We’re a month back from travelling through the Southwestern cider regions of Germany, still contemplating their tastes with a few bottles we brought back.
We flew into Frankfurt to once again to re-acquaint ourselves with Apfelwein from the Hessen region of Germany. We were here two years ago for their annual Apfelwein Fest, which we highly recommend attending. Again, we got in late on Friday night from London after our pilot threatening that we may not make it due to thunderstorms in Frankfurt, but we made it. We were staying at a hostel next to the train station. If you haven’t been to Frankfurt, the seedy red light district is immediately adjacent to the train station. Walking through there is quite a shock to two sober people at nearly midnight on a Friday. We powered through the fatigue to procure a lovely kebab and a litre of Apfelwein from our favourite party corner shop. Having also stayed in this area before, we knew of it’s mythical existence of the party corner shop after stumbling back from Apfelwein fest in 2015. This corner shop blasts techno music and have a great selection of alcohol and late night snacks. What more could you want? Unfortunately no photos or video. You will have to go there yourself to experience its awesomeness.
Saturday, setting out early to get some camping gas before catching our train led us on a fantastic adventure, Bembeling our way around the city. Firstly we discovered a Saturday market on Konstablerwache. It of course sold your typical fruits, veg and meats, but about half the market was alcohol producers. Yeah. Alcohol. And even though it was 10:30 in the morning, plenty of people were helping themselves to wine, cider and distilled drinks. We were very pleased to stumble upon this market as we had some of the best Apfelwein of the trip from these producers. We sampled the cider from three different makers, all having slight and subtle differences in their taste.
Apfelwein is normally served in halves, pints or Bembel (1l up to 10l jugs). It is also served pur or gespritz (pure or with sparkling water). If you get a Bembel, you normally will get a bottle of sparkling water rather than having it premixed. Having it gespritz is quite a nice option for drinking Apfelwein, which can be somewhere from 5-6.5% abv and is very good at sneaking up on you. This hearty breakfast drinking launched us merrily on our way in our search for camping gas in the east of the city centre. In our experience, Bembels of Apfelwein are available many places even if not listed on the menu. This was tested at a community garden plot which ran a small cafe and it was successful. You just need to ask.
A couple litres of Apfelwein in, having procured camping gas, we ended up back in the Sachsenhausen which we fell in love with 2 years ago. We went back to Dauth Schneider, where we had, you guessed it, another bembel!
Desperately in need of some lunch, we sat down to order food. Now Colleen, being a 34% fluent German speaker on Duolingo, thought she would take her chances ordering something off the menu which hopefully would have many sausages in it. Unfortunately for her, she got a plate of various sauces and some bread. James however scored with a dish with three large sausages, which he didn’t share with his wife. This lead to a very messy dash to our train two hours late and off to Fürth, the next stop on our adventure.
Fürth is in the Oldenwald region of Hesse. It’s also in the UNESCO Geo-park. What that means, I still am not quite certain. We chose it as it was not far from Frankfurt and part of the cider producing area. As we pulled into the station, the hangover from a long day of drinking kicked in. This did not assist the 1.5 mile walk to the shop to get groceries nor the other half mile further to the campsite. Colleen collapsed in the tent as soon as it was assembled, skipping dinner.
We spent a few days in Fürth, helping ourselves to glasses of Apfelwein around town at the bars and hitting up the liquor store to get a selection of local ciders. We got a selection of 6 Apfelweins one day from the local liquor store. Some were cloudy. Some were clear. Again there were only subtle differences between them as we randomly selected bottles from the crate to try next and weren’t taking notes (it wasn’t a note kind of day). The ones which were clear had been clarified using fruit juice. Not sure how that process works, but it does. Some were more tannin tasting, the clarified ones may have had a slightly different taste than straight cider, but on our mostly unrefined taste buds, it made little difference. The better tasting ones were 6/10. The others were a 5. Drinkable, but not anything to get overly excited about.
On our last evening, we went to pay for our campsite and the camping lady asked us if we tried plenty of Apfelwein and we said yes. Then she asked if we went to the Apfelwein bar. No, we had not. When we originally emailed to book the campsite we asked for suggestions of specific places to go. There were no suggestions, just a “yes we have Apfelwein available here in most restaurants” response. So after walking back to the campsite, looking at our potential evening of sharing bottles of warm white wine, we decided to go back and find out where the Apfelwein bar was. It was a very warm, sunny evening making it more enticing. With directions to the “Apfelwein bar” in the next town over we made the couple mile journey. Completely soaked in sweat when we finally arrived to Zum Rebstock, we got a seat outside and went straight in for a 2 litre Bembel to revive ourselves.
The restaurant is known locally for making amazing traditional brown bread. Colleen can attest to the fact that it was excellent and she did not hold back in letting James know how good it was, as he drooled down himself (gluten intolerance is no one’s friend). We enjoyed the Apfelwein and their cheese platter. Colleen then decided to order a medicinal round of local Schnaps to finish the meal and help with the cold she’d been battling the last couple days. Then when we went to pay we realised they did not take credit card. The waitress was not impressed as we emptied out our wallets, counting up all the cents to our name as there was no ATM in the area. We came up €1.43 short, which put a damper on what would have been a very nice evening. Luckily the lady didn’t make us wash dishes, but we quickly scurried away. We must remember to send that to the restaurant this week…
After a few days of merriment in Fürth, we made our way South to Mosel valley. Our train tickets allowed us to travel anywhere in the region for a day, so we stopped in Merzig for our first taste of Viez (another German word for cider). Jimbo had read about the town being a centre for cider production, including a festival every year. It couldn’t have been a less festive experience. Colleen was in the thick of a horrible cold, laden with a bag which was never meant to carry as much weight as it was. A walk from the train station into the centre of the shopping area to find a bar which may be serving Viez was fairly depressing. We did end up stopping at what would be described as the local Goth/metal/alternative bar where we given Viezporz, a more subtle apple flavour, more sour tartness than Apfelwein. The Viez in Merzig was sparkly, which we had at a couple other bars after, but this was not always the case. After one Viezporz we wandered around a bit with our bags cutting into our shoulders to discover there was not a lot happening in the town. We got back on the train to Trier an hour after arriving.
Trier, located in the Mosel river valley is in the SW corner of Germany, near the border of Luxembourg. It’s the oldest city in Germany with loads of Roman remains strewn across the town. It’s wine-tastic, but again, there was Viez available at just about every bar we visited. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it, but I think there is a Roman connection with Viez and the region, perhaps being the poor person’s drink. The Romans would have all been on the vino back then.
We walked around town with our backpacks everyday, instantly making us tourists on the trot. So when we sat down at the various bars, the bar staff were always shocked with our drinks order for Viez. In a good way. None of the menus listed who the producer of the Viez was. It was just “Viez” just like you would find “lemonade”. And on that note, Viez was often offered to be served with lemonade or cola, which neither of us tried.
We had two bars, which we really enjoyed visiting. One was Sieh um dich, just tucked behind Der Dom. The friendly staff (after appreciating our order of Viez) and jovial locals forced us to visit twice. Through Colleen’s amazing grasp of the German language and a few glasses of Viez, she explained that we were interested in the porcelain mugs Viez was served in. They basically said it was a pain in the ass to source them. One of the ladies who had been working behind the bar earlier and was now sat down enjoying a drink, disappeared into the kitchen. A couple minutes later she came back with a lovingly used mug, which she said we could have for €5. It’s good we did this as we never ended up seeing them for sale. The 2nd bar we enjoyed was Petrusbraü, which also has a brewery. Their biergarten was leafy and relaxed. Strangely, the bar indoors was completely vacant of staff and customers. The whole operation had moved to the outdoor bar. I don’t know if this is typical for a warm night, but we enjoyed it.
On our last night, regretting having failed to meet up with any cider producers on the trip, we randomly met cider producers! We were walking down Karl Marx Strasse (he was born in Trier) where they were throwing a fete. We were being corralled by a guy trying to get us to buy some of his friend’s Viez. It didn’t take much convincing on our side. Their Viez was called Viezkartell and unfortunately they have no online presence to find out more about them. They were a small producer like ourselves, mostly making it for friends and family, but also selling at some festivals. Their Viez was some of the more flavourful cider on the trip, with a more tart, apple flavour than most. Our cups never stopped being filled until well past the point they no longer should have been filled. It lead to a very slow next morning, but it was lovely to meet them. If you are out there Viezkartell, get in touch!
The whole cider scene in Germany seems vastly under-represented in the cider producing world. But like many of the breweries there, producers seem quite content making enough for the locals and a few bottles for tourists and stopping there. But if the restaurants selling your drink won’t even put your name on the menu, it is going to be hard to get recognition. There is a small revolution afoot though with makers like Bembel with Care making the cider young and hip by putting it in cans and Viezkartell, who are trying to make a name for themselves with alternative branding and taste.
Alas, we will be back again soon to try some more no doubt. We encourage you all to try it as well. Cheers!