“The good people at Shelton Brothers have been traveling to Franconia for two decades, so visiting this beer mecca with them offers unparalleled access to the very best — and often little-known — beers of the region. Throw in the opportunity to hang out with the brewers themselves, while touring the breweries or dining in local beer gardens, and this trip is simply not to be missed.”

– Greg Engert (Neighborhood Restaurant Group)

DAY 1

Wednesday July 22

Many of us will no doubt arrive in Bamberg a day or more in advance, the city being a UNESCO Heritage Site as well as the brewery-per-capita champion of the world. For early arrivers, the semi-official tour kicks off in the afternoon with a visit to the famous Weyermann maltery, and to balance off the malt, the nearby, quirky Hopfengarten brewery.  The official tour however begins in the evening with a hike or cab ride to the wonderful Mahrsbräu. Here we’ll dine with the 5th-generation owner in the leafy biergarten, possibly sneaking a peek at the historic brewery itself.  After enjoying our first traditional Franconian meal, accompanied by a selection of the most popular Mahr’s house beers, odds are we will finish opening night with several rounds of excellent pilsner at the great Keesmann brewery right across the street.

  Dinner included

MALZFABRIK WEYERMANN


Founded in 1879 by a grain trader,  Malzfabrik Weyermann is today the world’s most famous producer of specialty beer malts.

A landmark of Bamberg, its historic production buildings were declared industrial monuments in 1973. Weyermann’s trademark red-lettered, barley-laden sacks are a familiar site at breweries around the globe.

HOPFENGARTEN


The funky, urban-plot-turned-nursery Hopfengarten is the first hop growing company to operate within the Bamberg city limits for over 100 years. Here botanist-brewer Kris Emmerling produces a range of craft-influenced, often whimsically themed beers, all with a hoppy reference and many utilizing fruits, vegetables, and spices. Hopped spirits are also produced, and the eccentric company regularly presents seminars and events offering an approach to hop cultivation and beer production that contrasts distinctly with the more conservative culture of Bamberg’s traditional breweries.

MAHRSBRÄU


Located on the site of a 1600s brewery inn, Bamberg-favorite Mahrsbräu has been in the hands of the Michel family since 1895. Feisty Franconian metalhead Stephan Michel oversees production of Mahrbräu’s award-winning Franconian lagers as well as management of one of the world’s finest, most traditional restaurant-biergartens. Men’s Journal named Mahr’s Best Brewery in the World in 2007.

BRAUEREI KEESMANN


Butcher-turned-brewer Georg Keesmann founded his family brauerei in 1867. Located in the same district — and street — as the more famous Mahrsbräu, Keesmann is distinguished by its focus on pilsner production as well as its characterful early 19th century inn, today recognized as a Bamberg architectural monument.

DAY 2

Thursday July 23

Early-rising guests will have most of the morning to explore the beautiful city of Bamberg.  Just before noon we’ll board the private coach for our first trip to the countryside, where we’ll visit two of our very favorite breweries in the world.  The first destination, tavern-brewery Gasthof Bayer, will offer a special lunch featuring award-winning regional cuisine accompanied by superb traditional Franconian lager as well as more experimental beers. A sister-brother team are the brewers here, and one of them will provide an exclusive guided tour. We’ll then make a very short drive to the small historical town of Ebrach, in the lovely Steiger Forest, for a fun side trip to the Baumwipfelpfad (Treetop Path), an elevated wooden walkway and observation tower. Having gotten our exercise in and our thirst renewed, it’s a quick ride to the renowned Brauerei Zehendner, where are poured the world-famous Mönchsambacher lagers and weizens in a pastoral farmhouse courtyard. Here we can choose to drink as much golden Lagerbier as possible or join in a pickup basketball game. Or both. In the early evening we’ll head back to Bamberg for a free night, with options like rauchbier breweries Spezial and Schlenkerla beckoning.

  Breakfast and lunch included

BRAUEREI-GASTHOF BAYER


At first glance a typical, tidy Bavarian old-school roadside inn, the Gasthof Bayer’s house brewery in fact offers seasonal “craft” beers in addition to its world-class stable of flagship lagers, while its Slow Food-recognized restaurant Zum Grünen Baum (“The Green Tree”) serves up some of the most creative rustic cuisine in Franconia.

BAUMWIPFELPFAD STEIGERWALD


This 1,150-meter-long wooden walkway, which meanders slowly through the floor of the forest and culminates in a 42-meter observation tower, offers an exhilarating view of the Franconian countryside for miles in all directions, while opening up completely new perspectives on the Steiger woodlands and their inhabitants below. Also, within the grounds are art exhibits, hiking trails, and a small zoo.

BRAUEREI ZEHENDNER


Set in the tiny farming village of Mönchsambach, Brauerei Zehendner humbly goes about its business of brewing some of the most superb lager in the world while focusing its attention and sales on customers within a 20-kilometer radius. The mini-industrial brewhouse can be viewed from the botanical-gardened courtyard, while the family matriarch can often be seen hovering outside the guesthouse kitchen tapping the rapidly emptying 20-liter gravity kegs.

DAY 3

Friday July 24

Beer and hiking go hand in hand in Franconia, and today is dedicated to the best of both. Our bus dropping us off at the beautiful biergarten of Elchbräu, we’ll embark on a 7.7-mile walk through the pastoral Fränkische Schweiz (“Franconian Switzerland”) countryside and its villages. Of course, here, unlike anywhere else in the world, breweries are literally everywhere, and we’ll encounter no fewer than four more of them on the trail! You just can’t get away from beer in Franconia, so we won’t, and will stop at all of them, sampling local lagers and weizens and stamping our official Fünf-Seidla (“Five 1/2 Liters Of Beer Trail”) “passports” at each point. At the end of the trail, we’ll enjoy an exclusive tapping of a rare wood-barrel-fermented lager, tour a 1,000-year-old brewery, learn about Franconian brewing history and be served a delicious dinner at the famed monastery of Weissenohe.

For those opting out of the hike, a staff member will lead a walking (and drinking) tour of the marvellous historical old walled city of Nürnberg, where can be found several of Germany’s most iconic landmarks, and a few fine beers as well. After the tour, the bus will drop us off at Weissenohe, where we will join up with the hikers for dinner.

Should the five-brewery hike be cancelled due to foul weather, the entire group will make an extended trip to Nürnberg, retaining our dinner reservation at Weissenohe.

  Breakfast and Dinner included

FÜNF SEIDLA STEIG


The “Five Half-Liters of Beer Trail” (featuring Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe/Brauerei Friedmann/Lindenbräu/Brauerei Hoffmann/Thuisbrunner Elchbräu) takes thirsty hikers through nearly 8 miles of beautiful woodlands, pastures, and, most importantly, small-brewery biergartens. Old-world craft brewers are found, it seems, in every other village in this part of the world, and the concentration is delightfully heavy in this particular little corner of “Franconian Switzerland.”

KLOSTERBRAUREI WEISSENOHE


While the southern Bavarian giants Weihenstephaner proudly advertise their world’s-oldest-brewery (since 1040) status, the modest Winkler family, who today oversee production at Weissenohe in northern Bavaria, have to settle for second-best — brewing began on these grounds as recently as 1050. Urban Winkler is a proud traditionalist, his recipes and techniques representing a commitment to those passed down through many generations of monastic and family brewers.

DAY 4

Saturday July 25

Today there will be an option for a short group bicycle ride through the city before we embark on our bus trip at 11:00. Our first stop will be the fiercely independent Brauerei Gänstaller, occupying a quaint Victorian brewhouse in a typically tiny village. Here maverick brewer Andy Gänstaller will guide us through the brewery and pour samples of some of the most characterful hybrid and traditional beers to be found anywhere in the world. Then we’re off to one of the most unique stops on our tour: The Brullikeller, a centuries-old woodland cave where locals will literally roll out the barrel for us. Here, in addition to a picnic lunch, we’ll have the option of helping to finish the keg of naturally-fermented brew or taking in a swim at a nearby man-made lake. Or both. Returning for our final free (Saturday!) evening in Bamberg, guests can join us for one of several options: A dinner with spectacular views at the glorious Spezial Keller; biergarten food and ceramic steins of beer in the wooded Wilde Rose Keller, and more.

  Breakfast and lunch included

GÄNSTALLER BRÄU


In 2011, Franconian journeyman master-brewer Andreas “Andy” Gänstaller purchased the defunct 19th-century Friedel brewhouse in the tiny farmhouse village of Schnaid, and set about creating highly original, sometimes hybrid takes on Bavarian and foreign styles. His brewing methods are uber-traditional, including rare triple decoction mashing techniques and the use of an even-rarer antique copper coolship.

Brulikeller


For centuries, Franconians have in warmer months retreated to wooded havens to tap kegs of beer stored within hill-or-mountainsides caves. Today, with modern refrigeration rendering this practice unnecessary, a “bierkeller” generally takes the form of a cozy public brewery-outlet garden. But on very rare occasions one might spot a small, private group of traditionalist drinkers tapping their own secretive stash at a secluded keller. Such a band of fanatics can be found in the brewing village of Untergreuth, and they invite us and our guests to enter their private, hobbit-like world once a year, offering frothy pours from a picnic-table-mounted keg of lager beer from the local Brauerei Büttner.

Naturbadasee Frensdorf


In past tours, the Shelton Brothers discovered a secret, centuries-old pair of kellers hidden in the forest outside the village of Frensdorf. Then we discovered a man-made lake about one hundred yards away. We quickly realized that on a hot summer’s day, after a few keller beers, there’s nothing like a dive into the cool waters of the “Frensdorf Natural Swimming Lake.” At the very least, this rustic and popular community-run swimming spot sure can freshen you up for your next round of world-class lagers.

SPEZIAL KELLER


One of two large biergartens in the hills above Bamberg, and reached via a modest hike through the city’s winding streets, this is the largest outlet for the  famed smoked beer brewery, Spezial. As notable for its view as it is for the delicious rauchbier and classic Franconian cuisine, it’s one of the city’s (and area’s) favorite destinations for locals and tourists alike.

WILDE ROSE KELLER


Perched high on the Stephansberg, one of the seven hills overlooking the old city of Bamberg, the Wilde Rose is the city’s largest, most picturesque, and most popular outdoor beer-drinking destination. The largely local crowd chooses from a range of Bamberger beers, served in ceramic steins and enjoyed in a classic wooded biergarten setting.

DAY 5

Sunday July 26

With plenty of beer drinking already under our belts this week, we are granted a day off, at least until the late afternoon. However, those who want to experience the area’s famed cycling culture are welcome to join a group biking tour that will take us through town and country paths to…. more breweries! This is how the Shelton Brothers initially discovered many of our favorite local brewpubs, and there are many great ones to be found along each trail. Whether guests opt for the free day or the bike trip, at 4:30 those ready for a real party, Franconian style, will pile onto a local train, destination Forchheim – and the massive, colorful woodland Annafest. At this annual mountainside celebration we’ll get a tour of one the area’s famed kellers, an exclusive reserved table at which to park ourselves in front of a liter stein of beer, and a chance to take in the more raucous side of Franconian culture, with all its traditional garb, live music, and general festivity.

  Breakfast included

FRANCONIAN BIKE TRAILS


There is a massive network of biking trails throughout the region of Upper Franconia, centered on Bamberg. Along these trails can be found scores of small, often world-class breweries, most family-run, most brewing primarily for the local market, and all distinctive. Biking to breweries is a tradition here, enjoyed by locals, as well as German and international tourists, due to the sheer number of breweries per square kilometer, the easy accessibility of trails, and the well-maintained, clearly marked paths. Arguably this is the best way to explore the classic village breweries of Franconia.

ANNAFEST


Commemorating St Anna’s Day, and based on a pilgrimage dating to 1516, this raucous, colorful folk fest has been since 1840 held every July in Forchheim’s Kellerwald (“Cellar Woods”). Several local breweries pour special beer directly from the original mountainside kellers, many of which offer live, crowd-pleasing party bands. A fun, frenetic mix of old and new Franconian culture, the not-to-be-missed Annafest draws up to 500,000 guests each year.

DAY 6

Monday July 27

Sadly, it’s time to say goodbye to Bamberg until next year, but gladly, that means we’re off to Kulmbach, the home of Germany’s third largest bierfest, Kulmbacher Bierwoche! In the late morning we’ll get a super-exclusive brewmaster tour of the huge Kulmbacher Brauerei complex, followed by tastings of exquisite lagers direct from the tanks. Post-tour we’ll check-in to our hotels, and in the afternoon have several choices: A free day exploring the beautiful small city; A rest-up for a raucous evening in the Bierwoche big tent, or a guided excursion by train to the nearby, historical city of Bayreuth, famed for its opera house, Hermitage castle, and brewery-museum. Whatever option is chosen, the center of old Kulmbach will remain ground zero as the Bierwoche party rages into the late evening.

  Breakfast included

KULMBACH


Kulmbach, Germany’s “Secret Capital of Beer,” has a 650-year-old history of commercial brewing, and a couple thousand years of practice (the oldest example of a brewing vessel in Europe was unearthed here.) By the mid-20th century there were several separate breweries in the town despite a population of only a few thousand, and these — Kapuziner, EKU, Mönchshof, and Kulmbacher Reichelbräu — eventually merged under the Kulmbacher banner. A huge percentage of the townspeople make their living directly or indirectly from the local beer industry, and Kulmbacher is the only German brewery that displays a coat of arms of a city in its trademark.

KULMBACHER BRAUEREI


This large regional brewery retains the specialty beers and cultural identities of the four local companies that merged for its formation in the last century. Unlike most similar-sized breweries, Kulmbacher’s ca 2,000,000 hectoliter facility is thus able to offer a wide range of diverse styles – over 30 different regular beers – to both local and international devotees.

DAY 7

Tuesday July 28

Guests will have the option of a free early day in Kulmbach, or a guided tour of the city’s (and area’s) main attraction–the massive Plassenburg Castle looming over the old town. This perfectly preserved fortress is reached via a strenuous uphill climb, but the exhibitions within, and the views without, are worth the price. Whether or not one takes advantage of the castle tour, this is of course the perfect day to shop for traditional Bavarian clothing (“trachten”) to wear in the evening when we take our specially reserved tables at Kulmbacher Bierwoche. Arriving at 4:00 in the afternoon, we’ll spend the rest of the day and evening whooping it up with never-ending liters of festbier, giant pretzels, platters of traditional food, and the sounds of German party bands, whipping the exuberant crowd of dirndl-and-lederhosen-clad locals into a raucous but (barely) controlled frenzy. The evening at Kulmbacher Bierwoche is everyone’s highlight of the year, and an experience not to be forgotten.

  Breakfast and dinner included

PLASSENBERG CASTLE


One of the most impressive castles in Germany, and a symbol of Kulmbach, Plassenburg was first mentioned in 1135. Originally the seat of a noble medieval family, the castle changed hands several times over the centuries. Destroyed by fire in 1554 it was quickly rebuilt as the massive, formidable structure that survives today. Serving many purposes throughout its long history, Plassenburg now hosts local cultural events, and contains a significant collection of military artifacts.

KULMBACHER BIERWOCHE


Celebrating its 71st year, Kulmbacher Beer Week is the third-largest festival of its kind in Germany, and by far the least touristy of the big three. During a raucous nine-day summer blowout, many thousands of dirndl and lederhosen-clad Franconians dance, sing, clink liter glasses, stomp on benches, and drink oceans of festbier — while not falling down. A true view of Teutonic culture for the uninitiated and the highlight of any beer fan’s visit to Franconia.

DAY 8

Wednesday July 29

What more can you do in Franconia after Kulmbacher Bierwoche? Nothing – so it’s time to go to Frankfurt for our grand non-Franconian finale. After a scenic bus ride though the Fränkish countryside, we arrive in the region of Hesse, home to Germany’s international transit hub, and our final stop. But we’re not done yet. After checking in at our Frankfurt hotel, smack in the center of the Old Sachsenhausen party neighborhood, guests will have the choice of resting up before the evening, or getting back on the bus one last time for a private, rare tour of a cider orchard and nearby winery, where the local specialty apple wine (“apfelwein”) is produced. No visit to Frankfurt is complete without several glasses of apfelwein, and the entire group will meet in the evening for a special farewell dinner featuring a tasting along with special Hessian cuisine. Following our dinner, the neighborhood around our hotel is crawling with pubs of all stripes, so those in the mood for cocktails, apfelwein – or even one last beer – will be able to close out their tour on a high note.

  Breakfast and dinner included

FRAU RAUSCHER


The name is a reference to a legendary local woman from the 19th century who was apparently found one morning lying in the street with a bump on her head, the result of a possible fall from over-consumption of apfelwein. Eventually this seemingly minor incident inspired both a poem and a popular song! Whether or not the story is true, today the kitschy, cuckoo Frau Rauscher Apfelweinlokal is a favorite in old Frankfurt, offering ten different apple wine specialties, including various single-varietals, as well as apfelwein teas and various regional beers.

DEPARTURE DAY

Thursday July 30

The tour having come to a close, this morning we’ll bid farewell to our guests, whether they plan to extend their vacation or return to the States. The hotel is conveniently located near public transport to the airport and main railways stations, and taxis are easily arranged as well. Additionally, Shelton Brothers tour staff will be available throughout the morning hours for any guests needing assistance.

For those considering an extension of their trip beyond the tour dates, be advised that Frankfurt is a major air and rail center for Germany and the rest of Europe, and a hub for air travel anywhere in the world.

  Breakfast included

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