Zoigl is a bottom-fermented beer speciality brewed by citizens in “communal breweries”. We combined the enjoyment of beer with a hike through the region’s Waldnaab valley. The canyon landscape with its granite rocks is a real stunner! Text: Markus Stein, Photos: Frank Heuer
Zoigl Beer Hiking in Eastern Bavaria
“A non-alcoholic wheat beer? That’s where I draw the line ... polite pass!” Wolfgang Fischer from “Zoigl Kramer Wolf”, as the place is called, plays the outraged man. And when he does carry the desired drink through the restaurant, a guest will often even go one better. And please bring me a non-alcoholic shandy while you’re at it! What a joker ...
“You must have been born a host, the lockdown really did some damage. I missed meeting my guests so much,” says the Zoigl brewer, butcher and small supermarket owner from Germany’s Upper Palatinate region, pouring his heart out to us visitors.
Fischer was thrown in at the deep end after the sudden death of his father and had to teach himself to brew at the age of twenty-four. The brewing right, i.e. the right to brew beer in the village communal brewery and to serve it to guests at home, is registered in the land register in Falkenberg. Whoever owns the house is allowed to brew. “And we have to know how to do that, not just press buttons on the computer,” says the self-made brewer.
Zoigl Is Only Real If It Says Real Zoigl On It
And the “Zoigl Kramer Wolf” has got what it takes. He puts a freshly tapped half-pint on the table. A frothy cloud floats on the dark amber-coloured barley juice. Droplets of water begin to form and roll down the sides of the glass. Well then: Cheers!
Aaahh ... Light to medium body, soft texture, very slight bitterness, mild finish. In a word: quaffable! Now sit back and enjoy the sight of the foam residue on the inside wall of the glass – tell-tale signs of a might sip ... And time to devote our attentions to the most important theorems of zoiglology.
The term “Zoigl” goes back to “producing”, “displaying”
The term “Zoigl” can be traced back to “producing” or “displaying”, but experts are not in complete agreement. The brewing right was first granted in Falkenberg in 1467. In the past, the serving of Zoigl was signalled by a green branch on the house.
Today, a certified sign with the brewers’ hexagonal guild sign and the inscription “Echter Zoigl vom Kommunbrauer” (real Zoigl from the communal brewer) indicates the authenticity of the brew and how it is produced. The Zoigl community is not amused: some characters like to play fast and loose with the brand, and private breweries also offer beer with this label. That is not a real Zoigl.
Five Places and Eighteen Communal Brewers
When asking for the order of the day: “der Zoigl”. The destination: “am Zoigl”. There are no reservations, you just sit where there is space. And people are on first-name terms. Last names are taboo. The beer is only on tap. The food is simple, hearty and very sausage-based. The bar is usually open from Friday to Monday.
A precise annual schedule of the Schutz-Gemeinschaft Echter Zoigl reveals on which date which Zoigl innkeeper serves in which village. And the ensign of those who uphold the centuries-old local brewing tradition currently consists of three brewers in Mitterteich, two in Falkenberg, six in Neuhaus, six in Windischeschenbach and one in Eslarn.
All the Result of Honest Handwork
Previously widespread in the region, the communal breweries, now protected as historic monuments, have only survived in the five places listed above. The Zoigl brewer brews his beer there, and pays a “kettle fee” for it. Everything is manual work: First, malt is mashed with water, boiled over a stove fired with heavy logs in the open brew pan, then hops are added.
Every brewer has his own recipe, and every Zoigl tastes different
To cool down, the brew is put into the open refrigerated vessel for one night. This concludes the work at the “Kommunbrauhaus”. The brew is taken to the Zoigl host’s home, where it is fermented with yeast in the fermentation vat. The Zoigl is then cooled and matured for up to twelve weeks. Bottom-fermented Zoigl is unfiltered, of a normal alcohol content and is not artificially preserved. Every brewer has his own recipe, and every Zoigl tastes different.
In the past, people used to serve drinks in their own living rooms. Today, the Zoigl locations also include garages, barns, hallways or simply beer benches in front of the house. Not every Zoigl brewer has guest rooms available.
A Stunning Castle and Spheroidal Weathering
The beer specialities home to Germany’s Upper Palatinate Forest are best discovered on a hike along the “Goldsteig” trail. This long-distance hiking trail from Marktredwitz to Passau crosses “Zoigl Country” between Wiesau and Weiden. A scenic highlight is the route along the Tirschenreuther Waldnaab from Falkenberg to Neuhaus.
Before saying goodbye to Falkenberg, it is worth visiting Falkenberg Castle, standing strong on a prominent rock spur. In the 1930s, the Prussian Count von der Schulenburg had the former ruin converted into a castle. The well-travelled diplomat wanted to spend his retirement there. But Schulenburg, who belonged to the resistance circle of 20 July 1944, was murdered by the Nazis. A small hotel has been set up in the castle, and a museum commemorates his person.
The rounded, towering granite rocks that support the castle are reminiscent of fluffy wool sacks piled on top of each other. In Falkenberg, the proper name for this geological phenomenon was born: spheroidal weathering. Incidentally, the Falkenberg Rock is one of the most beautiful geotopes in Bavaria.
Waldnaab: “Stop and Pool”
To the west of the small village, the Waldnaab meanders inconspicuously through meadows at first. An easy path follows it, before soon entering the forest and then turning south. The scenery now becomes more primeval: bushes and tall ferns. And there are already the first “wool sacks” in the green. Dark, weathered, primeval.
The water rushes loudly: from here on, the Waldnaab carves its way through the granite of the Falkenberg massif as it has done for five million years. In the process, it has created a small canyon with imposing boulders on the banks and boulders in the course of the river. And he often changes his character.
Sometimes it is idyllic and calm; other times, lively and effervescent. This is ensured by so-called steps, which are accumulations of stones over and through which the water rushes, and pools, passages with greater water depth and a calmer course.
Anvil and Table Stone
Rock formations such as the so-called “anvil” immediately catch the eye. The rock giant was so undercut by the flood waters that it took on the shape of an anvil. Trees grow on its mossy top, their leaves rustling softly in the wind. The so-called “table stone” consists of mighty granite slabs stacked on top of each other. Another curious feature is the “butter churn”, a collection of rounded granite boulders through which the water gushes.
Behind the “Blockhütte”, a restaurant with a beer garden nestled roughly in the middle of the valley, you should take the wildly romantic riverside path that begins there. Literally over hill and dale and the occasional steel stairs, you follow the sometimes rushing, sometimes lazy, flowing water. You wander through jungle-like fern forests, enjoy the interplay of light and shadow, or admire the flying skills of blue-winged damselflies and lemon butterflies.
Rare plants also grow in the Waldnaabtal nature reserve, such as the black devil’s claw, Turk’s-cap lily or ostrich fern, a relic of the Ice Age. Animal rarities such as the black stork, pygmy owl, water ouzel or river pearl mussels can only be seen with a bit of luck.
Distinctive Hop Note in Neuhaus
Before Neuhaus, a district of Windischeschenbach, the Waldnaab valley widens and the granite rocks become fewer. After a short climb south of Johannisthal, we reach Neuhauser Marktplatz. And the thirst hits you. Past Zoigl signs.
The Zoigl innkeeper on duty is the “Lingl-Zoigl” at the southern end of the market square. Karl Bauer took over the restaurant from his grandfather and runs it purely as a Zoigl tavern as a sideline. “I am grateful that our forefathers have preserved this tradition; in many other places, the communal breweries have, unfortunately, disappeared,” says the brewer and puts freshly tapped Zoigl on the table.
The Zoigl glows brightly and enticingly in the glass. “Our Neuhauser Zoigl is hoppier than the others,” says Karl Bauer. True. Nevertheless, it tastes sweet, slender, with a slightly tart finish. And not forgetting the individual touch. As befits the (according to Bauer) “somewhat different pub culture”.
A culture that has received recognition from the very highest authority, namely the Bavarian State Government: since 2018, the Upper Palatinate Zoigl has been on the list of Bavaria’s intangible cultural heritage.