absorbed many of the historic breweries of Nuremberg and still brews brands from several of them including Lederer, Gruner, Humbser, and Patrizier in addition to their own Tucher brands. I get the sense that Tucher had strayed from its Franconian roots into the world of mass market and export brewing, but more recently has been working to reconnect with their brewing heritage.
One of my favorite Nuremberg breweries was Schanzenbraeu. Their tavern is a pleasant, shady spot in what seemed like a residential area. They concentrate on just a couple of brews – a rotbier and a helles. Zeltner Bierhaus is likewise a small tavern/brewery that serves its own beers as well as regional offerings. Barfüßer Hausbrauerei is the Nuremberg location of a small, regional chain of brewpubs.
Humbser und Freunde is built into the historic brauhaus of the defunct Humbser Brewery in Furth. It is a slick place that makes innovative use of brewing artifacts. They have a beer made for them to serve as a house beer and they sell beers from a number of small regional breweries.
Ravenkraft is a small, well-appointed craft beer shop in the city center. I got the sense that the people working there live and breathe craft beer, and they were helpful to me in understanding where to go and what to see. I picked up a couple of beers for my lunch on the train departing the city including a red ale they brew under their own label.
For readers who may be future beer tourists, there is an interesting local service called Beer Hike Nuremberg that offers a walking tour and Franconian beer seminars. My schedule didn’t connect with any of their offerings, but I did have a chance to have an informative conversation with the proprietor, Joachim “Joe” Holler. Joe told me that most of his customers have been tourists and that 2/3 of them come from North America. Few arrive who understand the difference between Bavarian and Franconian beer culture and Joe works to help remedy that. Joe reminded me that most Franconian breweries are “craft” breweries in terms of their being small-scale, artisanal operations. Most brew a range of traditional styles rather than foreign styles or experimental beers, although there is a growing number of breweries making IPA’s, trendy ales, and experimental beers.
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I didn’t get to all of the places shown in the interactive map and I made it to several recommended beer bars that aren’t on the map but that had good selections of beer from the region.
Walking the City
The old town of Nuremberg is made up of picturesque cobblestone streets and half-timbered buildings. The streets ascend to Nuremberg Castle – actually a complex of castles that offer great views across the rooftops below. A huge square called the Hauptmarkt is a vibrant marketplace that is also the setting for the city’s famous Christmas market. There are interesting monuments, fountains, sculptures, and other public art throughout the center providing considerable click (camera) bait. A famous local dude is 16th-century artist Albrecht Dürer, a contemporary of Da Vinci for whom there are multiple monuments and museums.
A prominent local food is Nuremberger bratwurst (Nürnberger Rostbratwürstchen). These small, finger-sized sausages are served in multiples and there are both pop-up grills as well as entire restaurants devoted to serving them. From a food stand, you get them served three to a roll (drei im weggla). A Nuremberg bratwurst is not allowed to be over 3.5 inches (9 cm) long or more than 1 ounce (25 g) in weight Fat content cannot exceed 35%. Only sausages produced in Nuremberg can be called Nuremberg bratwurst.
Schäufele is another Franconian specialty served at many pubs and restaurants. I guess I’d call it a roasted pork shoulder blade often served with nicely spiced gravy and a big round dumpling. It goes great with beer! The tender, roasted meat falls easily from the bone which leaves you with something that resembles a white shovel blade.
Café Bar Wanderer & Bieramt near Tiergärtnertor , one of the gates leading to the castle was a lively stop for a final beer each day. It’s a simple place to grab an interesting Franconian beer and splay yourself out on the cobblestones in front to wind down and people watch.
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