Friday 9th September 2016
Of the five towns that still possess a genuine Commune Brewery (Kommunbrauerei) still producing Zoigl beer, Eslarn is the most elusive and remote.
It is to be found under the range of hills that form the German-Czech border in Oberpfalz (Upper Palatinate) which is one of the constitute provinces of Bavaria. It is a very old town indeed and its commune brewery has considerable history.
In 1970 I managed to get to the town by train; steam-hauled, of course. I was travelling with Allan (Nobby) Hayes. Back then I knew nothing of Zoigl beer.
Not that it would have mattered as we were on the first train of the day. I well remember the almost two-hour journey along the branch line from Weiden though the morning mist, stopping to shunt a wagon or two off the train every now and then.
The railway is long gone and the public transport link is now by bus from Weiden station and it takes just 50 minutes. However there is a tangible connection with the past as the bus arrives at Eslarn Bahnhof (railway station) and its trackless building is still standing and there is a monument to its former purpose in the form of the front of an old steam locomotive.
I had arrived an hour before Beim Strehern opened. This was deliberate as I wanted to photograph the Kommunbrauerei. I walked up to the onion-domed church that is so prominent in the town. The brewery is at the end of Brennerstrasse at no 30 and on the way I passed the Brauerei Schlaffer.
As can be seen from the photograph it is completely intact and you would not believe it closed in 1998. It is for sale and the town council have said that grants and subsidies are available if it were to reopen.
Further along on the same side is the Commune brewery and this had taken on a different look from my previous visit, please see below.
This is an appropriate point to look at its history. The first Kommunbrauerei was established in 1552 and it is first mentioned in writing in 1529.
Parallel in time to it was another brewery and malt house that belonged to the court in the castle of Eslarn. However this was destroyed in a great fire of 1567.
The court brewery moved down the hill to Brennerstrasse. The Kommunbrauerei was for many centuries to be found in the centre of the town in Pfarrer-Bayer-Strasse at no 4. In 1868 it burned down and was rebuilt.
However that brewery was found to be inadequate and a brand new brewery was constructed on the site of the former court brewery, now derelict, in 1900. This is the one that it is still with us today.
Eslarn is a little unusual as all citizens are entitle to brew as here it is not tied to property.
In 1844 there were 166 who had the right. However in the years 1841-2 only 32 exercised it and in 1842-3 there were only 20. In 1971 26 inhabitants out of a possible 130 used the brewery.
However at some time there must have been a revival as in 1946 there were 15 houses open to the public at varying times during the year, and 130 citizens exercised their right to brew.
Thereafter, it was a fairly quick decline and by 1963 there were down to just four selling Zoigl beer to the public. They were named Kramer, Kramer (2), Singer & Meckl (Peterl-Simmerl) and all had closed by the end of the year. The brewery stayed open, brewing to satisfy inhabitants that still took their own beer for private purposes and in 1989 there were still 62 of them.
The situation changed again in 1988 when Beim Strehern opened its doors to a grateful community, although one source says it was March 1996.
It is a public bar and I would think it was a Zoigl pub in the old days. It opens approximately every third weekend on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sadly, twenty years on, it is still the only Zoigl-Wirt in town. I had previously visited the pub in the mid-1990s along with Ian Simmons and John “Ted” Dexter. I remember taking away a huge three litre bottle of their beer; the empty is still in my garage!
On this day I walked up the hill towards the pub and could see from a distance the “witch’s” broom of birch twigs that hanging from the corner of the building as a sign that they were open. They also displayed the more usual six-pointed star. I was there 10 minutes early and I noticed customers going into the courtyard, so bear that in mind if you should ever visit.
I also went to the yard which is partially covered and acted as their biergarten. Many Bavarian pubs switch their complete operation from the inside to the outside in good weather. Here, the lady was managing to serve both easily. The pub is run by Albert and Lisa Griessl, along with their family so I guess this was the lady of the house.
In an interesting development they installed a distillery at the pub in 2002. This produces Schnapps from fruit grown in the Oberpfalz region that is un-sprayed (i.e., organic, although not officially).
The yard soon filled up as it was a pleasant day. Sooner or later I had to use the facilities which were located inside so I then had a look at the bar room.
Walking up the corridor from the back of the pub I passed the kitchen on the left and entered the main room. On the left was the service counter and I could see that the beer was dispensed from a fount. It contained no gas so guess it was just pumped from a tank in the cellar.
On the far wall was an old Grundig radio; I wonder if it is still used. The brick built service counter had a varnished wooden top and behind was a cabinet of glasses. On the lintel of the door to the kitchen there was a fine display of old ceramic drinking mugs or “Krugs”, as they should be referred as.
The view around the counter area was completed by a nice wood-framed pendulum clock.
The picture was enhanced by the lovely old “kackelofen” the green-tiled wood-burning stove alongside the counter. It was surrounded by a cushioned bench-type seat that must be a blessing when you’ve come in from the cold. The area to the right of the room that contains the door to the toilets has a lot of wood decoration.
I suppose to emphasise the connection with the Kummunbrauerei some of this wood is in the form of barrels. There is a huge end of barrel on the wall at the far end. This is possibly an old storage barrel that might have been found in the cellar of a Zoigl house. The theme is continued with the wooden light shade which also look as if they were once barrels.
There is cushioned wooden bench-type seating around the walls and the loose tables and chairs are of varnished light wood. The room’s ceiling is also of wood.
On the window shelves there are potted plants and the tables have flowers in vases. It is very obvious that this pub is well looked after. I understand that their beer can been obtained from a couple of shops in the centre of town, useful if you are there on the many days when they are not open.
Back to the brewery; I said earlier that it was different from previously. Well it is and in quite a big way. The fresh yellow paint is very noticeable and quite different from the bare rendering it had before. But, there was much more.
The attached grain storage building that was built on the site of the malt house has been re-roofed and is now the home of Biererlebnis (Beer Experience) which opened on 9th May 2015.
This is a new exhibition promoted by the town and provided with grants. Oberpfalz is the most (relatively) economically deprived area of Germany and projects like this can attract regional government and EU money.
However I liked and preferred it the way it was. Prices here are very cheap and certain aspects of life are unspoilt. More tourists will definitely change the area, so go there while you can.
Luckily they haven’t interfered with the brewery itself. The equipment is still in the condition it was after a 1960s refurbishment. It still uses a Kuhlschiff (Cool Ship) to cool the wort overnight before it is sent to the customer’s cellars.
A brewer is employed and he is Georg Zierer who has been the Braumeister since, unbelievably, 10th January 1951. I do hope they have a replacement lined up!
He brews around forty times a year and if the plaque on the outside of the building is to be believed, only from 29th September to 23rd April.
I thought the whole idea of the restricted dates of Zoigl pubs opening was tied to receiving a fresh brew and selling it as quickly as possible as it is not pasteurised or filtered. There must be an explanation somewhere.
The plant produces around 800hl per annum. An interesting recent development is the production of Rebhuhn-Zoigl. This is a very interesting beer that is brewed with the malted grains of the past. Specifically Spelt, Einkorn (single wheat) and Emmer. These are the ancestors of our modern day multi-strand wheat and barley. I didn’t see it advertised so I guess it is in very limited supply.
It is unlikely that you will find yourself in this remote part of Germany, but you just might be driving to the Czech Republic. If the dates fit you should definitely call in to Eslarn.
Beim Strehern, Tillystrasse 4, 92693 Eslarn. Tel: 09653 1355. Web: www.zoiglstum.de
Hours: Friday-Saturday 14.00-24.00; Sunday 11.30-23.00
Only when advertised, see the Zoiglkalender website
Bus route 6291 operates from the station forecourt at Weiden.
It is approximately hourly Monday to Friday.
There are just six return journeys on Saturdays and only three on Sundays.