Monday, October 25, 2010


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 is more than beer. The term encompasses a number of things; the brewers, the process, ancient property rights, and community - all in addition to the drink itself. (More about that in the next paragraph.) Zoiglbier falls into the category of what most would call Kellerbier or Zwickel. It is a relatively flat, unfiltered lager beer that is served directly out of the keg after a maturation period that is much shorter than most traditional lagers.

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.

The Zoiglstern

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)

When a Zoiglstube is open, they will hang this star in front of their house. The Zoiglstern looks like the Star of David, though there is no connection with the Jewish symbol. The six-pointed star is an ancient, medieval sign of the brewer, and its association with beer remains today. It can still be seen on the label of some Bavarian beers, and it is still a symbol of Zoigl in Oberpfalz. The star can be plain or it may have a mug in the center. It is believed that the term Zoigl actually stems from this tradition of using the star to guide locals to beer. The star is an indicator, “Zeiger” in German, that beer is being served. In the local dialect the word Zeiger morphed into Zeigel, and eventually Zoigl. Many locals to this day still say, “Geh’n ma am Zeigel!”


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.

Da Roude

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.

I made it through the door fine, but anyone slightly taller than me would need to duck to get through the stubby door. We walked right into a full house. Da Roude was a great introduction to the Zoigl experience. It felt weird taking a seat, because we were sitting in owner’s living room next to the kitchen. After the awkwardness wore off though, we felt right at home. It was packed, warm, and very cozy. As you can imagine, the setting was quite rustic with nailed down, weathered wood flooring, wainscot on the walls, arched stone windows, and dark ceiling beams. There was a stove and small woodpile in the kitchen right next to us. It was a very unique experience being served and drinking beer in a Bavarian home.

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.

Despite the low ceiling, the room was packed with hanging decorations of hops bines, Zoigl stars and banners. It resembled a rock the cellar of an old monetary, but packed with beer loving locals. One patron brought his accordian and was playing German favorites by request while everyone sang along. The atmosphere was buzzing.

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.

There are a few other things to note. Some commercial breweries, especially in the Oberpfalz region, sell beers labeled as Zoigl. Despite the name I would not consider these authentic since they are made commercially. They are excellent beers that fit well in the Kellerbier category, just not true Zoigl. Also, in addition to the brewer’s home, there are a few other establishments they partner with were you can find Zoiglbier. So one may find other hotels, homes and restaurants that dispense the beer brewed by these communal brewers. Most Zoigl establishments have more information at their premises including maps and addresses for the other dispensaries. And to learn more you just need to travel to Bavaria and take it in. I know I did not get my fill, and I still have a lot to learn about Zoigl, so I’ll return some day when I have more time. I have listed some resources for your reference below. To conclude, I would like to thank J Mark Angelus for tipping me off to the Zoigl experience!
(good starting point) (Windischeschenbach and Neuhaus site – includes their calendar)