Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Frankfurt – Natural Cider in Germany

Visited November 2012

Eintracht Frankfurt

Favourite Cider Bar

Drei Steubern (Dreieichstr. 28)

There are around thirty six traditional cider bars in Frankfurt, but if you only have an hour in the city, ‘Drei Steubern’ is the one you have to try. One of only three to make and sell their own cider (known locally as apfelwein), walking in to this cosy establishment is like stepping back in time. The place is full, and everyone, and I mean everyone, is drinking cider. Some of the friendly locals make room for us at their table, and tell us a bit about the etiquette. The cider has to be poured
from special ceramic cider jugs called ‘bembels ’, and drunk from a particular kind of fluted glass called a ‘gerippte’ that has a criss-cross diamond pattern. Many of the locals had brought along a personalised lid for their glass called a ‘deckel‘, designed to stop flies and leaves falling into their cider. When I pointed out that indoors you don’t get too many leaves, they explained that ‘It’s a kind of joke!’. I reckon that the jug, glass and lid form an integral part of the traditional Hessen cider ritual, and no one component is ever allowed to go missing.

Apparently the future of Drei Steubern is in some
doubt. Once the elderly patron calls it a day, it may close for good. So visit soon, order one of the boiled eggs from the jar on the counter, and enjoy the hazy and golden, sharp and fruity, homemade apfelwein.





Favourite Cider

Kelterei Stier (

Jörg Stier has his cider cellar and shop at Maintal-Bischofsheim, about six miles north-east of Frankfurt. Generous and good company, he gave us a tour of his cidermaking facility, and a few samples of his many different apfelweins. It was early November, and surprisingly, cidermaking had finished. Jörg explained that Germans don’t believe in letting the apples lie about so that they can ripen, instead they are milled as soon as possible after picking. Jörg has made cider for thirty years, but this year his two sons have taken over, leaving Jörg free to conduct the guided tours, and to enjoy plenty of ‘quality control’! He showed us his Bucher mill, and his impressive Bucher stainless steel press, that uses gentle air pressure to extract the juice. It goes without saying that all of Jörg’s ciders are pure juice, which is what I term ‘natural cider’.

Much of Hessen’s apfelwein is made with low acid / low tannin dessert fruit. Traditionally, wild fruits are added to the cider to add tannins and give a depth of flavour. Jörg Stier is a great proponent of this, and we tried a delicious pale and cloudy medlar cider, a darker-gold sloe cider (very fruity and tannic), and finally a pale speierling flavoured with the fruit of the Service Tree. Jörg produces no single varietal ciders, explaining that he wants his ciders to be ciders, not wines. Another sample direct from the conditioning tanks contained a blend with 60% Golden Pearmain, and had a delicious honeyed flavour. The next tank was quite different, a beautiful lemony taste coming from the 70% Graurenette apples in the blend. I was in heaven! Back up in the shop, Jörg opened a bottle of his sparkling Red Cider, refined and fruity, made with the addition of blackcurrants. Finally, one last treat before we made our farewells. A traditional brown bottle of ‘Epfeltranc’, the original local name for cider used over six hundred years ago. The acetic acid flavour is quite deliberate, and said to aid the digestion of fatty meats. A taste of history indeed!

Other Cider Bars We Loved

The majority of Frankfurt’s cider bars are conveniently clustered together in Sachsenhausen, just south of the River Main. We visited Lorsbacher Thal (Gross Rittergasse 49), Affentorschanke (Neuer Wall 9), Struwwelpeter (Neuer Wall 3), Atschel (Wallstr. 7) and Dauth-Schneider (Neuer Wall 5). All within a stone’s throw of each other, and all with traditional interiors - wooden tables and benches, coat hooks, framed paintings of apples, and of course the ‘holy trinity’ of bembel, gerippte and deckel. Cider is the heart and soul of the Hessen region, and it is through cider that people rediscover their regional traditions. Hessen regionality is ably expressed through the traditional dishes served in all of its cider taverns. Handkase mit musik is a challenging starter of fermented cheese served with onions (the ‘mit musik’ bit alludes to the idea that onions make you fart!). I think I need to persevere with this, it must be an acquired taste, all I could get was old socks! Much more accessible is the wonderful grüne sosse (green sauce) made with seven herbs, oil, vinegar and soured cream. Typically served with two halved boiled eggs, or boiled beef.

There are a couple of shops you need to take in too. Apfelwein Kontor (Wallstrasse 13, entrance in the courtyard) has a wide range of bottled ciders, from Hessen and further afield. But it’s more than just a shop, these guys are really passionate about their apfelwein. Konstantin Kalveram and Michael Rühl are the driving force and authors of two superb guides on local apfelwein. And they are ably assisted by an Asturian Eduardo Coto, and an Australian Coady Buckley. Together they promote apfelwein in any way they can, be it through hosting tastings, commissioning bespoke apfelweins, or even driving all the way to the UK to exhibit Hessen’s finest. Good guys and cider heroes, I would say! Just down the road is another lovely little shop, Bembel Maurer (Wallstrasse 5), which stocks nothing but wall-to-ceiling bembels (the cider jug, every home should have one!).

Hidden Gem

Zur Buchscheer (Schwarzsteinkautweg 17)

A lovely, friendly, traditional cider bar that makes and serves its own cider. Hidden away at the edge of Sachsenhausen, it can be reached on tram 14. It was rammed the night we rolled up, Eintracht Frankfurt were at home and many fans were enjoying a pre-match cider - on a summers afternoon you can take a twenty minute walk through the forest to the ground. There was so little room the landlady asked us to sit at the stammtisch table, an honour which startled the regulars somewhat. The regular apfelweins were being poured non-stop from a couple of bembels, which were refilled from a pipe attached to the bar counter. This cider (which had the house name ‘Sachsenhauser Lebenswasser’) was a beauty – golden and slightly hazy, clean, fruity and smooth. They also offered their pale and refined single varietal ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Renette’ in a wine glass, and a cider eau de vie. All superb. You must go there, I insist!


We can certainly recommend Hotel Miramar (Berliner Strasse 31), for its lovely buffet breakfasts and its central location. From the hotel, it’s easy walking distance to some superb food and drink markets. Kleinmarkt on Hasen Gasse is the permanent indoor market, Schiller Strasse has a market on (I think) Fridays, and best of all Konstabler Wache hosts a Farmers Market on Thursdays and Saturdays. Cider and apple juice are on sale by the glass, as are local beers and wines. What is there not to like about Frankfurt?

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