|Early on the first evening of Annafest
What's a Kellerwald? In the days before mechanical refrigeration, brewers used caves or cellars to keep their beer cool while it matured – this is of course the lagering process. In some places they dug these cellars in the woods and hillsides, and then at some point some bright spark must have thought, "Hey, we've got all this beer on hand and a really nice location, why don't we build a bar next to the lagering cellar?" And so the Bierkeller was born – well, more or less!
What with medieval towns often having a dozen or more brewers, in Forchheim's Kellerwald there are not two, not four, but 23 scattered among the woods in two main clusters, the obere and untere (higher and lower) Bierkellers. Some are open all year, but others open only around the time of the Annafest, for which each of the local breweries – there are still four in the town plus several others in the surrounding countryside – brews a special Festbier.
If I understand correctly, the Festbiers were originally only available at the festival, though today that's no longer true – some are also bottled, while at least one turned up on tap in London, on the foreign bar at this year's Great British Beer Festival.
We knew the festival opened on the Saturday, and the easiest thing would have been to travel down for the day. However, we also had to leave our Bamberg lodgings on Saturday, as it was already booked for the following week and Saturday is changeover day. So given that we had to move lodgings we figured we may as well head down to a Forchheim hotel for the weekend.
|There's a lot of beer in there...
And yet, what an experience... One of the first discoveries was that the draught Festbiers are only offered for sale in litre mugs, called Maßkrugs. I discovered later that some servers might take pity and sell you a half-litre if you claim to be a poor, weak-bellied foreigner. Hm, maybe next year! For this year though it was a case of abandoning any thoughts of sampling all 10 or 11 Festbiers (most breweries now sell through multiple Kellers) and focusing instead on simply finding a place to sit.
In the event we managed a litre each at three different Bierkellers – Neder, Eichhorn and Rittmayer – stretched over about three hours and accompanied by a decent plate of dinner, before giving in to exhaustion and heading back. The most amusing sight was probably three girls sharing a single Maß, via a straw. I did take surreptitious photos, but sadly lost them.
Next: a sunny Sunday at the Kellerwald