The year of 2009 was officially my biggest in far of tracking down new beers. I’ve never really been that prolific as a beer-ticker, mostly only as a finely-honed beer hunting machine capable of uncovering entire new beer scenes for the world (Lithuania in a joint effort, Central Asia solo) But you certainly don’t have to be a finely-honed beer hunting machine to find a lot of new beer in Franconia. Oberfranken – the province that includes Bamberg – has over 100 breweries on its own. Indeed, Bamberg city and Bamberg Kreis (county) put together could keep a beerhunter very busy. Given that, you’ll notice that the annual Oakes Awards, 2009 Edition, are heavily weighted towards Franconia. That place just rocks.
Best New Brewery: Not always “new” but “new to me”, which usually means it’s pretty new. In this case, not so much. I’m not sure what brewery could possibly qualify among the multitude of killer Franconian brewpubs, except to say that there are many contenders. Wichert of Lichtenfels was great; I’m a fan of zur Sonne in Bischberg; Göller of Drosendorf feels older than dirt but the beer is genius. Freidel’s Keller in the Hallerndorfer Kreuzberg is a damn fine new brewpub. But I guess all things considered, the best new brewery for me this year was the Kommunalbrauhaus Neuhaus. Not at all a new brewery, but the hoppy, dry, minerally, extremely delicious zoigl from the Neuhaus pubs is beer I still dream about.
Best Brewpub: The line between “brewpub” and “microbrewery” isn’t drawn so clearly in Franconia as it is in the west. So I could just wimp out and give this to an American brewpub. But I only went to a few and although many were quite nice, the Oakes Awards are pretty prestigious. You can’t just hand them out willy-nilly. So this is actually a tough one. Schlenkerla would win, but the ausschank is just that, not a brewpub. Hmmm…in this case Friedel’s Keller probably wins. It is a true brewpub – though many others in Franconia are as well – but we made a point to inconvenience ourselves to go back to it, so it’s fair value for the win.
Best Festival: Only a couple of these this year, two of which are not strictly beer festivals (Annafest & Sandkerwa). But the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation is very much a beer festival, being singularly devoted to the task of exploring, indulging and loving lambic. You wouldn’t bring your kids, or anyone who isn’t a lambic whore, but for those of us who love lambic we are very, very glad that this festival exists. A great pilgrimage.
Best Crawl: Beer crawls are always fun. In Franconia, they take the form of bike rides through the country side. When everything comes together – the weather and the beer in particular – you can’t really ask for much better. I won’t even single out a single Franconian bike ride as being inherently better than all the others. They are all amazing.
Anglo-American Beer of the Year: Normally a hotly-contested category, beers of this type were actually hard to come by after leaving Miami. But it ended up being such a beer that one. Brewed for Ungstrup, delivered by way of fonefan/charlotte and Patrik Willför, was Lang & Kaal. Maybe I liked it because I am lang and kaal. Maybe it is just great beer. De Molen takes this award, I believe the first Oakes Best Beer Award for a Dutch brewer.
Belgian/Specialty Beer of the Year: Easy winner here – Cantillon Frambozenlambik. It blew away the field at the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation. I would never have expected that to be possible, with all the stellar lambic on display.
Stout/Porter of the Year. I probably drank more Malaysian Guinness than anything else in this style, but this award is about quality not quantity. Believe the hype – Hunahpu’s rules.
Lager of the year: For once, the most hotly-contested category of the year. I saw for once because this was the first year I really spent quality time in a top lager place. Last time through Germany, eons ago, I mostly went through Cologne and Dusseldorf. This time, all Bavaria. Although it is almost cruel to choose one single outstanding lager, I found one. First, it’s a communal beer, but not a zoigl from Oberpfalz. It’s from Franconia, and it’s a marzen. The best marzen on the planet. I knew from the minute I smelled it. Reindl Kommunbier from the Reindl family in Neuhaus an der Pegnitz.
Wheat Beer of the Year. I don’t count lambics, but I had a ton of weizen this summer. The best was from a really great Franconian brewery called Kundmüller in the little village of Weiher, near Bamberg. Weiherer Weisse is exactly as I want my weissebier to be. Served at the brewery, of course.
Pub/Bar of the Year: Schlerkerla, as if there was any doubt. Classic tavern. Classic beer. And five minutes from our home for three months. Couldn’t tell you ho w many times I went.
Session of the Year: Probably the most fun was the jump-up in Gros Islet in St. Lucia. We had myself and Sunshine, plus this couple she knew that lived on a boat down there, plus their friends, and the Friday night party was just getting going. Nobody else needed a beer but I did, so I popped into the closest bar. What did I see in their fridge? Something nobody else had – Banks Milk Stout from Guyana. We spent the rest of that awesome night pounding back milk stouts, getting drunker, shooting the shit, and finally I discovered the glory of the kidney skewer grilled over fire. Unforgettable.
Pint of the Year: Last day in Bamberg, also last day of Sandkerwa, we spent the whole afternoon at Schlenkerla. Six or seven rounds and a haxen later, we ended things by taking a pint to the Obere Brucke and having one last rauchbier, right there as the sun set over the town. Brilliant. We then jumped on the train and left Germany.
Brewpub Meal of the Year: Well, most brewpubs in Franconia have the exact same menu. When they don’t, it is often a very good sign. Brauerei Beck in Trabelsdorf seems the easy winner here – we only ate twice but it was excellent both times. Beer cuisine – like malt used in breading and bock in sauce. It is all very delicious, a standout experience to be sure.
Drainpour of the Year: DIACETYL! I have never experienced so much butter in my entire life. And I’ve been to Maine. I wrote about the Frankenbutter. I gagged on Perge Pilsner in Turkey. I nearly regurgitated the 2500 dong bia hoi from down the alley in Hanoi. I had it in a wine from my little Turkish mountain village. I got it from a Carlsberg in Hong Kong. I even had a butterbomb in Bangkok and all I did was change planes there!
Vintage beer of the year: Gonna have to go with that Fond Gueuze 1988. I’m pretty sure anyway. That’s the second time Belle-Vue has won this award. Now they need to stop sucking and start making beers like that again!
Style of the Year: Kellerbier! Call it zoigl, landbier, vollbier, zwickelbier if you want, it is basically the same stuff. Franconian country lager by a country mile.
Beer Glass of the year: I suppose this would be the 500ml krug from which I drank all that kellerbier. Either that or the 500ml glass from Schlenkerla. It wasn’t really about the glassware this year, since there’s only so much you glass you can carry in your backpack.
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