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Pub/Bar of the Month October 2010: Schlenkerla

Schlenkerla, Bamberg, Germany

Bamberg. Where do you start?

SchlenkerlaAs anyone who has been to this UNESCO World Heritage Site in the north of Bavaria can testify, there is so much to interest the beer lover.

The city is home to no fewer than ten breweries, many of them effectively brew pubs, to borrow a modern term.

They’ve been standing here for centuries, satisfying locals, and latterly beer travellers, with their heady mix of rugged antiquity, hearty food and beers of the highest quality.

No doubt, I’ll return to Bamberg for another Pub/Bar of the Month in due course, but for this initial foray into Franconia, I’ll focus on possibly the most famous of the city’s hostelries.

If the name Schlenkerla is familiar, it’s probably because that’s the title bestowed on the world’s most famous smoked beer, a speciality for which Bamberg is renowned.

The tavern with the same name does, indeed, belong to the brewery. It was, in fact, once home to the brewery, but production has moved to another part of town.

What remains on the site is a big, bustling, half-timbered building with multiple rooms. Driven through the heart of the premises is a wide central corridor – a feature common to Bamberg’s historic pub/breweries – with a small interior courtyard at the end, where smokers now congregate in these smoke-free Bavarian days.

The general appearance is one of an ancestral home, with dark wood panelling throughout, high ceilings and assorted hunting trophies nailed to the thick rock walls. Leaded glass filters in light from the narrow streets of the stunningly beautiful old town outside and, this being Catholic Bavaria, crucifixes bear down on drinkers from gloomy corners.

Stripped wood tables are lit by chandelier at night and sit on solid floors tiled with stone. One area used to be a Dominican chapel and the pointed arches of the clerical architecture remain. For sunny days, there’s a large beer garden at the side.

Food is weighty in the familiar German fashion. Suckling pig, Schlenkerla cheese and the local speciality, stuffed onions, are typical of the menu choices, all designed, naturally, to be washed down by the house beer.

Only two beers are generally on sale, both from the Schlenkerla brewery. One is, of course, the famous smoked lager, brewed with malt that has been dried over beechwood.

SchlenkerlaIf you’ve tried it in bottle and taken a shine to its unusual flavours, then you have to come here and taste the beer on draught to savour, fresh from the wood, the deep mahogany colour, the bonfire aroma and the clever combination in the taste of initial sweetness and the bitterness of smoked grain.

The other offering is even more unusual – a smoked wheat beer that combines the characteristics of a typical weizenbier with Bamberg’s penchant for smoke.

It’s cloudy and well carbonated in the glass, with a hit of sulphur on the nose when fresh. Ripe banana, clove and smoky caramel blend pleasingly in the bittersweet taste, and the texture is appropriately chewy and bready.

Even if smoked beer is not your bag, a visit to Schlenkerla will help you appreciate the history and culture of this beery part of the world.

It may be crowded and there are likely to be lots of other tourists in tow, but don’t let that put you off. The locals don’t.

Schlenkerla, Dominikanerstrasse 6, 96049 Bamberg
Tel. (0951) 56060
Opening Hours: 9.30am–11.30pm

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