Not much has changed in the Bavarian countryside since 1300, the date inscribed on the Neuhaus town walls. Neuhaus and Windischeschechenbach are two Bavarian villages close to the Czech border. These are the kinds of places that are so far out of the way that few outsiders visit. The people are rosy-cheeked and sturdy. They stare when we walk down the street and especially when we open the doors to the Zoigl-stubles, the tiny, homey bars that serve up the area’s local beer specialty.
Zoigl is an incredible cultural phenomenon. Here we have a communal brewing tradition that has continued relatively unchanged since the Middle Ages. Zoigl is also a home brewer’s wet dream, allowing local people to brew beer at a communally-owned facility. The brewer then lagers and cellars the beer until it is ready for sales to the public. When it’s ready they stick a star on a pole outside so the people know where they can drink. Such a thing could never happen in modern North America with all its silly rules about beer.
Public consumption of Zoigl is something of an event. The Zoigl-stubles only open a few times per year, and their opening dates are staggered throughout the year. This means that when a stuble is open, the entire town knows about it and goes there to drink. Another weekend, and another Zoigl-stuble will have its turn. It is a lovely tradition, and we are lucky to have been able to witness and sample Zoigl culture in action. We only went to the easy gateway communities of Windischechenbach and Neuhaus. These towns have a very well-documented Zoigl tradition and so it was pretty easy to find the beers. In fact, several Zoigl-stubles are open year-round in Windischeschenbach. In the more remote towns we would have needed both a car and the luck of the beer gods. The beer is inexpensive too. They were less than 2 euro for a half-liter, which seems to suggest they are basically covering expenses and not brewing for profit.
Drinking Zoigl in Zoigl-land is a dream come true for us: people who care equally about beer culture as the tasty liquid itself. It is a romantic adventure. By the way, Zoigl is not really a style of beer. The Zoigl beers we had were like kellerbeers: bright orange, slightly hazy and pretty well-hopped. It is equally as possible to have a Zoigl wheat beer or dunkles. I imagine the type of Zoigl beer varies from town to town and also from season to season.
So: we fulfilled two of the most important beer dreams of our life in just one week. The Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation and Zoigl! Today we move into an apartment in Bamberg, which makes for the third major dream come true. The beer gods are already on our side.
As an aside, we have not been able to uplod photos the past few days because of some technical difficulties. Hopefully all will be well in the Bamberg apartment and we can get you up to date on the visual portion of the blog.
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P.S. If you want to know about the history of the brewing symbol being the same as the Star of David, this lends some insight: http://www.schlenkerla.de/biergeschichte/brauerstern/html/ausschankzeichene.html
However, I have my own hypothesis. I believe Ashkenazic Jews in Europe were involved in brewing and this may have led to the use of the six-pointed star as a brewing guild symbol. After all in Bamberg several of the now defunct breweries were located on Judenstrasse (Jew Street).