What is Beer Hiking?
I was recently asked this question by a fellow travel blogging “colleague”, as it were, in an effort to do some cross-site promotion. I feature a lot of hiking posts on this blog, but almost all of them have actually nothing to do with beer. When I hike, I always make a habit of packing one or two local bottles of beer, and when I get to a magnificent viewpoint, I feature them. Only occasionally do I actually drink them on the hike. My Swiss hikes, for instance, are not beer hiking. The penultimate beer picture is putting the itsabrewtifulworld stamp on an amazing non-beer hike. For sure, without that beer picture, a hike never feels 100% complete as in my Mount Greylock experience. In a way, it is kind of like passing thru a city or country via the airport. I was there, but not really there.
So what is Beer Hiking? First of all, I distinguish what I consider to be beer hiking with the terminology Beer & Hike. This is a relatively new derivation of my Beer & Bike. New in the fact that as of the events in this post, I had only completed what I consider to be Beer Hiking one time, and that was the day before. This was the glorious Fünf Seidla Steig in Upper Franconia, Germany. On the other hand, all of my bike rides are Beer & Bike. When I plan a bike ride, it is guaranteed that the organization and location of the ride is done with the idea of visiting as many beer-related sites or sites which fit my Beer & Bike narrative as possible. I don’t go out and do 100km and try to improve my average speed. That would bore me to tears. Biking is a way to experience culture, color my historical perspective, get out in nature, and get some exercise at the same time. A Beer & Hike should do the same thing. Both the beer and the hike should equally dominate the narrative.
How does Beer & Hike differ from Beer & Bike? The obvious benefit of the Beer & Hike is the ability to actually enjoy the beer. Over the years, I have discovered the challenge of indulging in a beer during a bike ride. Even one beer can suck the life out of my glutes and hammies. By bike, I generally want to cover from 50-70km and achieve at least 3 beer-related sites to have a satisfying ride. I have to choose carefully at which point I enjoy a beer. When I hike, a distance of around 20km is the target, and a few beers, especially the German kind do not interfere with my hikability. But where to find such a density of beer-related sites to formulate a worthy Beer & Hike? I am sure there are many, but Upper Franconia is the place.
A day after my Fünf Seidla Steig hike, I was confronted with the possibility of a letdown. I was in Nuremberg with a buddy of mine and the original idea was to spend the day at the Nuremberg beer festival and perhaps visit a few beer bars in the city. But after such an amazing hike, you could cut through the lethargy in the Airbnb with a knife. We bounced half-hearted ideas around, and this only antagonized our mood. The weather forecast was calling for a lot of rain and the thought of trudging around in the muddy moat of the Nuremberg city walls and sitting at bench tables drinking beer felt completely anti-climactic.
That was when a simple app saved us. Brauerei Atlas.
We knew the only way to find enjoyment was to get out of the city and recapture the experience of the day before, even with the threat of rain. The app shows the locations of breweries all over Germany. We scoured the brewery map for groupings of breweries within striking distance from Nuremberg. Then using Komoot, a hike was pieced together. Not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we hopped on a train to Eggolsheim and it was this day that the concept of a Beer & Hike weaved its way permanently into my soul.
- Starting Point: Eggolsheim bahnhof
- Ending Point: Buttenheim bahnhof
- Distance: 19.3 km
- Moving Time: 3 hours 55 minutes
- Eating Place: Many
- Komoot Link: Eggolsheim – Buttenheim Brewery Hike
Ironically, the first Dionysian encounter on this Beer & Hike is a Whisky distillery, Blaue Maus, just a couple hundred meters from the train station.
The hike to Schlammersdorf after crossing the Regnitz river is the least interesting of the hike. We followed the shortest distance which was the main road passing thru an industrial park. Not knowing of course what lay ahead, we set our mind on the first brewery and being content with the fact that the weather was far better than what we anticipated.
We arrived at the doorstep to this brewery with not much fanfare. No buzz coming from a biergarten or sign of life whatsoever.
We peeked inside the front door, finding an empty guesthouse welcome desk, dining room, and bar. Feeling a bit like we were invading someone’s home, we continued exploring until we could hear a couple voices in the back. We stumbled into a small area with a few bench tables and a couple old guys drinking beer. Once we realized that we were welcome to sit down and order a beer, the sense of hesitation was quickly replaced by elation.
We ordered the Vollbier from the tap. There is something about a crisp, cold German helles beer, especially the first one, when the tongue is most sensitive to the subtle flavors. While enjoying the clear, golden nectar, we watched as locals brought their empty bottles or casks back to exchange for full ones. At that moment, we realized we were sitting in the midst of a small community with Witzgall as its soul and meeting place.
As the beer buzz euphoria started to set in and the conversations with the locals became more entertaining, we easily decided to go for a second round, the bottled Landbier. The landbier was even more delicious. We were barely a couple kilometers into our hike, and already we knew the day was about to be special. I did not know at the time, but the Witzgall landbier is Ranked #2 in the world on Ratebeer.com in the Zwickel/Keller/Landbier category. We enjoyed our experience there so much that both of us bought their ceramic mug as a souvenir. While they are souvenirs for us, the locals keep their own personal beer stein at the bar.
Reluctant to leave, we said so long to our new friends and headed towards Hallendorf. Although clouds of various shapes, texture and color were indicating some potential for rain, we continued to find ourselves blessed with good weather.
The Rittmayer brewery is passed on the way to Hallerndorf, but to actually drink the beer, there are two places in town to do that. The Brauereigaststätte or the Gartenkeller Rittmayer. We chose the Gaststätte which is right in town. The gartenkeller sits above the town on a hill. The Gaststätte was kind enough to serve us lunch although we were too early for the normal kitchen hours. A Rittmayer Helles was the perfect schnitzel companion.
After lunch, it was just a short walk across town to the Dorfkeller Lieberth where I enjoyed a Lieberth kellerbier. The brewery is on the way but was closed to visitors at the time.
After 4 or 5 beers and a lunch, it was time for the longest “dry” segment of the hike. The next stop was in Buttenheim for the last two breweries. Whatever rain we had seen in the forecast was still nowhere in sight.
Hike from Hallerndorf to Buttenheim
This is the best hiking of the route, a lot of rolling picturesque farmlands and fields of grasses, wheat, and wildflowers. The choice to do this spontaneous hike already paid dividends with the hospitable Brauerei Witzgall and its famous landbier and the two breweries in short succession in Hallerndorf, but the scenery from Hallerndorf to Buttenheim solidified this as a bonafide Beer & Hike.
Löwen Bräu Buttenheim is not to be confused with the Löwenbräu brewery from Munich famous for its Oktoberfest beer. Löwen Bräu Buttenheim is a family brewery in Buttenheim since 1880.
Perched on a hill overlooking Buttenheim is the most scenic of the bierkellers on this hike. This is a great place to end the evening with dinner and a view of the sunset.
Levi Strauss Museum
The king of denim jeans was born in Buttenheim in 1829 and his house is the Levi Strauss Museum. A commemorative beer is brewed by St. Georgenbräu.
After a rough start to the day, our choice to do another Beer & Hike over the Nuremberg beer festival was completely vindicated. On a whole, the Fünf Seidla Steig is a better hike, but this hike had the better “mingling with the locals” experience, especially at Brauerei Witzgall. Throughout the day, we would just shake our heads in amazement at having such luck. Was it luck or good karma that the rain which had been so prominently forecasted had split into two separate systems leaving our small region in between? Either way, the rain missed us completely.
So what is Beer & Hike? I guess it feels like a pilgrimage in search of great beer while painting your soul with the colors of local culture, history, and nature. That is not necessarily what is happening in Switzerland, but in Franconia, the possibilities seem endless.
Oh by the way…
The travel blogger that reached out to me has a site called Prime Passages. He is also on Instagram. Definitely a kindred soul with some amazing content. Check him out.