German travel destinations

The Germany is Wunderbar guide

Germany Holidays: Going for a Zoigl

A 600 year old tradition is still allowing householders in five Bavarian towns to brew their own (delicious) beer, which they share with thousands of beer fanciers from far and wide.

Once a month, in five different towns in an obscure part of Bavaria, a select handful of householders hang out the six-pointed Zoigl star in front of their property. Then they throw open their front doors, and serve up home-brewed beer and home-made food to Zoigl pilgrims – which could amount to several hundred people.

These Zoiglstubes (informal inns) are the hangover from a long tradition that dates back to 1455, when home-brewing licences were first granted by a local count, who wanted to find a new way to raise tax. Back then 600 private households in the region signed up, but these days there are just 14 properties still maintaining the tradition, the majority of which are in the small town of Windischeschenbach and its even smaller satellite town of Neuhaus, in the Oberpfalz region, northeast of Nuremberg.

And despite big breweries trying to cash in on the trend by creating Zoigl beer, all of these real Zoiglstubes are part-time family-run places, including by the local butcher (at Roud’n), by the local undertaker (at Binner) and by the chimney sweep (at the beautiful Schafferhof with its adjacent tithe barn).

In recent years these venues have become something of a Holy Grail for beer fanciers, for whom savouring the distinctive handcrafted brews of the five Zoigl towns is the equivalent of tracking down an aromatic cheese in a remote valley in France. For although they start off their brewing in the local Kommunbrauhaus (the one in Windischeschenbach dates back to 1876) each brewer takes his wort home to finish off in tanks to his own recipe, so each brew is slightly different different – cloudy, nutty, and a bit darker than a typical German pilsner.  The whole thing is particularly inexpensive, and for a traveller, it makes an adventurous and all-year-round alternative to the Oktoberfest, particularly as Zoigl beer only costs just over a third of the Munich price. Like the Oktoberfest, going Zoigling is a convivial experience, with everyone talking to everyone, and sitting at communal tables.

This part of Bavaria (click here for tourist info) is not just a place to get pie-eyed; there’s plenty of outdoors stuff too, with Windischeschenbach set in a bucolic landscape of forest and rolling wheat fields, of orchards, woodstacks and walking tracks, along the banks of the wandering river Waldnaab. The closest big urbanisations are Regensburg and Nuremberg, each about 90 minutes away by car or a bit longer by train.

The Zoiglstubes open according to a published schedule, each one usually for 11 long weekends (usually Friday to Monday) a year, from around 11am until any hour of the night. If the Zoiglstern is hanging outside the building, it is open.

You will need somewhere to stay. In Neuhaus, the best option is the Hotel Zum Waldnaabtal, with half a dozen Zoiglstubes on the same street. In Windischeschenbach, the best place is the Gasthof Weißer Schwan. Both have rooms from €60 for a double.

Ludwig Lindner (0049 9681 1472) is a very knowledgeable Zoigl enthusiast and fluent English-speaker, based in Windischeschenbach.

Looking for more? See other destinations in Southern Germany

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