When the owners of the Feine Biere shop in Treuchtlingen invited me to their hop harvest it was all the encouragement I needed to scope out a beer hike that would take me back to the Altmuhltal. I had met the friendly couple, Willi and Christine during a prior visit to the area during a multi-day hike in the Altmuhltal National Park and have pleasant memories from that visit.
Treuchtlingen is a middle-Franconian town of about 12,000 people with an ancient history but no surviving breweries. Fortunately for beer hiking prospects, one of the classic brewery kellers that I know of anywhere is a hike away, and Feine Biere (in addition to being a great little beer shop) serves as a regular pop-up taproom for Hechtbrau, a small brewery in nearby Pappenheim.
Willi wrote me when he saw a post about my story from my visit to a Hopfenzupfa event at Kloster Scheyern in the Hallertau region to the south to tell me about their upcoming hop-plucking day. Feine Biere has a “Hopfengärtla” in the courtyard behind the shop that is a pleasant place to sit and have a beer purchased in the shop. Hop vines above provide some of the shade in the summertime and produce a nice little haul of green gold at harvest time.
Treuchtlingen is in the Spalt region of Franconia, a smaller hops-growing area than the famous Hallertau to the south in Lower Bavaria. “Next week we are going ‘blodern’ – that’s how we say ‘Hopfazupfa’ in the Spalt hop area. Just a month later we will drink the ‘Grünhopfen-Kellerpils’ (unfiltered green hops… pilsener) that Hechtbrau will make using our hops and if you happen to be in the region, you’re very welcome!” Cool! I can’t be around until September 30 when they plan to have a public event to tap the Grünhopfen-Kellerpils at their shop, but it gave me a great reason to visit in August to do a kleine blodern beer hike
My hike starts at the train station in Treuchtlingen which has good connections to and from Wurzburg, Nuremburg, and Ingolstadt. I came from Munich — about a 90-minute trip. The hike I scoped is a five-mile (8 km) loop that follows the Altmuhltal River north before climbing toward the forested mountain of Patrichberg. Part of the route is on the Frankenweg, one of Franconia’s most famous long-distance hiking routes. A bit of it is also shared with Treuchtlingen’s Wirtschaftweg (tavern trail). The route map shows my hike in blue while two variations of the longer Wirschaftweg are shown in shades of green.
Dropping down a hill from the rail station my route went through Treuchtlingen’s mellow art park and followed the river through farm fields until meeting the Frankenweg near the village of Gstadt. Forested hills of the Franconian Jura rise on either side of the valley. From Gstadt there is a short climb up to Wettelsheimer Keller – a classic beer garden in the edge of a forest. The route back to town and to Feine Biere is on a forest road traversing the flank of the low mountains on the western side of the valley.
Images from the hike
What makes Wettelsheimer a classic bierkeller for me? In the case of Wettelsheimer Keller their thousand-seat series of terraces are arrayed amidst big shade trees but retain big panoramic views of the valley below. The atmosphere is casual and the service has been friendly and attentive each time I have been there. The crowd seems primarily local with a few tourists like me blended in. The food offerings are traditional Franconian fare from brotzeit options to Schaufele & Hax’n. The beer is from Brauerei Strauß in nearby Wettelsheim and is poured fresh from big wooden barrels. The Strauß Märzen is a great experience for a beer lover in and of itself. The keller is a multi-generational family operation that has been there since the mid-1800s. Some say that it was built by enlarging a natural cave into the underground storage vault where the Märzen barrels are cooled until being tapped. Read more The Great Beer Garden Field Guide for more thoughts on beer kellers and beer gardens.
Images from Wettelsheimer Keller
My schedule meant that I would hike next to Feine Biere, but when I have a chance in the future I’ll be hiking the rest of the Treuchtlingen Wirtschaftweg which continues on through Wettelsheim, Windischhausen, and a hike in the Rohrach Valley — the “Valley of the Beavers”. The first time I visited Feine Bier I spoke of my interest in beer hiking and I was introduced to Andreas Fahr who stewards and maintains the Wirtschaftweg. It was another one of those times when I regretted not having passable German language skills. I ran into Andreas one more time on that trip on the trail to Pappenheim – coming from having a beer no doubt.
When I arrived at Feine Biere Andreas was there plucking hops while enjoying a beer. It turns out that he is an expert at that and would be an entrant in the Hopfablodern (hop plucking) competition at the harvest festival at Spalt the following weekend. Willi was up a ladder cutting down hops vines and Christine was keeping the small group of pluckers supplied with delicious Hechtbrau Dunkel beer that they had tapped for the occasion. I think that Andreas needs to make Feine Biere on the Wirtschaftweg someday – they are an enjoyable beer stop and they carry a nice selection of Franconian beers.
Their hops growing is a hobby to be sure (and provides great atmosphere to their Hopfengärtla), but the small harvest produced enough hops for Herr Hecht to use in brewing a special green-hops pils that will be ready to drink in about a month. The beer will be tapped at a public party Willi and Tine are planning at Feine Biere on September 30, 2023 and you are invited. I will be back in New Mexico by then, but it will be a unique opportunity for anyone who is in Bavaria then.
Images from Feine Biere & the Blodern
Spalt hops are not that familiar to me so I looked them up. The nearby town of Spalt is the center of the region and hosts a Spalter Hopfenmuseum. The Spalt region produces about 15% of the volume that is produced annually by the Hallertau. Spalt hops are known for intense aroma and flavor whereas Hallertau hops generally have more delicate floral and fruity aromas. The differences are attributed to soil and climate differences and the varieties of hops dictated by those differences.
For other stories about Prime Passages in this and other hops growing regions, check out Multi-Day Beer Trekking in the Altmuhltal; Hop(fen) Time; Beers and More Along the Way in the Hallertau; Hops Heaven; and Sip, Cycle, and Repeat. For even more stories about hiking, beer, and travel in Germany browse here.