Even Bier Smokes
As perfect as a day can be was underway. In periphery, I could see countryside blur: lime-green grass and spring vegetables cracking dirt mounds; shadowy hardwoods budding and tall conifers starting to yellow with pollen; clouds lightly wisping otherwise vacant sky. The Kloster Michelsberg first signaled our approach towards Bamberg. A crane rose alongside the belfries, maintaining the structure and my perception of time. Bamberg dodged much of the Allied bombing during the Second World War; consequently, it retains much of the Old World charm often artificially replicated elsewhere. It is beautiful and it makes you romantic thinking what everything else must have looked like before.
The Regnitz River runs the town and supports the weight of several islands providing breaks for the arching bridges. The frescoed walls of Altes Rathhaus capped by twisting, Baroque statues, entirely filled one island. On the southern facade, yellowed timber and cream plaster of traditional German fachwerk hung in suspension, jutting over the river and separated like a mother-in-law suite. It almost felt like Venice at times: winding roads dead-ending at a balustrade overlooking the river from a precipice.
With one week in country under our belts we didn’t waste any time waiting for help in German beer halls. You should immediately walk - to the beat of a drum - towards the biergarten; stick your head inside the cozy beer hall to observe the taxidermy and oak-paneled walls; and then, most importantly, park yourself in the green shade of a chestnut. Schlenterla, brewpub and epicenter of Rauchbier, necessitated a similar sua sponte spirit. We repeated protocol, snagging an open table in the biergarten.
On this particular biergarten, wavering poplars eclipsed the sun and shattered a cool shade highlighted by thins streams of tiger-striped light upon the wooden picnic table. Glancing at the menu, images of pork shank alongside the smoked aromas emanating from a Schlenterla Marzen Beer transported me to both a nostalgic image of Germany and the slow-cooked-pig summer’s of my youth. We ordered a Marzen and Weiss to drink and shared the shank for food. I could smell the Marzen before it even settled upon the table. The waitress released the handle of a dimpled glass, amber brown, setting the tall, spiralling weizen glass for Sara in-line next to it. There’s only one size for beer in Franconia: large. And there’s only one style of beer in Franconia: delicious.
From flavor to aroma, the shank paired perfectly with our smokey beers. The Marzen, in particular, added a BBQ quality to the already savory pork, potatoes, and sauerkraut. Chestnut-brown, it produced a fine bead rising to a froth seeping over the glass’ rim. A persistent lace hung with each sip marking progress through the drink. Strong aromas of BBQ - ash, smoke, beechwood, mezcal, bacon - emanated from the beer. On the tongue, the smokiness complimented a controlled, brown-sugar sweetness. It finished delightfully dry in beechwood smoke.
Rumbling conversation and clinking glasses rebounded off the stone; the fluttering dishes and shining silverware shone in various shades of white light; the outz’s, utz’s, and aizens’s ascended and fell in a fairy tale melody; the puddles in our glasses evaporated. It was good to be alive in that moment: and all subsequent moments for the memory.