I have to admit that I enjoy a good beer. My time in Fränkische Schweiz (learn more about this region) has been very enjoyable. There are certainly alot more reasons for that than the beer, but the beer may have been able to stand on its own. In Germany there are nearly than 1300 breweries. More than 200 of those are in the Franconian region of northern Bavaria and more than 70 of those are in the part of Franconia known as the Fränkische Schweiz. The Fränkische Schweiz holds the distinction of having the highest density per capita of any region of the world — one small village of 1400 inhabitants that I visited has four breweries. Most of these are old breweries — often hundreds of years old. Most are small, serving the village and area nearby them. They are often family operations with many generations having taken part.
The most frequent types of beer I’ve encountered in the summer are pils, helles, dunkel, and weisse — lagers all. In addition, I’ve seen quite alot of mixed beers (beer mixed with various sodas), the Radler being the classic formulation of this (I haven’t tried any of these out yet). There doesn’t seem to be anything but excellent beers here. I haven’t even come across one that was marginal. I guess there is something to be said for experience.
There are some new craft breweries here. In volume of output terms, I imagine most of the breweries I’ve been to would be considered craft breweries in the U.S. although they concentrate on traditional recipes. What seems to make something a craft brew here is that it is not a classic recipe and, wisely I think, they differentiate newer and different formulations from the long successful classic brews. I have yet to try out any craft brews here, so I can’t tell you whether they seem any good. I guess I’ll have to try at some point, but the classic brews are so damn good its hard to get motivated about that.
My general approach to having a beer goes something like ….. I am hiking through a beautiful meadow on a steady, uphill grade …. three kilometers later the route leads into a village with a Gasthaus (not unusual for it to be a Braueri Gasthaus in this region – a Gasthaus that brews their own beer) or a Biergarte ….. I’m thirsty and decide to stop for a beer. Variations are: 1) I am lost and not sure where I got of the route I was following — I tell myself, “relax and have a beer” and I do (a village is usually no more than a couple of kilometers away); or 2) it starts to rain so I put on my rain jacket until I come to a village and then “relax and have a beer.”
In fact, “beer culture” as the Germans call it has provided the reason to designate hiking routes that connect breweries in this region. I’ve tried out one of these routes so far and hope to do a couple more. You can also invent your own. Imagine being dropped off at a Braueri Guesthaus for lunch and a beer, then walking four segments that average 3 to 5 kilometers each (2-3 miles) through drop-dead gorgeous countryside and forests to three more unique villages and breweries, then back to your starting point. You get picked up there to get back to your lodging. This is a truly unique experience and the walk and the time between breweries keeps things reasonable.
Part of what I am am looking into is the feasibility of offering brewery-themed travels in this area. The itinerary would combine hikes like described above together with behind-the-scenes visits with master brewers at several breweries. It’s looking good so far, but I would certainly love to hear from you about what could make this kind of experience as desirable as possible.