Bamberg is an essential beer city to visit. It’s undoubtedly one of the biggest draws for beer-lovers visiting Germany, a small place famous for its handsome old town hall, the UNESCO-listed center, the seven surrounding hills (each crowned with a church), the peaceful river, and the cathedral. There are also many liquid attractions, including nine breweries (at least, see opposite), plus the famous Rauchbiers, or smoked beers.
Visit To Schlenkerla Tavern, Bamberg Smoking Brews In Beer’s Most Handsome Town Photo Gallery
Centuries ago, barley was malted with a lick of flame, turning it a dark color and giving it a singed, smoky flavor. As maltsters found ways to produce paler malts and eliminate the smoke, that flavor largely disappeared from beers, but a couple of Bamberg brewers still make their malts using this old method to produce smoky lagers. Bamberg is seen as the home and heart of Rauchbier brewing.
The Schlenkerla Tavern is where you’ll want to go to drink smoked beer. The tavern is run by Heller-Bräu Trum, but everyone knows the brewery, the beer, and the tavern by the name of Schlenkerla. Stepping inside is like walking into a bonfire: wood, flames, smoke, bacon. All around is wood, as well: dark wooden beams, wooden arches, wooden beer barrels, roasting and smoked meats.
Start with the brewery’s flagship Märzen. It’s a deep, dark purple-brown beer with a fat foam on top. The first impression from the aroma will inevitably be the smoke: think smoked ham and wood embers. The body is rich and smooth with deep smoky flavors, where it’s both sweet and has a perception of savoriness. It’s astonishing and powerful and, while it might not be to everyone’s taste, you should order a second just to be sure. And try it with food, as it’s one of the world’s greatest beer styles for food, adding an umami punch, especially to meaty dishes like sausages and steak.
Also in Bamberg is Brauerei Spezial (Obere Königstraße 10, 96052 Bamberg), the city’s other Rauchbier brewer and another like Schlenkerla that has its own maltings. Spezial’s smoked Märzen is lighter than Schlenkerla’s in color and smoke; it’s softly toasty, still dry and savory, with the smoke being sweeter and more immediately inviting. I prefer the Spezial Rauchbier over Schlenkerla’s—the Spezial version is easier to drink and more subtle. They also have some unsmoked lagers on tap.
By the end of your second glass of Rauchbier you probably won’t notice the smokiness in the beer anymore. Instead, you’ll have a feeling that the whole world is now smoky, that everything smells like the heady fragrance of roasting meat and billowing smoke. Very few beer experiences are so evocative and very few beer towns are so nice to visit.
WHAT: Schlenkerla Tavern
HOW: Nuremburg is the nearest airport to Bamberg, which is less than 50 minutes by train from Nuremburg’s main station. Or it’s a two-hour train journey from Munich. The tavern opening hours are 9.30am-11.30pm, with hot food served from midday (www.schlenkerla.de).
WHERE: Dominikanerstraße 6, 96049 Bamberg, Germany