Sunday, 6 September 2020

On the Bierkeller, not in it

Löwenbräu Buttenheim 
Normally, you know where you are with a Bierkeller – in a large basement hall, full of tables, benches and yes, beer. It means ‘beer cellar’, right? Yet there we were, actually drinking on a wooded hillside in Franconia. So why do the locals call what anyone else would say is a Biergarten, a Bierkeller?

The answer is that there will indeed be a real Keller, or cellar, under here somewhere. Back in the days before artificial refrigeration was invented, breweries needed somewhere cool to lager their beer for months on end, especially during the warm summers when they couldn’t brew.

If there weren’t natural caves around to use, they went into the hills around the town and dug their own – cellars that stayed at a constant 8 degrees C all year round, thanks to their earth insulation. And if there weren’t already shady trees on top, they planted some – typically broad-leaved horse chestnuts, Kastanie in German, which is why so many Bierkellers (and Biergartens) have names such as Kastaniengarten.

So now you have a cellar in the woods, full of beer. What’s more natural than to put a few tables and benches out the front, and drink some of that beer? And the name stuck, but you go “auf den Bierkeller” – on the cellar, not in it.

As luck would have it – well, in truth luck had very little to do with it – our recent trip to Buttenheim put us within walking distance of two popular Bierkellers. In need of dinner on our arrival, we were told Löwenbräu Buttenheim had the better food offering, even if it wasn’t the more scenic of the two.

The food was indeed good, and so was the location – OK, so its view of the town was dominated by the tower of local rival St. GeorgenBräu Buttenheim, but the bierkeller itself rises up the hillside in tree-shaded terraces. At the top is a covered area, like a hall with no walls, and beyond that are the woods – and in the woods, a play area complete with zipwire which delighted the kids. As with most Bierkellers, it’s all self-service – you order food and beer at serveries, the beer to take back to your table with you and the food to pick up when your number is called. You clear your own table and return the empties to the appropriate hatch, too.

It's a simple menu at Roppelt's
A couple of days later we again needed a place to eat and for the kids to run about, so I grabbed the opportunity for a return visit to somewhere I fondly remembered from seven years ago: Roppelt’s Keller, not far away in Stierlimbach. It was already busy by late afternoon on a weekday, but thankfully we were just early enough to get both a parking space and a table – of course by the time we left, still in daylight, it was even busier.

 There’s obviously been changes in the time since our last visit – the playground, which was large even back then, had been seriously upgraded and I think moved, the woods had grown (surprise!) and I reckon there’s more tables now. But as long as you ignore the wasps, it’s lovely – great beer, nature, stuff to amuse the kids, and a good range of the local equivalent of pub-grub, so sausages, sandwiches, chops and so on. Bang on trend, they even have an alcohol-free version of their Kellerbier, and pretty decent it is too.

Buttenheim at sunset
Talking of beer, at most Kellers you’ll only find one or two draught offerings. First and foremost is the Kellerbier, then there might also be a Weizen or a seasonal, such as a Märzen. There’s usually a few bottles on offer, often the Weizen will be bottled too.

It wasn’t until late on our last evening in town when I finally made it to the St. GeorgenBräu Keller. I’ve had a few of their beers before – the brewery is fairly substantial and its bottled beers are fairly widely distributed. They even can their Kellerbier now! It feels more planned and organised than most other Bierkellers I've been to, and perhaps just a little less characterful – there’s a proper bar, and the terraces are even and straight. But whatever – there’s excellent Kellerbier and Helles on tap, plenty of room, and the sunset view across the town is gorgeous.

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