Bamberg beer guide
If you could only drink beer in one place for the rest of your life…? Then Bamberg, in Franconia, would be one of my considerations. It has a lot of breweries, a lot of beer variety, a lot of dark cosy old taverns and plenty of sunny beer gardens. Here’s everything you might want to know about one of the world’s best beer-drinking destinations.
For beer, Bamberg offers the widest range of lager diversity in any German town and if you really want to taste the breadth of lagered beers then there’s nowhere better to go: bitter Pilsners, bright Helles, malty amber lagers which are a taste of traditional Franconian brews, old-style brown lagers and black lagers, and Rauchbier, or smoked lager, for which the town is synonymous, where the smokiness comes from heating the malt over beechwood fires. The town is welcoming, charming with its local traditions, affordable, easily walkable (if you don’t mind the hills as it’s built between seven of them), and it's a handsome place, with the Old Town Hall as the famous main attraction.
The tavern for Heller-Bräu Trum, best known as Schlenkerla, is right in the middle of town. The famous beer is Schlenkerla’s Rauchbier Märzen and it’s served straight from a wooden barrel which was filled directly from the brewery’s cellars, a short walk away (the beer used to be brewed in the tavern, likely from the end of the 15th century, until the brewery moved to be situated above the cellars from the early 20th century). The brewery is one of two in town who smoke their own malts and the beer is very dark and very smoky – smoky like smoked pork – and it might take a few gulps to begin to taste past just the intensity of smoke. They also have a smoky Hefeweizen and there’s usually a seasonal on tap. Whether you like Rauchbier or not, it's an essential tavern to visit. Food is very meaty (as it is in all of Bamberg).
Spezial is the other brewery which still produces their own smoked malt. Spezial's Rauchbier is lighter and less intensely smoky than Schlenkerla’s. They also have an unfiltered kellerbier called Ungespundet and a good Hefeweizen. The tavern gets very busy and it’s a popular place with locals. They also have Spezial Keller (see below) and there are hotel rooms above the brewery.
Opposite Spezial is Fässla. Go through the big wooden door and you’ll come to the schwemme, something consistent with many of Bamberg’s breweries, and it’s a drinking space where regulars head to meet friends or just enjoy a beer or two after work. The brewery is at the back and the main drinking area is on your right as you enter. Here you can drink a Pils and a Lagerbier (darker and maltier than the Pils), a dark lager, a light and a dark wheat, and sometimes a bock. Beer and food are both good - look for the day menu for more dining choice.
My favourite beers in Bamberg are from Mahrs. The brewery and tavern are next to each other, a mile-or-so east of the centre of town, and there’s a small garden out the front if the weather is good. You’ll walk into a schwemme with a serving hatch and you can order from there or sit inside. They have three barrels on the side (though they don’t seem to be pouring directly from the barrel and are probably connected to a tank or keg in the cellar) and have Helles, Pils and U, the latter their most renowned beer and a malty, amber-colour, unfiltered lager. All the beers are very good. In the summer they will also have Sommer Pils, a little hoppy lager. Mahrs manage to transition the traditions of Franconia and the excitement of modern craft beer.
Turn left out of Mahrs and directly opposite, on the other side of the street, is Keesmann. Their Herren Pils is a very bitter and hop-aromatic Pilsner, which makes a sharply refreshing contrast to some of the maltier lagers in Bamberg. The brewery is out the back of the tavern and there’s both standing and sitting space here, including a small garden in the brewery yard.
This is the oldest brewery in a town of very old breweries. It’s a few minutes walk from Schlenkerla and the Old Town Hall and you pretty much pass it if you walk up to Spezial-Keller or Wilde Rose – see below. It serves traditional food and beer, including a brown beer, a keller beer and a black beer, with the darker beers a taste of the older types of beers brewed in this region.
You have to walk up hill to get here, but you’ll get used to walking up hills if you visit Bamberg. There’s a large restaurant and a beer garden to greet you once you get there. They have a good Lagerbier and a Hefeweizen, Pils and Kellerbier, plus some seasonals. The food portions are big and it's classic beer hall dishes.
This is the last of the main Bamberg breweries and it’s a few doors down from Schlenkerla. Have a look inside and you can see the brewery. But don’t necessarily be tempted to go in for a beer unless you’re the kind of completist drinker that has to visit every brewery in town. I’m a completist so I’ve been there a couple of times and a couple of times I’ve wished that I’d skipped it – the beers are fine but there’s so much more great beer in Bamberg.
THE KELLERS AND OTHER TAVERNS
When the sun comes out go to the beer gardens, or kellers. Spezial-Keller is one of the best. To get there, head up Stephansberg, one of Bamberg’s seven hills. When you get to Sternwartstraße, you’ll see a sign for Heller-Bräu Trum – this is where the Schlenkerla brewery is but you can’t visit, so take the left and keep going up hill. You’ll see signs for Spezial-Keller. Sit outside, if you can, as the view back over town is great. They serve their Rauchbier as well as a couple of other beers. and the food is good.
Directly next to Spezial-Keller is Wilde Rose Keller, although you’ll need to go back down to the main street and turn left to get there. It’s a proper beer garden. Huge, gravelly, loads of trees, a bandstand, a place to collect your own beers, and all around you people drink and eat, often taking out food they’ve brought from home. It’s one of the best beer gardens you can visit and they have a Hefeweizen and a Keller lager.
Back in the middle of town and a traditional restaurant which serves a few local brews is Zum Sternla. If you want to drink something a little different then there’s a good bottle shop, Die Bierothek, right near Spezial and Fässla (it’s left out of Spezial on that side of the street) and there’s also Café Abseits, a bar a little way out of town which always has some great local (non-Bamberg) lagers on tap, including Mönchsambacher, as well as a large range of bottled beer.
One other place you can visit is Weyermann’s, the maltings (one of two in Bamberg, the other being Bamberger Malzerei). Weyermann’s have a small brewery and there’s a shop on site to buy beer and other merchandise.
STUFF TO KNOW
When to go…
It’s great in winter, when you can warm up in the snug beer halls with full-bodied and malty lagers, and it’s equally great in summer when the beer gardens are open and you can drink cool pale lagers outside. The Christmas market in December is nice to see. Or go in late July to coincide with Annafest in Forchheim, one of Germany’s best beer festivals.
Where to stay…
There are two breweries which have nice, simple accommodation: Fässla and Spezial. Or just stay somewhere central and walkable. The most central point of Bamberg would be somewhere between Spezial and Schlenkerla and from there you’ll never be more than a 20-minute walk from where you’ll want to go.
When you’re not drinking…
There’s lots of stuff to do. Bamberg is built in between seven hills, so bring good shoes and be prepared to walk a little. The Old Town Hall is the famous landmark, and it’s right in the middle of town. Just north of it is Grüner Markt, a central shopping street. South of the rivers (there are two which converge) you’ll find the old town and its windy streets. Follow them up to the cathedral, Neue Residenz, rose garden and then over to Michelsberg monastery which also houses the Franconian Brewery Museum.
You can fly into Nuremberg and get the train from the airport to the central station then connect straight up to Bamberg, which takes a total of an hour-or-so from airport to Bamberg. On the way the train passes through a few towns which are worth stopping at, like Buttenhiem, which has two breweries, and Forchheim, which has four breweries and the Kellerwald. You could also get to Bamberg via Munich, Frankfurt or Berlin, where each is under three hours on the train.
Go to Bamberg. It’s brilliant!
All photos by Mark Dredge (even the ones which aren't blurry)