Frankfurt’s Apfelwein

Whoops!  It must have slipped my mind, but when I wrote the last two tales about Beer, Booze and other Beverages, I completely missed Cider!  How could that be?  Cider is one of my favourites, and a favourite of many people world-wide.

I can remember drinking cider ever since we graduated from apple juice years ago.  Locally, they make cider from apples, pears and peaches, but much of it these days is made from concentrates, which in my mind spoils the taste.  They are also experimenting with other fruits and combinations, usually too sweet.

They make very good cider in England and the UK, who have many variations served in local pubs.  But the champion of ciders in my mind is the apfelwein, or apple wine in Germany.  We first came across this in Frankfurt on one of our first trips.  Frankfurt was one of our popular destinations as it is a great hub to fly into and travel from there by car, bus, train, plane, or even boat on the Main River.

The area around Frankfurt is one of richest fruit producing regions in Germany.  They use Granny Smith or Bramley apples which they ferment to about 5 to 7 % alcohol, producing a lovely tart, almost sour taste, much nicer than the sweet ones we get at home.  In September every year, they hold a ten day Apple Wine Festival which attracts thousands of visitors and hundreds more apple wine varieties from all over the world.  The apple wine industry has been going on for over 250 years, providing an alternative industry when the phylloxera destroyed most of the vineyards in Europe.

The Apple Wine Express from Author Ian Kent
The Apple Wine Express

The Germans, especially in the Frankfurt region, have turned the cider industry into a tourist attraction.  In Frankfurt, they offer a little train tour through the city, while tourists enjoy apple wine, pretzels and music.  This train is called Ebbelwei-Express, and usually runs on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.  Known as Ebbelwoi by some locals, Apfelmost further east in areas, like Würzburg and even Austria.

Typical Bembel from Author Ian Kent
Typical Bembel

Frankfurt is well known for its distinctive salt-glazed pottery, so cider is often served in sturdy grey and blue stoneware mugs called Bembel, which is then poured into a ribbed glass called a GerripteAlmost every restaurant and German cider tavern (Apfelweinlokal) serves cider on their menu, usually with a filling German meal of sausages and other meats to keep you drinking.

Apfelwein festival from Author Ian Kent
Apfelwein festival

Our favourite location in Frankfurt is Römerberg,a large square surrounded by classic old half-timbered buildings that are now restaurants and other tourist attractions.  We were lucky enough many years ago to find a little hotel within a block of this location, a hotel we have visited many times, by ourselves and with friends or relatives.  We stayed there one year during the Christmas Market season, with many of the Christmas market stalls set up just outside our hotel, below the window of our room. 

Back to Römerberg square, at one end of this square is the Apple wine museum, a delight to visit any time.

Bembel for Apfelwein from Author Ian Kent
Bembel for Apfelwein

Across the ‘Eiserner Steg’, a steel pedestrian bridge over the Main River is an old part of the city called Sachsenhausen.  This is a delightful old area to explore, referred to as the Frankfurt’s premier ‘going out district’, filled with half-timbered buildings, traditional inns, apple wine pubs, taverns and restaurants, many with rooms to rent.  We have visited Sachsenhausen several times when in Frankfurt, and had some wonderful German meals in a well known restaurant called Zum Grauen Bock.  I am always amused at this name for a restaurant, called the Grey Goat!  Actually, the name says ‘to the Grey Goat’.  It’s a great place for all the German classics, sausages (wurst), pretzels, spätzle,potatoes (Kartoffeln), sauerkraut or a huge Schweinhaxe, or pork hock.  All these can be served with beer, wine or a Bembel of Apfelwein.  It was this restaurant I had in mind when I wrote my novel “Catalyst”, in the chapter when Jake Prescott met an old girl friend for dinner and a romantic encounter.

Zum Grauen Bock Bembel from Author Ian Kent
Zum Grauen Bock Bembel

I still remember our first visit her with our friends Harvey and Shirley, a visit when we were introduced to German Apfelwein, several large Bembels of it, together with a fantastic Schweinhaxe meal that lasted hours!  It as a good thing our hotel was only a fairly short, but staggering walk home from that restaurant.

Typical German meal with a cider or beer from Author Ian Kent
Typical German meal with a cider or beer

I suppose the main ideas, or lessons I have tried to illustrate with these stories about various international beverages, is that each one is a part of the culture and history of that part of the world.  Each mouthful can tell so much more, if only you listen.  So please do not just gulp it down, learn how to sip, savour and enjoy a little bit of the thousands of years of history they represent.

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