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Pub Visit - Germany

Friday 17th May 2013

Bob Thompson

Spezial 1The Brauerei Spezial is yet one more Bamberg institution. It is the oldest Rauchbier (smoked beer) brewery in the world and was founded in 1536 by Lindhard Grosskopf. It is located on is an old road that runs south to Nürnberg. It is in the Gärtnerstadt, one of the three old districts of Bamberg. It is close by a major crossing of the River Regnitz that leads to the heart of the old city.

It appears that the name Spezial was first coined when it was owned by Niklas Delscher; however I don't know when this was. It is said that the name originates from the word Spezeln, meaning friends, probably drinking mates, in the local dialect. In 1830 when Georg Ott was in charge, a bierkeller was established on the Oberer Stephanberg hill overlooking the city for the cool storage of beer.

Spezial 2The Spezial Keller is still with us and is a fabulous place to have a drink on a summer's evening, see separate article in BeerVisits.

The brewery stopped using the caves under the hill for beer storage in the early 1960s with the introduction of modern refrigeration systems. In 1898 the Merz family gained control of the brewery and they are still in charge now, with the fifth generation running it.

On the occasion of this visit I was in a party with the engaging members of the Brewery History Society on an official visit. We settled in the Brauereihof (brewery courtyard) and had a beer.

Spezial 3We were soon joined by Christian Merz who, as well as running the company, is also its brewer. He explained that his brewery was a mixture of old and new.

We observed the mash tun and copper that were installed in the 1960s. There were four large maturation tanks for the primary fermentation. These were controlled by a computerised system, which is a product of Caspar Schultz, the well-known brewery manufacturer located here in Bamberg. There were other, smaller tanks used for the secondary fermentation or lagering which is done for a minimum of four weeks.

Spezial 4What sets Brauerei Spezial apart from most other breweries in Bamberg, or anywhere for that matter, is that they smoke their own malt. The only other in Bamberg to do is Brauerei Heller who brew the Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Their brewery is separate from the pub, so Christian can claim his brewery is the only one where the malt is kilned at the pub itself. It is fascinating to think that such an ancient process like this is still undertaken in the midst of the city. The malted barley is entirely organic and comes from Bavarian farmers.

He showed us the furnace that the beech wood logs are burnt and conveniently there were some of them stacked by it, so please see the photograph. We were then taken to see the modern bottling plant. Christian explained that most of the production went to Bamberg and the surrounding area, mostly to the pub and the Spezial-Keller, although they have successfully exported bottled beer to the USA.

Spezial 5The brewery produces five different beers and three of them are available all year round. The signature beer is Rauchbier Lager (4.7%) and this makes up the vast majority of the output. Obviously it is a smoked beer yet the smoke flavour is not as intense as that from the Heller brewery (Schlenkerkla). Christian told us that his beer was made with 40% smoked malt kilned on the premises and the remainder is made up of normal malts.

Another beer produced for year-round consumption is Rauchbier Weizen (5.3%), a smoked wheat beer that I guess is made with top fermenting yeast.

Spezial 8There's also Ungespundetes (4.9%) which means un-bunged or un-plugged and describes the process where the initial fermentation is made in an open vessel. It is not unlike the method of brewing English bitter and it should give the beer an increased hop flavour and that's the case here. This beer is the only one not to use smoked malt although I think there are some residual tastes.

A seasonal beer is Märzen (5.3%). Traditionally this would have been brewed in March, hence the name, and matured in cool caves to be served at Oktoberfest, which is really a thanksgiving for the harvest, though you wouldn't know that nowadays. The reason for the long maturation period was that in the hot Bavarian summers of the past brewing was very difficult without the modern cooling systems we have today.

I'm not sure when this Märzen is available but when we were there in May, it was on sale in the pub by the bottle. Märzen is a more intensely smoky version of the Lager having 70% smoked malt balanced with 30% of the standard varieties.

The final beer brewed is a heavyweight and is available from November to New Year. It is Bock (6.9%) and regretfully I've never had it. Most if not all of the Bamberg breweries have a Bockbier in November and December and one day I'm going to try them all!

Spezial 6After our visit we repaired to the courtyard for more beer. Before the seating was established here, I well remember the noise from this yard in the mornings when Linda and I stayed several nights in the pub. It wasn't a distraction, just a pleasant reminder we were a working brewery. A couple of days earlier I, in the company of Reece, visited the pub in the morning. Inside we met Alan, another of our party. The reason for me to be there so early was so I could record its interior photographically; it gets so very busy later on. It is an exquisite example of a traditional Bamberg boozer, frequented by both locals and visitors.

Spezial 7Please let me give you a guided tour of this wonderful pub. On the right side of the imposing building is the entrance through to the brewery and yard. Entrance to the interior is achieved by turning left from this tunnel. As you go in you will notice the window for off-sales. On arriving in the main room the service area is on the right, there is no bar as such. Almost unnoticed there is a small room on the left with six tables. This is used for serving breakfast to guests who are staying at the pub and acts as an overflow at busy times.

Inside the main room one of the first things you will notice is the "kachelofen" the traditional green-tiled stove that no self-respecting Franconian pub should be without.

Spezial 9This is on the right of the room and the "Stammtisch" is beyond it. This is the table reserved for the pubs regulars. It is deemed very impolite to sit at it without being invited to.

The walls are wood-panelled which reaches to above head height and on these there photographs of old Bamberg. Above the panelling are a number of deer antlers; a decoration much loved by pubs in this area. Most of the room is occupied by three large tables with scrubbed wood tops. Each of these has seats for twelve customers thus encouraging a more communal atmosphere than in most pubs. I have had many conversations with fellow imbibers in this room.

Spezial 10At the end of the room there is a door that is not always open. It leads to another room decorated in similar style and is used as an overflow when the pub is busy. All together there is seating for 120 and a further 50 can be accommodated in the courtyard.

One very noticeable feature at the serving area are the two wooden barrels, one larger than the other. The big one holds Rauchbier Lager, the all-year-round staple; the other contains a seasonal beer. In this case it was Ungespundetes.

This is a fabulous pub offering fantastic beers brewed on site and is a "must visit" if you are in the city.

Important Information:

Brauerei Spezial, Obere Königstrasse 10, Bamberg, 96052. Tel: 0951 24304

Open: Sunday-Friday 09.00-23.00; Saturday 09.00-14.00

The pub is located between the Old Town and the railway station.

It's less than 10 minutes walk from the ZOB (Zentral Omnibus Bahnhof) and around 10 minutes from Bamberg railway station. Bamberg station is served by trains to and from a number of German cities and it takes about 40 minutes to Nürnberg which there are many more connections, some to other countries.

Several bus routes pass along Luitpold Strasse which is nearby.