Last month I had the opportunity to visit the Vaterland again, and considering how this part of the world is the epicenter for brewing and beer culture, there are many things I could write about. My friends, Matt & Skye, and I could not have possibly packed more beer experiences into our short eight-day visit than we did. We attended the Wiesn Wirteinzug (opening parade of the Oktoberfest), visited Austria’s greatest brewery, beer hall and Biergarten, Kloster Mülln in Salzburg, enjoyed a Weißbier at the Watzmannhaus after a 4000 vertical foot hike straight up to some of the most spectacular scenery in Bavaria, enjoyed the famous Braüstuberl in Tegernsee, and successfully completed the eight mile walking tour of the four breweries in the town of Aufseß (so Matt and Skye could also become Fränkische Ehrenbiertrinker – honorary beerdrinkers of Franconia). But to cap off our trip, we had a truly special and unique beer drinking experience, and that is what I will be writing about in this blog – drinking Zoiglbier and visiting authentic Zoiglstube.
What is Zoigl?
Don’t worry if you have never heard of Zoigl before… even if you are a self-identified beer expert. Most Germans do not know what Zoigl is either – including a majority of Bavarians! I suppose this is not too surprising. Germans are world-renowned beer lovers, but they tend to drink local and pay little attention to what is going on down the road. Zoigl is a very regional thing, and few outside of Oberpfalz know much about it.
Zoigl may be a Kellerbeir-type of beer, but not all Kellerbier is Zoigl. Zoigl is special, and is defined by a unique set of circumstances. Authentic Zoiglbier is made by communal brewers who take turns using a town brewhouse. Each brewer has their own recipe; so all Zoigl beers are slightly different. Zoiglbier is brewed using local ingredients and traditional practices including the use of wood fired kettles. At the conclusion of the brew day in the communal brewhouse, the brewer takes the wort back to their own cellars to ferment and briefly age. The beer is then served directly in their own home. This communal approach to brewing, as well as the brewing right itself, is very unique. And it is specifically unique to the Oberpfalz region in northeastern Bavaria. This Zoigl tradition goes back hundreds of years. For example, the Zoiglbraurecht (right to brew and serve Zoigl) dates back to 1455 in the town of Windischeschenbach and to 1415 in Neuhaus. At that time property owners received the right to brew and distribute beer in their home. This right remains valid today and is tied to the property and house. The Zoiglbraurecht is passed along from owner to owner in the property’s deed.
Since the late middle ages there have been dozens of communal breweries all across Oberpfalz, but over the years most have closed down due to a variety of reasons. Today only five true “Zoigl towns” remain: Windischeschenbach, Neuhaus, Eslarn, Falkenberg and Mitterteich. The center of Zoigl activity is in Windischeschenbach and Neuhaus – two small burgs separated only by the Waldnaab River. Each of these two towns has seven communal brewers. (Mitterteich has three, and Eslarn and Falkenberg have only one each.) Zoiglbier can be found in these locations, but not just at any time. Zoiglbier is always served over a “long weekend” that starts on Friday and lasts through Monday or Tuesday depending on the family. Patrons are often served in the family room or kitchen, though some have a special guest rooms for the occasion. The brewers take turns and rotate hosting with one or two Zoiglstube being open over any given weekend.
Upon arriving in one of the Zoigl towns, there are two ways to find out where to get authentic Zoiglbier. First, one can consult the Zoiglkalender, posted in the local newspaper, or published online in the case of Windischeschenbach and Neuhaus. The other, old-fashioned way is to look for the Zoiglstern. (Zoigl Star)
It would take a month and a half to visit all Zoigl homes since they are spread across five towns and their opening weekends rotate. This is something I want to do some day, but on this trip Matt, Skye and I had only one day, so we visited Windischeschenbach and Neuhaus where, on the Saturday we were in town, the Schoilmichl (Neuhaus) and Da Roude (Windischeschenbach) happened to be open. This worked out well since we could visit two Stub’n without getting in a car.
Even though we had a map, and knew exactly where we where we were going, we still walked right by Da Roude. From the outside the residence was very quiet. Besides a small star hanging above the door, there was no indication of activity. After finding the star, we tentatively
opened a large wooden door and found ourselves in a narrow court. There were a few tables in the court available for overflow seating, or for those wanting to enjoy the fresh air on warmer days. We soon found that a side door in the court led inside where all of the action was.
Here is a quick overview of their offering. Da Roude’s Zoiglbier was a pale orange beer that was hazy, but not cloudy, with a solid cream-colored head. It had a nose of light malt, and its flavor was snappy and spicy clean. It finished with a light, tangy malt note and just a slight hop presence. Overall it was very easy drinking and refreshing. Da Roude’s Zoigl was a well-rounded tangy and smooth beer with no fruity esters. I though of it as an unfiltered Märzen.
After enjoying a few Halbe at Da Roude, we trekked 20 minutes to Neuhaus where the Schoilmichl (pronounced with a ridiculously funny Bavarian accent) was open for the weekend. Schoilmichl was a bit less inconspicuous. In addition to the Zoigl star hanging from a pole mounted on the corner of the house it had a sign and large wooden keg out front. There was seating in front of the home, though most of the people were inside and downstairs in the Schoilmichl’s guest room. It was quite a bit larger than Da Roude, and (un)comfortably seated around 80 people.
Schoilmichl’s Zoigl was a hazy dark-golden color with a fresh lager nose. The flavor was that of a light Märzen with a medium body. The finish was well rounded and clean. This beer was not quite as spicy as Da Roude, and a bit drier with less of a malt presence.
In addition to their beer, the Zoigl establishments pride themselves in serving great regional specialties. Whether it is beer-garden-style cold cuts or a warm dish. At Da Roude we saw the owner in the kitchen slaving away cooking and dishing up their daily soup special for the hungry guests. These are very communal establishments, and their earnings go toward maintaining the town’s brewery and paying expenses. Profit is a secondary consideration, if one at all. The food and beer are ridiculously inexpensive. For example, at Schoilmichl we enjoyed seven beers, all half liters, and three dinners, huge plates of sausage
and sauerkraut so large we could barely finish, all for less than 23 Euros. It was almost unbelievable. Great food, world-class beer, and a truly unique experience that one can only have in this small part of the world.
http://www.zoigl.de/ (good starting point)
http://www.zoiglbier.de/ (Windischeschenbach and Neuhaus site – includes their calendar)