A Hike on the Bierquellen Wanderweg
If you’re a fan of hiking and dunkles beers (or pretty much any variety of beer), then you’ll love this route through forest and field in the Fränkische Schweiz area of Bavarian Franconia. I’ve seen several different variations describing the Bierquellen Wanderweg. For this route, I’ve pieced together some segments of the traditional routes to create a 16 kilometer (10 mile) variation that includes an additional brewery along the way. All of the breweries make an excellent dunkles, or dunkel in more proper terms.
There are five (funf) breweries represented on the route, equalling the total on the more famous Funf Seidla Steig not too far away. Of course, I modified the Funf Seidla Steig into a multi-day Elf Seidla Steig, but I digress. You can read that story here if you want after you finish this one.
This funf dunkles route takes you through the gorgeous Franconian countryside, past five breweries, and many places where you can sample delicious local dunkles (dark beers). The terms “dunkel” bier and “dunkles” bier are essentially the same and refer to a dark lager. The only real difference is that dunkel bier is the more formal term, while dunkles bier is the more colloquial term. I noted that in this area, some places referred to this beer as “Landbier” rather than even using the “D” word. I’ll use the D word though, as Landbier is a more generic term for any country beer in most areas.
Dunkel beers are typically brewed with a combination of Munich and Vienna malts, some roasted to give the resulting beer a dark brown or copper color and malty flavor. They have a medium to full body and a smooth, creamy texture. The alcohol content is moderate — similar ABV to each brewery’s helles. I think of a good dunkles as a dark, malty beer with a smooth finish — not as heavy on the alcohol as a dark bock.
In planning the hike, I wanted a hike that works as a day hike using public transportation and my feet. I reached the starting point at Weiglathal by bus from the train station at Bayreuth and ended the hike at the train station at Pegnitz. Being on the train line gives many options for where to stay. I wouldn’t have minded staying at one of the breweries in the middle and making it a more leisurely walk, but the route works just fine as a day trip.
The hiking is quite a nice mix of forest trails, forest roads, farm roads, and some sidewalks here and there. You’re out into the countryside, passing through forests, fields, and villages. When I saw the name Bierquellen Weg my imagination ran to fountains of artesian beer flowing in the forests, but no such luck. The “quellen” part refers to the many springs found in the area including the Siebenbrünnlein, a group of seven springs that are said to have healing powers. I imagine that some of that spring water finds its way into the beers made in the area.
My adventure for the day began at a stop on the bus line called Weiglathal and a visit to Wirtshaus Weiglathal, the pub of the Brauerei Übelhack. They have a very pleasant beer garden there as well but I was driven indoors by some passing rain. Übelhack is a family operation that has been in operation since 1870. The snack was great — a smoked wurst of some kind in an onion broth. The dunkles certainly isn’t the only choice here or at any of the breweries along the route. All brew and offer a full traditional range. The uncharacteristic cool, rainy August day just had me in the mood, I guess.
From Weiglathal, the route wound through lush woods to Lindenhardt and the Brauerei Kürzdörfer — and another dunkles with my name on it. Brewery Kürzdörfer is another small family brewery founded in 1866 and now run by the fifth generation of the family.
After Lindenhardt, the route continues through the countryside to Leups and another family operation – Brauerei Gradl. This brewery is the oldest on the Bierquellen Wanderweg going back to 1660. A self-service beer garden is set up in a barn lot and the clientele looked like a mix of locals and motorcyclists. Their smooth, malty dunkles is said to be brewed with a blend of six different malts and is quite flavorful.
After a bit of a climb out of Leups, the route drops back through a forest and some fields into the village of Büchenbach and Brauerei Gasthof Herold. You guessed it — this is another family-owned brewery and restaurant founded long ago — said to have been in 1568. The brand for their beer is Beck’n and like the other places they brew a full traditional range of styles. The place was bustling.
From Büchenbach another short climb accessed what is called the Beekeeper’s Apprentice Trail that traces a highline through thick forest above the valley floor most of the way before dropping just before Pegnitz. I’ve never heard this part mentioned in the same breath as the Bierquellenweg, but hey — there is another brewery down that trail and I need to get back to a train station somehow.
The final dunkles to sample that day was from the Pegnitz brewery Jura-Bräu. The brewery wasn’t open when I got there so I tracked on down in a local pub. Their Anno 1900 is a dark, malty beer named after some brewery milestone or other I guess. A nice way to cap the beer hike before climbing onto a train and finding my way back to my pension in Neuhaus.