There’s a lot more to Bamberg than just Rauchbier — the town is said to produce brews in some 50 different styles, including the buzz-worthy U, aka Ungespundetes, an “uncorked” or “unbunged” style of Kellerbier best-known in the versions from Mahr’s and Spezial, as well as very good wheats from places like Kaiserdom. If you’re tempted to take something home with you, the very last chance before you leave town is a small shop in the train station with bottles of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier as well as one of the local oddballs: Zwergla from Brauerei Fässla.
The Fässla pub was one of my favorites on my first trip to Bamberg, if only for the atmosphere, as I got caught up in conversations with the Stammgäste there. And while Zwergla’s “Lil’ Dwarf” moniker is fairly distinctive, I couldn’t remember ever trying it. Grabbing a bottle in the Bahnhof, I figured I’d check out what I missed and compare it to some beers from back home.
On the brewery’s home page, Zwergla is listed as a Dunkles, but there’s quite a bit of red glinting through (especially if you backlight the glass with a tea candle, as in the shot above). In normal light it is a clear deep amber with very moderate carbonation and a loose tan head. The nose is honey with light ginger notes; in the mouth, it has a rich, full mouthfeel with moderate sweetness followed by a surprisingly bitter finish.
That’s pretty good, I thought. And then I made a big mistake: I opened a bottle of Herold’s Bohemian Granát from the Czech Republic. I’m not sure if it says more about Fässla or Herold, but after sampling Bohemian Granát’s rich, sweet-and-sour caramel bite and even stronger bitter finish, I wouldn’t recommend going to Bamberg just for the Lil’ Dwarf.
Of course Beeropolis has much more to try, like the newish brewpub Ambräusianum. Although we missed the Fastenbier at Schlenkerla and Spezial by a matter of days, Ambräusianum’s version, the perfectly named Ambräusiator, was ready to go. It’s the same very dark amber as their normal Dunkles, though clear instead of cloudy, with a thin, short-half-life head, due to the consciousness-altering ABV of around 7.5%. It has a malty, peppery and peach-scented nose, with a filling rich flatness in the mouth followed by tannic notes in the finish. Additional sips bring out tastes of stewed forest fruits and jam. It’s chewy, thick and unctuous, though probably not something most people would order twice, if only because of the kick.
I don’t think the same can be said of Mahr’s Ungespundet-hefetrüb, probably the closest thing in Bamberg to a Czech-style brew, and served on site in an earthenware Krug, my favorite type of drinking vessel. (More on drinking vessels soon.) As I raised the glass, I thought of Alan, who seems to like Mahr’s pretty OK. Maybe even more than just OK.