Stop 5, Nuremberg and Rotbier
With the bags packed, the clothes smelling of smoked beer and brats, we are off to our next destination. As we depart Bamberg, we are on the home stretch of our beer journey to Munich for Oktoberfest. With just a few weeks to go before the start of mayhem in Munich, we have one last stop to make to try a hyper regional German beer delicacy. From Bamberg, it is an easy 45 minute drive due south to Bavaria’s second largest city, Nuremberg, where we will get a taste of their famous Rotbier (red beer). With big brother Munich directly to the south, Nuremberg, sits in the shadow of the Bavarian beer giant. Don’t sleep on Nuremberg’s beer though, the Rotbier is like nothing you can find within the capital city.
Nuremberg’s history is a tale of two vastly different eras: a thousand year period before the 20th century, and a dark, deadly more recent past. Beer began showing up in city laws and licenses around 1300, which saw more than 40 breweries in operation. Similar to the Bavarian purity law for beer (Reinheitsgebot), as of 1303 Nuremberg breweries had to follow local regulations for Rotbier as a way to offset famine that was common during those times. These regulations strictly controlled what ingredients could be used, and only allowed the use of barley malt for beer. Additionally, around the early 1500s, the local Nurmberg government mandated that brewers had to build their own fermentation cellars used for lagering Rotbier. These cellars were dug underneath the city, four stories deep into the sandstone bedrock beneath Nuremberg.
With the onset of the World War II, the cellars were extended and used as shelter for the city’s 50,000 residents from the allied bombings. Unlike Bamberg where we were last month, Nuremberg was nearly totally destroyed by bombing raids and fire by the end of the WWII; approximately 90% of all buildings within the city limits of Nuremberg were brought to ruins. Yet, its 40 foot wall encircling the city and deep rock cut cellars, survived to tell the tale.
At the height of the 19th century, the number of Rotbier breweries in Nuremberg had decreased to about 30. By the beginning of WWII, the number dwindled down even farther to less than five. The reduction can be attributed to modernization in brewing equipment, techniques, and the introduction of mechanical cooling systems (making the traditional lagering underneath the city obsolete). Following the war, it is even more of a surprise that there were even any breweries remaining in Nuremberg considering the scale of the destruction of the city; apparently beer will always find a way.
Today, the brewing scene has rebounded, with an emphasis towards craft, history, and regionality. Local brewers like Hausbrauerei Altstadthof and Schanzenbrau are heavily influenced by tradition, the art, and craft of brewing. To them, if the beer continues to hit the mark, and has been popular for centuries, why fix it? Nuremberg beers aren’t trying to emulate other styles found in other regions of Germany, or other parts of the world. The beer style itself, including its brewing and storage methods are completely unique to their city and can be appreciated for its regionality. These breweries in particular garner the roots of craft beer in Nuremberg – brewing traditional style Rotbier in copper kettles, and lagered in wooden barrels beneath the historic rock cut cellars beneath the city floor.
About the Style
Rotbier (red beer), is a somewhat roasty, mildly hoppy lager with a distinctive red color. The color is what makes these beers so unique; it is a brilliantly clear ruby red that falls somewhere in between a Vienna lager, and a traditional Märzen. The red color is intensified by a traditional combination of Carared with Melanoidin malts. On the palate, Rotbier has a slightly sweet, savory bready and biscuit notes with the smallest hint of honey and dark fruits on the finish. These beers shouldn’t taste hoppy, but the moderate intensity of the spicy, earthy hoppiness comes through in the aroma. Most traditional Rotbiers will fall within the 20 to 28 IBU range, and use German noble aroma hop varieties – Spalter Select, Hersbruck, and Mandarina Bavaria are commonly used. Rotbier is highly drinkable, with a medium body, and a fine white head, expect a 4.5 to 5.6 ABV beer that pairs well with charcuterie, grilled meats, but best of all Nuremberg brats. Similar to their beer, Nuremberg has established a set of rules and regulations that must be followed for their brats – 9cm in length, and 25g in weight, heavily spiced with marjoram and mace. Eating these with a Rotbier is an experience in and of itself. The brats, traditionally ordered in batches of six or twelve are served to you on a heart shaped pewter platter, accompanied by boiled while onion, horseradish dipping sauce, and a side of sauerkraut.
Whats Next for Rotbier
Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in Rotbier, even within the city of Nuremberg. Today, Nuremberg’s breweries are not known for their mass production, but rather for their quality. Among the most well-known and popular are the traditional Tucher Brewery, Hausbrauerei Altstadthof and Schanzenbräu. For almost 350 years, even through WWII, Tucher has kept the Nurmeberg brewing tradition alive.
Here in America, Rotbier is still relatively unknown, and flying under the radar of most craft breweries. Hopefully over the next few years that begins to change, and we see a few Rotbiers up on the taplists. A major step forward for the beer style came about in 2019, when The Brewers Association, a non-profit dedicated to promoting American craft beer, added Rotbier to its beer style guidelines list. These guidelines serve as the benchmark for brewers, beer judges, and brewing competition organizers (World Beer Cup, Washington Craft Beer Awards) to reference for particular beer styles and judging.
As of today, unfortunately no Rotbier can be found on the taplists of any BeerNav brewery partner nor WA craft brewery. There are plenty of Vienna, Amber, and Märzen lagers to go around, but we hope to see that change with time. The Rotbier style is such a glorious beer creation, and steeped in German brewing history, that it could serve as a nice pinch hitter at the end of July thru Aug, as a segway into the fall, just before the Oktoberfest time of the year.
If you think we might have missed a WA brewery that has or has had a Rotbier on tap, please let us know!
In our next installment of “the Road to Munich” we will finally make it to the end of our beer journey, and arrive in Munich just in time for Oktoberfest. Throughout the remainder of September and early October, we will cover Munich brewing history and tradition in depth as well as the Schwarzbier style.
To coincide with Oktoberfest season, we have a special beer collab announcement in a couple weeks. Stay tuned to the BeerNav blog as well as our Instagram page for more information about the special collab project and release.
About the Road to Munich
Hop into your Bimmer and merge onto the Autobahn (rather your Subie and I-5 since we live in WA), and let BeerNav lead you on an educational beer journey to Oktoberfest
“The Road to Munch” is our new blog and social media series that will run monthly from May until the beginning of October. BeerNav will highlight six of the most influential, historical beer cities and beer styles across Germany, and how Washington Breweries are influenced by tradition but add their own unique twists to each beer style.