Sunday, 28 June 2020

And so this is Kulmbach

I’ve got a sausage in my pocket. Train sausages are as essential as train beer, when you’re in Franconia, in my view. Mind you, I think the younger generation of Germans would rather die than be seen eating a piece of Krakauer in public like their grandad.

If there is a Franconian equivalent to Burton-on-Trent, it is probably Kulmbach.

It is the home town of the Kulmbacher Brauerei, a conglomerate that fused the previously competing Reichelbräu and EKU breweries. Reichelbräu had previously taken over local rivals Sandlerbräu and Mönchshof, and since the fusion Kulmbacher has gone on to absorb substantial breweries such as Scherdel of Hof and Würzburger Hofbräu, which are still brewing, and acquired the brands from the remnants of Brauhaus Schweinfurt and Kitzmann of Erlangen, which aren’t. Ultimately, the majority shareholding is held by the Paulaner group. It’s a major player.

Beer geeks speak disparagingly of its beer, and yet it is the repository of several critical aspects of beer heritage. Once, Kulmbacher was its own style of dark lager – though as far as I can make out, the original Kulmbacher beer is extinct. Two unique bottled beers survive, too: EKU 28, sometimes called Kulminator, at one time the world’s strongest lager; Eisbock, pioneered by Reichelbräu, freeze-concentrated to increase the alcoholic strength.

But I wanted to go to Kulmbach because I can say with a fair degree of certainty that EKU Pilsner is the first German beer I ever drank. On my first trip to Bavaria, I remember buying this six-pack of EKU stubbies, purely because our 19-year-old minds were boggled that this beer was cheaper than cola. We probably drank it warm and weren’t used to beer, so none of us thought it was very nice. But never mind that.
The former Mönchshof brewery has been preserved as a brewery museum, and it is enormous. I had rather naively set out to walk there from the town centre, and it’s a fair hike, so I was already quite tired by the time I started going round the many, many rooms. It is pretty good value at 6 euro, especially as you get a free (small) glass of the on-site micro-brewery’s beer at the end. It’s an amber export lager with toasty malt notes, full-bodied and süffig, but needs mair hops.

The on-site brewery is a new, modern affair – from the supplier who made the kit for the Johann Albrecht chain of brewpubs – which seems ironic when you consider that what looks like the entire Mönchshof brewhouse is preserved upstairs in the museum. I guess it would not be economical to switch that on.

There are brewhouses older than this still in production in Bavaria.
I do like a Grant.

Lagering tanks!

There was no explanation of what this machine does, as far as I could see, but I think it is a device for lining casks with pitch.

On the way back into town you can stop off at Kulmbacher Kommunbräu. The Beer of the Month is a pale Christmas bock. No ABV given. It smells of fresh apples and pears and tastes of sweeties, but is not unpleasant. Marzipan, nuts and vanilla, and did I mention it is a sweet beer? We have left the hop-loving part of Franconia behind: here the range of beers starts with Helles and gets less hoppy from there. 

Back in the town centre, I want to try the EKU Pils again. I’ll give any beer a second chance on its home turf. Italian and Greek restaurants in Germany are the vernacular eating places, and almost always have local draught beer, which is why I end up in the EKU Fäßla, which is really a pizzeria. My draught Pils surprises with a rather odd aroma of butter and linseed oil, but has good, bitter, meringue-like foam that is perhaps not quite as stable as it might be.

Malty, full-bodied with a bitter edge. I was wrong in 1989! This is not bad. I quite like it and am glad I came in here to drink it, especially since I get to sit inside a huge old barrel – although from the size and shape of it I am inclined to think it held wine rather than beer originally. Or maybe it’s completely fake to begin with, who knows?

There is a proper dedicated beer place in Kulmbach as well, the Bierhäusla. Initially I am attracted by the beer of the day chalked on a blackboard: Krug-Bräu Lagerbier.

I’ve heard of this but never had it. The dark beer everyone else is drinking looks so good, though, that I decide to have that instead. Of course, it turns out to be the same beer. I hadn’t realised Krug’s lager was dark. It is wonderful. It tastes basically of dark malt. That’s about it. The texture and mouthfeel is perfect too. I wonder if the strange-looking beer font in use on the bar has something to do with that. The only thing wrong with this place is that the regulars are all crowded round the bar stopping me getting a photograph of the bizarre dispensing apparatus. Apart from that, I really like it: it’s a place for beer geeks, but not wanky; and there are no pastry stouts, just terrific regional beers.

I picked up bottles of Eisbock and EKU 28 in the nearest gedrinkymarket to the old Mönchshof brewery. Leaving them out on the balcony overnight, I was a bit concerned I had inadvertently invented the twice-frozen version of Eisbock, but it was fine. Very dark mahogany brown, with aroma and taste both of Munich malt and toast. Not a complicated beer. The 28 is similarly syrupy, but I’ve lost my notes.