Franconia is a region in Germany, occupying the northern part of Bavaria above the Danube. The cities of Nürnberg, Würzberg, Bayreuth, Bamberg and Kulmbach are located in Franconia. Franconia is not an official state of Germany, but many residents of the region don’t consider themselves Bavarian. As such, Franconia has an unofficial flag — a red-and-white shield on a red-and-white background.
Franconia is divided into three political regions: Lower Franconia (Unterfranken), Middle Franconia (Mittelfranken) and Upper Franconia (Oberfranken). However, many residents divide the region into two informal sections — wine Franconia and beer Franconia. The beer section of Franconia, as I found out, produces some of the most interesting beer styles in the world, including the rauchbiers of Bamberg and the high-gravity beers of Kulmbach.
I flew to Franconia last spring on a mission: Seek out the most diverse brewing region in Germany, sample its beers and learn what I could from the local brewers and beer drinkers. Franconia (Franken in German) is littered with old breweries that produce some of the world’s classic beer styles.
Franconia is home to about one hundred breweries. Many of these breweries produce beer just for their village or beer garden. In these breweries you will find some of the region’s hidden treasures. I remember sampling a roggenweizenbier (rye wheat beer) served straight from a wooden cask at a village brewery. The clay mugs it was served in were used not only to hide the cloudiness of the brew, but to keep it cold as well. Once the beer was consumed, customers laid their empty mugs on their sides to signify they were ready for another beer. Often, the beers from these village breweries do not fall into normal beer-style categories. This particular brew was also known as bauernbier, or farmers’ beer, and was produced with a local, organically-grown rye malt.
More than 25% of all the beer produced and consumed in Germany comes from Franconia. And unknown to most beer lovers, Franconia offers the most diverse selection of beers in Germany. Franconians are serious about their beer!
My first stop was to explore some of the breweries in Bamberg. Bamberg dates back to the Holy Roman Empire, and in some ways it’s like a town in a fairy tale. Stepping through the streets of Bamberg is like strolling back in time. This historic city of 70,000 people was left untouched by World War II, unlike nearby Nürnberg. Bamberg sits on seven hills and is home to hundreds of medieval buildings, many in the Baroque style. The most famous attraction is the Emperor’s Cathedral, which towers over the city. This cathedral was once a guarding castle, securing trade between east and west. The sights of the city amazed me, but I was there for the beer.
My main reason for visiting Bamberg was to seek out the classic breweries of rauchbier, mainly the most famous of Bamberg’s beers — Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Schlenkerla’s historic tap is in the heart of the old city. I arrived very early in the morning, around 9 AM. Much to my pleasure, the fortress-like doors were open. The taproom was bustling with patrons enjoying smoked beer and smoked ham, a Bavarian specialty. I ordered a Schlenkerla that was tapped, according to tradition, directly from a gravity-fed oak cask. I remember an intense smokiness at the first sip, finishing through the palate to a clean, long, dry finish. I’ll never forget my first taste of Franconian beer. The gentlemen across from me asked me how I liked the rauchbier. I told him it was better than I could have ever imagined. I continued to chat with him about the classic beers of Bamberg. We had a lot in common, but mainly shared an interest in beer. My newfound friend was soon escorting me around to eight other breweries within this majestic city. The people of Franconia loved to see an American brewer get so excited about their beer.
Another brewery that should not be missed is Mahrs-Bräu in the suburb of Wunderberg. This classic Bamberg brewpub is housed in a wonderful building with windowboxes full of geraniums. The brewery is adjacent to the pub and is visible behind glass. As you walk through the front door, you’ll notice hundreds of small lockboxes. These lockboxes contain personal ceramic mugs that are carried to a small service window where beer is served directly from wood casks. The beers include ungespundetes lagerbier, known as “U” beer. “U” beer literally means “unbunged,” indicating that conditioning was in an open vessel exposed to the atmosphere. These beers are intentionally cloudy, aggressively hopped and served with a low level of carbonation. They are conditioned in oak casks and often stored in caverns to settle naturally. I enjoyed a “U” beer with farmers who produce barley for the Weyermann malting company. This beer pours with a big, creamy head, has a deep golden color, and a fresh hop aroma that is beautifully balanced.
Bigger, stronger, darker, older . . . this describes the brewing town of Kulmbach. Brewing vessels that are more than 2,800 years old have been found around Kulmbach. These are the oldest brewing relics in Germany. The earliest documented records show cloistered monks producing beer in the 1300s. In addition to a long brewing history, Kulmbach produces more beer per person than anywhere else in Germany. With a population of 30,000 people, it produces about 5,300 liters per person. During my two days in Kulmbach, I remember smelling wort in the air nearly every waking moment.
Kulmbach is famous for its dark and strong lagers, namely schwarzbier and eisbock. I toured the Reichelbräu and the Mönchshof breweries and was amazed by the quality and volume of the beers produced. At Reichelbräu, I remember tasting Bayerisch G’frorns (literally, Bavarian frozen matter) dating back five years in the tasting room. This beer is frozen for sixteen days, then matured for eight weeks in oak casks. Each year this brew seems to take on more wine or sherry notes. Another famous Kulmbach brewery is the Erste Kulmbacher Union Brauerei (or EKU). EKU 28 has a very distinctive flavor and contains 28% malt extract before fermentation. EKU has a rich, malty flavor and high alcohol levels. The process of elevating the alcohol content by freezing imparts a significant smoothness to the flavor, resulting in a beer with a unique character and style. Now let’s discuss what goes into some classic Franconian beers.
The water around Franconia has a relatively low concentration of carbonate, about 125 to 150 parts per million. The mash pH should be around 5.2 to 5.4 pH. The wort should be below pH 6 before the beginning of the boil. If you must add salts, choose calcium chloride rather than calcium sulfate. This will enhance fullness and maltiness as well as produce a softer and mellower mouthful.
Adding one to two percent acid malt can help reduce the mash pH. Acid malt helps lower the mash pH level of the wort, resulting in intensified fermentation and lightened color. Acid malt also helps improve flavor stability. Acid malt should only be used at one to two percent. Whatever you do to your water, remember to dechlorinate by carbon filtration or boiling your water. As an added bonus for those interested in authenticity, the use of acid malt is Reinheitsgebot-compliant.
Some of the most highly prized hops in the world are grown in or around Franconia, including Spalt and Hallertauer Hersbrucker. These noble hop varieties have a relatively low cohumulone level and a desired flavor profile. These hops are often described as being very aromatic and spicy. Most of these varieties can be used in recipes for bittering aroma and flavor. The choice hop is Hallertauer, as well as Hallertauer Mittlefrüh and Hallertauer Hersbrucker. Most German hops exhibit a low percentage of cohumulone (a type of alpha acid).
Other suitable hop varieties would include Perle, Spalt and German Tettnanger. If you feel inclined, American varieties work well. I suggest Mount Hood, Ultra, Liberty and Crystal. Most breweries here use three additions in the kettle. Try producing a Kellerbier conditioned on dry hops. Whatever hops you decide to use in your beer, make sure they are fresh and not cheesy or oxidized.
A world-class beer begins with a world-class malt and Germany is full of world-class malting companies, including Weyermann. German Pilsner malt, or Pils malt, is the most common type of base malt. These malts have little color, usually around 1.5–2.1 degrees Lovibond. Beers made exclusively with this malt tend to have a straw-like color. This malt exhibits a thinner body and a crisper flavor than English pale malt. Pilsner malts tend to be much less modified than pale malt. These malts should undergo a protein rest at around 122° F for 20–30 minutes. Pilsner malts can constitute 60–100 percent of your grain bill, depending on the style you are making. For extract brewers, Pilsner malt extracts are made by Weyermann and Bierkeller.
Munich and Vienna malts can be used as base malts, but are better suited for additions to the base Pilsner. These malts rarely use more than 25– 30 percent of the grain bill. Moderately kilned malts lend a toasty, nutty, and sometimes bready mouthful to your German treasure. Vienna and Munich malts contribute the same percentage of fermentables as base malts. Malt extracts containing Vienna and Munich malts are also available.
Specialty malts, prized more for their flavor and color contributions than for their enzymatic power, undergo higher temperatures than do base malts. The time, temperature, and length of roasting or stewing determine the malt style that will prevail. When the temperature is raised, the sugars are crystallized, rendering sweetness and body, as well as color.
Bamberg is home to one of the world’s oldest malthouses. Weyermann is a protected, historic site. For over 125 years, its malthouse has been one of the world’s leading manufacturers of specialty brewing malts. Over one-third of the company’s regular rotation consists of specialty malts. Weyermann also produces a wide range of wheat malts subjected to varying degrees of killing and roasting. These malts are intended for top-fermented beers. Another interesting product from this malthouse is the “cara” malts. CaraFoam and CaraHell’s main contributions are increased foam retention, increased fullness, and intensified malt aroma in the finished beer.
Most German beers are lagers. Lager yeasts work well at lower temperatures. Some have the ability to ferment as low as 42° F. Lager yeasts tend to be less flocculent than most ale yeasts. This increased contact time helps remove compounds, therefore cleaning or refining the beers’ flavor. The extended lagering times help clarify the finished beer. Less-flocculent yeasts tend to perform better at lower temperatures. Attention to pitching rates is required to get a satisfactory fermentation. I suggest using Wyeast 2206 (Bavarian Lager), White Labs WLP820 (Octoberfest/Märzen), Wyeast 2124 (Bohemian Lager) or White Labs WLP830 (German Lager) yeast.
Matt Cole is head brewer at the Rocky River Brewing Co. in Rocky River, Ohio.
(5 gallons, all-grain)
OG = 1.056 FG = 1.015
SRM = 38 IBU = 33
- 7.0 lbs. Pilsner malt
- 1.0 lb. dark Munich (20° L)
- 1.0 lb. light Munich (8° L)
- 0.5 lb. aromatic malt
- 0.5 lb. Carafa III
- 5.25 AAU Tettnanger hops (90 minutes)
- (1.5 oz. of 3.5% alpha acids)
- 1.4 AAU Tettnanger hops (30 minutes)
- (0.4 oz. of 3.5% alpha acids)
- 1 oz. Saaz hops (5 minutes)
- Wyeast 2206 (Bavarian Lager) or White Labs WLP820 (Octoberfest/Märzen) yeast (make 2–4 L yeast starter)
- 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)
Step by step
Mash with 3.85 gallons of filtered or boiled water at 122° F for 20 minutes. Ramp to 153° F for 60 minutes (and an iodine test indicates full conversion). Mash-out at 172° F. Bring the wort to a full boil and boil for 90 minutes. Add Tettnanger hops at beginning of boil. Add second charge of Tettnanger hops with 30 minutes left in the boil. Add 1 oz. of Saaz hops for final 5 minutes of the boil. Shut down heat, cool wort as quickly as possible. Pitch yeast starter.
Ferment for nine to ten days at 50° F. Rack to secondary. Condition at 33° F for four to five weeks. Prime with corn sugar and bottle.
Extract with grains option
Replace Pilsner and Munich malts with 7.5 lbs. of malt extract (such as Weyermann or Bierkeller). Steep Carafa III and aromatic malt in 3 gallons of 150° F water for 30 minutes. Bring water to a boil, add malt extract and follow all-grain instructions.
See “Style Profile” on pages 21–26 for recipes and procedures to craft an authentic Bamberg-style rauchbier using all-grain, partial-mash or mostly-extract methods.
(5 gallons, all-grain)
OG = 1.056 FG = 1.012
SRM = 5 IBU = 40
- 7.0 lbs. Pilsner malt
- 1.5 lbs. light Munich (8° L)
- 0.25 lb. CaraHell malt
- 0.25 lb. CaraFoam malt
- 0.25 lb. acid malt
- 9 AAU Hallertauer hops (90 min.)
- (2.25 oz. of 4.0% alpha acids)
- 4 AAU Hallertauer hops (20 min.)
- (1.0 oz. of 4.0% alpha acids)
- 1.0 oz. Tettnanger (10 minutes)
- 0.5 oz. Tettnanger (5 minutes)
- 1.5 oz. Saaz (dry hop)
- Wyeast 2206 (Bavarian Lager) or White Labs WLP820 (Octoberfest/Märzen) yeast
- (make 2–4 L yeast starter)
- 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)
Step by step
Mash with 3.82 gallons of filtered or boiled water at 122° F for 20 minutes. Raise to 151–153° F for 45 minutes. Raise to 170° F for 10 minutes. Lauter as usual. Bring to a full boil for two hours. Add Hallertauer hops 30 minutes into the boil. Add second charge of Hallertauer with 20 minutes remaining in boil. Add two charges of Tettnanger hops with 10 and five minutes left in boil, respectively. Shut down heat. Cool your wort as quickly as possible. Aerate wort and pitch yeast starter. Ferment at 48° for ten days. Cool, then rack to secondary for five to six weeks at 40° F. Dry hop with 1.5 oz. Saaz hops. Prime with corn sugar and bottle.
Partial mash option
Replace Pilsner malt with 5.75 lbs. of malt extract (such as Weyermann or Bierkeller). Steep light Munich, CaraHell and CaraFoam in three gallons of water at 150° F. Omit acid malt. After 30 minutes, remove grain bag and rinse grains with one quart of 150° F water. Bring steeping water to boil, add malt extract. Shorten the boiling time to 60 minutes. Add 11 AAU of Hallertau hops at the start of the boil instead of 9 AAU of hops for 90 minutes.