Back on the motorway, we're soon back in Germany. It's a strange feeling. This the part of the tour I've most keenly anticipated: Zoigl country.
I notice the first Zoigl sign 100 metres before we pull up at our hotel. Sadly, it's swung flat against the wall. No Zoigl there today.
Marktplatz 1 in Neuhaus,
Tel. +49 (0)9681 / 37 11
Our hotel is also a pub and restaurant. It's in that rustic kitsch style I've learned to love. Set your mind free and seek the beauty within. God, I'm turning into a hippy. I need a beer, quick. The landlord's daughter checks us in. It isn't the last we'll be seeing of her.
Andy takes us over to look at Windischeschenbach. We're staying in its twin town of Neuhaus. The two are separated by a rushing stream. Twin towns is a slight overstatement. The two combined make a pretty small town. Windischeschenbach does at least have a small high street lined with shops. At the end of it we spot the Zoigl trailer. It reminds me of a muck spreader. This is how the wort is transported from the communal brewhouse to the private homes where it's fermented. This is so exciting. Even though it's just sitting by the side of the road. I spot three or four pubs. The plan is for Andy to drive us back over here in about an hour. We should have somewhere to drink.
Back at our hotel, Andy has a chat with the landlord. Yes, he does have Zoigl on. Hooray! Even though the official Zoigl time ended on Sunday (it's Tuesday, if you've lost track). He has a little flyer with the Zoigl schedule for the year printed on it. They're very well organised. Each of the five brewing families in Neuhaus takes it in turns to sell Zoigl Thursday to Sunday. Like I said, it's Tuesday. Once a year (3rd of October in 2008) , all five Zoigl families sell beer simultaneously. I'll mark that date in my calendar.
I have my first glass of Zoigl in front of me. It's a shape of mug I've never seen before - low, wide and with a pattern of raised half spheres. Like the bottom half of a dalek. Andy looks at it with longing I reserve for brewery yards. "Do you really want to go to Windisch tonight? We could just stay here." I can see how his mind's working. I've barely said yes and he's already halfway down his first beer. I can't say I blame him. That Pilsner Urquell tour was enough to drive a teetotaller to drink.
Romantic that I am, I'd expected Zoigl to come straight from a barrel. Having it served by top pressure robbed me of another illusion. Quite a lot of top pressure, too. Maybe they're getting close to the end of the barrel. I've once had Zoigl before - bottled, 18 months ago (thanks again Sebastian). It was absolutely wonderful, like a really good Franconian Kellerbier. This one is disappointing in comparison. Far from bad, just not as good as my first. (Isn't the same true of most everything? The first is always the most memorable.)
Bahler Zoigl: golden colour, sweetish taste, honey, butter and resin flavours. I score it 59 out of 100.
We're the only customers in the pub. The landlord's daughter comes over. She tells Andy that she can take us to the Zoigl house now. It isn't far. Just next to where Andy's parked the minibus opposite the hotel. It looks just like all the other houses in the street, except there's a small green sign saying Zoigl on the big double doors to the courtyard. Inside we can see that it's a farmhouse with various outbuildings. A friendly, youngish chap in overalls welcomes us. He's the farmer/Zoigl brewer.
He takes us to see his brewery. It's in quite a small room adjacent to the courtyard entrance. Along one wall is an open fermenter. There's a healthy-looking scum on top of it. On the oppsite wall are stainless steel lagering tanks. The whole space is smaller than my bedroom. And I don't live in a palace.
Here's what he told me about the brewing process.
- the beer is left in the coolship in the communal brewery overnight and transported to someone's house the next morning
- primary fermentation is at 6-8º C and lasts 7 days
- lagering is for 20 days at 8º C
- he brew 22 hl 10 times a year
"Do you want to see my Zoiglstube?" Are bears catholic? Course we blooming do. It's behind the brewing area, along one side of the inner courtyard. "It used to be a barn" There's enough agricultural equipment lying around the yard to convince me this is still a genuine farm. Diversification really is the name of the game in rural Bavaria.
The pub is surprisingly spacious, especially considering it's only open a couple of days each month. You guessed - more rustic kitsch. Pale pine is everywhere. At one end is a tiny bar with a single beer tap. He pours us a Zoigl each. "Would you like to try a special schnapps?" Am I a catholic wood? "It's called Hopfengold." I'm not quite sure if any hops are involved in its manufacture. I'm too busy slurping it down to ask. It's 56% ABV and I experience a pleasant warm feeling as it progresses towards my gut. I've just about totally forgotten about that godawful Urquell tour.
Mrs. Brewer/Farmer comes in and has a short but totally incomprehensible conversation with Mr. Brewer/Farmer. His German was pretty normal when he spoke to us just now. This is full-strength dialect. I literally don't understand a single word. Just as well he made an effort with us.
The tour isn't finished yet. "Do you want to see the communal brewhouse?" He keeps asking us questions with only one possible answer. Maybe it's all a clever trick. We'll be so used to nodding our heads enthusiastically that when he asks us if we want to hand over our wallets we'll say yes, too. It isn't far to the communal brewhouse. It looks like a shed. Not a particularly grand shed. There's a tiny plaque explaining what it is and a bit of its history. He unlocks the door and we enter.
I've been around lots of breweries. Quite a lot of them in the last 5 days. This is about the least grand I've seen. It looks like a shed inside, too. It reminds me of the Museumbrauerei in Singen, which I suppose isn't all that far away. Except this one doesn't have a steam engine. It doesn't have a full set of brewing equipment. No fermenters or lagering tanks, which reduces the clutter a fair bit. The copper is directly fired by a furnace underneath it. On the first floor there's a shallow cool ship of a type you very rarely see nowadays. Well not in use. You do see them in museums. This one is still very much part of the equipment in active use.
They also have one of the little tanker trailers we saw earlier. It has a star of David and "Zoigl" painted on it. It must be a cheering sight to see it being pulled through town. We'll find out more about exactly how cheering tomorrow. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.
We return to the hotel. It's really livened up in the bar. There's an old couple in one corner. Time to eat. There's lots of tempting rustic fare on the menu. Andy and Jim order some meat extravaganza made for two. It sounds like it's going to be an awful lot of food. I pick something that sounds as if it can be eaten by one normal person.
The joint's now really buzzing. Another old couple is sitting in another corner. On the table next to them is a middle-aged bloke with what looks suspiciously like a mail-order oriental bride. They have a baby with them. By the bar the landlord's daughter is playing with what I assume is her child. It's another real family business.
Andy and Jim's food arrives. It's on a plate only slightly smaller than our table. For two? It looks like enough to feed everyone in the pub. There's no way they'll eat all of that. I'm pretty convinced of my ability to polish off my much more modest meal. Filled dalek glasses keep appearing, but are soon emptied. Andy orders a Weizen. What's wrong with him? You can drink Weizen anywhere, but not Zoigl.
I was right - Andy and Jim admit defeat with their giant plate far from empty. We're soon alone again. The other customers only came in to eat and disappear quickly. I can't remember what time it is when we call it a day. It's not that late.
The day has been long and varied. Seeing both bits of a Zoigl operation has been exciting. It contrasts nicely with (and makes up for) the mind-aching tedium of Pilsner Urquell. Tomorrow is my last day on the tour. Will it be an anticlimax? The next installment will reveal all.
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