Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sandkerwa NA, an homage to Bamberg’s beers, begins Friday, August 31.

Bamberg, a beautiful city of 70,000 people located in the countryside of the northern German region known as Franconia, has long been recognized as the epicenter of traditional German brewing and beer culture. Ten breweries operate within the city limits, and as many as 150 others are to be found within the outward radius of a good day’s bicycle ride on immaculately marked and maintained bike routes. The majority of Franconia’s 300 breweries are family owned and operated.

For a half-century, SANDKERWA (SAND-kehr-wa) has been Bamberg’s end-of-summer street festival, one that originated as a church-related commemoration in the historic city’s oldest central district. For six days each year in late August, the Altstadt’s narrow lanes are filled with food, beer and people in a hearty celebration that brings Munich’s better known Oktoberfest to mind, but exists on a less crowded, decentralized and more enjoyable human scale.

Sandkerwa is an idea worth emulating, and Bamberg a state of mind worth honoring, so given that I’ve been looking for a reason to stage a German-themed draft beer fest, prepare for the inaugural edition of Sandkerwa NA, which kicks off at Rich O’s and Sportstime on Friday, August 31.

Expect a dozen or so beers from Bamberg and environs on tap at the same time, perhaps even more, combining to represent as many traditional Franconian styles of beer as possible (with a few Greater Bavarian and non-regional ringers tapped to provide representative examples of unobtainable styles).

Kindly note that contrary to what you may have heard, not all of these delectable beers are smoked!

In Bamberg itself, only the renowned Schlenkerla and the tiny Spezial include Rauchbier in their daily range, as do a few breweries outside Bamberg, but by no means are smoked beers the norm in Franconia at large. Here are the beers that I’m hoping will be on hand, beginning with the core selection from Bamberg:

Aecht Schlenkerla Helles
Aecht Schlenkerla Marzen
Aecht Schlenkerla Urbock
Aecht Schlenkerla Weizen
Mahr's Hell
Mahr's Pilsner
Mahr's Weisse
Mahr's der Weisse Bock
Spezial Rauchbier

Bayerischer Bahnhof Gose (Leipzig)
Bayerischer Bahnhof Heizer Schwarzbier (Leipzig)
Klosterbrauerei Ettal Dunkel (Ettal)
Kulmbacher Eisbock (Kulmbach)
Schneider Wiesen Edel Weiss (Kelheim)

And, of course, Pilsner Urquell (Plzen, Czech Republic) and Spaten Premium Lager (Munich) will both be on tap during Sandkerwa NA.

Regrettably, and as so often occurs, both Mahr's Ungespundet Lager (Bamberg) and St. Georgenbrau Kellerbier (Buttenheim) are unavailable at this time. This is particularly frustrating given that these are the only two examples of the style even possible to acquire, but I'll persist, and maybe they'll be available later in the fall.

Finally, we'll also be debuting a New Albanian Brewing Company beer in honor of the occasion: Happy Helmut, named for a merry trinket salesman with whom I once drank numerous half-liters of Spezial in Bamberg. There's a percentage of smoked malt from Bamberg's Weyermann malting house, and some rye in the grist. California Common yeast is used, and Tony's working on the artwork.

As always is the case with our draft extravaganzas, the Sandkerwa NA beers will continue pouring until they are depleted. By mid-September, a new wave of Oktoberfest brands from Germany and American craft breweries will begin flowing, and after New Albany’s annual Harvest Homecoming has concluded, we’ll commence Lupulin Land, NABC’s annual hop festival, on October 19.

A final note: It is my aim to launch Sandkerwa NA for the sake of the classic beer alone, and without the capability of providing Bamberg-style cuisine as a delicious match. The summer proved to be too busy to do more than draw up a future outline and order kegs, and yet I believe that starting small, while expedient, is also the correct approach. In 2008, it is my hope to add a full-blown German meal to the program, and perhaps music as well.

In 2007, savor the wonderful beers, and in 2008, we’ll broaden the experience.

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