"Bamberg's breweries are all owned by families with a long brewing tradition," explains Morcinek in the short time between gulps. "Anybody of average intelligence can be taught to make beer, but it is the expert knowledge handed down from generation to generation in these families that enables them to make not only good but excellent beer." Of course, we drink to that.
While smoke beer gets most of the attention from the outside world, it is hardly the only thing brewing in the city. There are some 55 different varieties in town. The oldest brewery, Brauerei Klosterbräu, stakes its reputation on Braunbier ("brown beer"). The rust-colored, slightly sweet beer was first documented in 1333 and, 200 years later, was designated the official brown beer for the town's religious bishops. Today, locals refer to it as "Bamberger Gold." It's so good, drinking it should be a sin.
Many of Bamberg's brew pubs double as guesthouses, which is either cleverly cruel or a lifesaver, depending on how you look at it. Either way, stumbling to bed is that much easier. For this reason, our last stop is Spezial's main brew pub in town, where I'm also spending the night. Here I'm introduced to the Stammtisch, a table reserved for regulars, and "Ungespundetes" Lagerbier, another of Spezial's brews and perhaps Bamberg's most interesting one. To make a long story short, Ungespundetes (literally, "unbunged") means that most of the beer's carbon dioxide was allowed to escape during the brewing process (as in the old days, when beer was stored in wooden barrels and gas was released through a corked bunghole in order to keep the barrels from exploding under pressure). The unfiltered brew is old school, to say the least. This adherence to a 19th-century style long abandoned by the modernized beer world -wooden barrels are still used in Bamberg today - is a real treat for connoisseurs and worth the trip to Bamberg alone.
With that, I rap my knuckles on the table (the traditional Franconian gesture for calling it a night) and reluctantly wobble upstairs to bed. I ask Morcinek what advice I should take home to the American public about drinking in Bamberg. "You don't need to know anything about Bamberg beer," he offers. "Just take a sip. Your sensory organs will tell you that you can't help but enjoy it."
I'm back on the wagon the next night in Frankfurt, where an altogether different, though equally unique, local firewater is consumed. Dating back to 799, Frankfurters have consumed their beloved Apfelwein (Äbbelwoi or Ebbelwoi in local dialect, and "apple wine" in English), a tart thirst-quencher made from fermented apples that is somewhat of an acquired taste. The good news is, when you're in Frankfurt, it doesn't take long to acquire it.