Stuart Forster samples Apple Wine in Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen district, explaining that beer is not the go to drink in all of Germany.
Germany is renowned for its beers but in and around Frankfurt apple wine is traditionally the most popular tipple. I head to the riverside Sachsenhausen district, long seen as the centre of the apple wine industry, to meet Thorsten Dorn, who, along with his wife Elke, runs the Lorsbacher Thal bar-restaurant and produces around 30,000 litres of Apfelwein each autumn.
A distinctive ribbed glass
First though, I take a quiet seat in the courtyard of the Lorsbacher Thal to sample a gerippte, one of the ribbed 300ml glasses traditionally holding the drink that locals pronounce as ‘Apfelwoi’. I’d been expecting a sparkling, cider-like drink but apple wine is, in fact, flat, dry and mildly tangy. Quite a few locals mix in a measure of sparkling mineral water and some prefer to pour in a dash of lemonade. Uncut, apple wine contains a similar level of alcohol to beer.
Apple wine is served from a Bembel, a grey ceramic jug decorated with blue floral patterns. The jugs are a popular souvenir from Frankfurt and the Hesse region. Few Bembels match the size of the vast vessels on the Lorsbacher Thal’s bar, where they are decanted with the help of a lever into smaller jugs.
With a smile and a handshake Thorsten greets me and suggests we head somewhere quieter for a chat. We head down the wooden staircase that leads into the cellar, where rows of enormous wooden barrels stand.
A cellar of wooden barrels
“We’ve got our beautiful wooden apple wine barrels,” says Thorsten tapping on one of them “the same ones could be used to produce wine. They’ve got the same sort of barrels up at Eberbach Monastery, which was used in The Name of the Rose with Sean Connery. Today we don’t use these barrels anymore because they are very labour intensive. I use stainless steel barrels. They are easier to get hold of and use for the production of perfect apple wine,” he explains.
I learn that Elke’s family have owned the Lorsbacher Thal for six generations. They ran a winery from the 16th century, prior to starting the production of apple wine in 1803. The equipment used in the two processes is similar, so making the switch was relatively straightforward.
“Apple wine has a wild fermentation process and it’s difficult to get stable results in wooden barrels,” says Thorsten. The wood influences the result and if a barrel is not air tight then the apple wine will oxidise and be ruined.
“When it shines gold then it’s oxidised. You’ll see that our apple wine is light yellow but not golden; there’s a big quality difference,” he points out.
How apple wine is made
Naturally, I want to understand how apple wine is made.
“It’s relatively simple,” says Thorsten. “You take an apple, press it and it ferments without additional ingredients. The sugar content of the apples produces the apple wine. In some wine you might add yeast and sugar to get a higher alcohol content but we don’t do that.”
Thorsten gets his apples from a meadow in Hoehenwald. Surprisingly, they aren’t plucked from the trees, the apples are harvested from the ground once they’ve fallen.
“It’s not one type of apple. It’s a mixture of varieties; that brings character. I think it helps protect nature because we’re not using a monoculture,” says Thorsten with conviction. Environmentalists, then, might even argue that they can enjoy apple wine with a clear conscience?
In recent years storage tanks have been introduced where the apple wine is cooled and stored, under carefully controlled conditions, meaning it can be drunk throughout the year.
Yet changes in technology don’t necessarily mean the production process is getting easier. It’s still a labour intensive task to produce apple wine. Mowing the meadow, looking after the trees and collecting the fruit all take time. So too does washing, coring, cutting and then pressing the apples.
A skilled production process
“Apple wine families are dying out and young people don’t want to take it on because it takes a lot or work to get the quality right. To produce apple wine in quantity is a major challenge and every one tastes different,” says Thorsten, who blends batches to achieve the flavour he thinks is best.
He explains that good apple wine should never be bitter and that I’ll notice the taste change if I let my glass stand for two or three hours. Thorsten compares this to an apple darkening after it is cut open and exposed to air.
Delicacies from Frankfurt and Hesse
Back in the courtyard I take a look at the menu and find a number of regional delicacies. I order a portion of Handkaese mit Musik, which translates to ‘hand cheese with music’. What I get is pressed cheese with chopped onions. Locals say this is one of the best accompaniments to apple wine.
Fittingly, frankfurters appear on the menu but, for my main course, I choose another regional delicacy, Schäufelchen mit Sauerkraut; literally a ‘little shovel served with sauerkraut’. However, there’s nothing at all dainty about the huge shoulder of roast pork that I’m served.
Maybe I’ll still be carving my way through the mountain of meat two to three hours hence? If that’s the case then I will have an opportunity to see how oxygen affects my apple wine.
The Lorsbacher Thal bar-restaurant is located at Grosse Rittergasse 49–51, 60594 Frankfurt am Main, tel. +49 (0) 69 616459.
To learn more about the city, see the Frankfurt-am-Main, take a look at the Frankfurt Tourism website.
Find out more about the country as a whole via the Germany Travel website.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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