For both Josh and me, Zoigl epitomizes the romance of beer culture and tradition. Zoigl is challenging to find and as with lambic, there is a spontaneity involved even in the brewing process itself. In Falkenberg, we found out that some Zoigl is open fermented when the owner/brewer at the Kramer Wolf stubl invited us to see the communal brewery. What an honor! This was a brewery that was built in 1467, and most of the major equipment dates from the early 1900s. The fermentation tank is a coolship, and the brewery is powered by wood fire and a system of levers and cranks. For a real beer geek, this stuff is as romantic as knights in shining armor.
Some of the communal breweries fall by the wayside, like the one in Waischenfeld. The sign says that the communal brewery was built in 1664 and closed down three hundred years later, in 1982. For as much happiness as there is in Zoigl land, there is sadness as well.
There was no sadness this weekend, though. Josh planned a trip fully saturated with happy things like Zoigl. We tried 9 different Zoigls in one weekend, which is a great record considering how hard it can be to find them. And just as some Zoigls die out, others are born like the one we found in Neuhaus at the Lingl stubl. Thankfully many young people of the Oberpfalz are perpetuating the centuries-old tradition of Zoigl instead of drinking Becks and cola weizen.
My birthday July 11 fell on the weekend of Mitterteich’s Zoigl festival, so we planned around it. It turned out that the festival would be a small note in a multisensory symphony of Zoigl hunting. I had no idea how much Zoigl we would drink, and how many remote villages we would travel through to find the beer. The best part was finding the Zoigl we had not planned to find.
Along the way we gaped at dramatic rock formations and caves formed not by water but by chemical reactions inside the earth.
The lush region is known as Fränkisches Schweiz, which means literally “Franconian Switzerland” but I would not compare this region to anywhere else. It deserves to be appreciated on its own. I also love birds and especially birds of prey. Josh found out about a falconry center that happened to be next to a 13th century castle, which is a ten minute walk from the Sophie cave.
After the journey we spent the night in graceful Pottenstein. Pottenstein is too dramatically scenic to be considered quaint, but the town is tiny. We were warmly welcomed at the hotel by a super friendly guy who pointed outside and said “for dinner is wild mushrooms from the forest.” He also lent us two old but helpful German books on the breweries of Frankisches Schweiz. Pottenstein itself has 3 breweries and when we walked up to the castle on the hill we became intoxicated by the wonderful worty smells wafting in the morning air. Our room had a balcony that faced both the castle and one of the breweries.
Pottenstein’s crags and caves call out for exploration. The friendly hotel manager also told us to do the “bob” on our way out of town. It is a summer-only bobsled type of thing built into the mountain and the individual cars are open air and on metal tracks. In spite of all the teenagers it was freakin’ fun.
We didn’t let the screaming children deter us from enjoying Devil’s Cave either! Because we don’t speak enough German to understand the introductory video, we walked through the caverns ahead of the echoing adolescent screams.
I found it remarkable that at the entranceway to the cave they were showing a video about beer brewing in Pottenstein. That solidified it for me. Franconia has no possible parallel in how beery everyday life can be. The streets are named “Maltzgasse” and “Kommunbrauriestrasse” and street signs are more likely to show where a brewery is than city hall.
Cost of living is low in this region, especially considering the high quality of life. Beers range from €1.60 for a Zoigl to little more than €2.20 for a commercial beer. Food is similarly reasonable with portions bigger than even Josh can finish of fresh (NO SYSCO OR SUPERMARKET, this is farmland, and if it’s not growing locally it won’t be on the menu) food for maximum €4.50.
The next day was my birthday and it was all about Zoigl. We hit up Eslarn, which has a friendly Stubl. Then we headed to the Windischeschenbach area and the beer gods gave me a gift. We found a Zoigl that was not listed in the official brewing calendar, and what’s more, the stubl happened to be our hotel in Neuhaus! Say what? To Sunshine, Happy Birthday. We hope you and Josh enjoy your present. Love, the Beer Gods.
We ran into Sebastian (DerDoppelbock on Ratebeer) and Omar (Koelchtrinker on Ratebeer) at Lingl, the newest Zoigl stubl in Neuhaus bei Windischeschenbach. We had a good time with them and because they are both German we got information we could not have received otherwise including tips on other Zoigl in the surrounding areas.
Armed with insider knowledge, Josh and I drove around the next day searching for remote Zoigls. We also went to the festival in Mitterteich. Unfortunately, the festival only served one Zoigl at a time and we missed the two others. That was ok, though, because we found two bonus Zoigls on the same day such as the cute Waldhauser at Neustadt.
The last Zoigl stubl we visited was my favorite one. It is so remote it does not even have a street address. Sebastian helped us figure out that it was “on the road between Floss and Flossenbürg.” The place is called Gut Plankenhammer and is a large rustic farm complex that felt like a Tuscan villa. We had two Zoigls while relishing the atmosphere and reflecting on our luck. In the car we received a Czech station clearer than some of the German ones, which put our geographical point into perspective.
It’s a good thing that I learned later that nearby Flossenbürg was the site of a Nazi concentration camp.
The beer would not have gone down so well, especially given the eerie irony that the symbol for Zoigl is the Star of David proudly displayed on all the stubls.
All the photos here are our originals.
An ongoing collection of our Zoigl star photos can be seen by clicking the following album cover:
Some other photos from this wonderful weekend of Zoigl-hunting can be found by clicking here:
For further reading, “White Beer Travels” has some great information about Zoigl and the entire region.