Stuart Forster samples apple wine in Frankfurt am Main’s Sachsenhausen district. While there he discovers that beer is not the drink in all of Germany.
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Germany is renowned for its beers. Yet in and around Frankfurt, apple wine is traditionally the most popular tipple.
To sample Apfelwein, as the drink is known in Germany, I headed to the riverside Sachsenhausen district. That area has long been seen as the centre of the apple wine industry.
While there I met with Thorsten Dorn. Along with his wife Elke, Thorsten ran the Lorsbacher Thal bar-restaurant which produces around 30,000 litres of Apfelwein each autumn.
Lorsbacher Thal in Frankfurt
First though, I took a seat in the courtyard of the Lorsbacher Thal to sample a gerippte, a ribbed, 300-millilitre glass holding the drink that locals pronounce as ‘Apfelwoi’.
I was expecting a sparkling, cider-like drink. But apple wine is flat, dry and mildly tangy. Quite a few locals mix in a measure of sparkling mineral water. 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 greeted me and suggested we head somewhere quieter for a chat. We headed down the wooden staircase into the cellar, where rows of enormous wooden barrels stood.
Apfelwein in Frankfurt
“We’ve got our beautiful wooden apple wine barrels,” said 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 as a film set for The Name of the Rose, [a movie starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater]. 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 explained.
I learned that Elke’s family had owned the Lorsbacher Thal for six generations. They ran a winery from the 16th century and started producing apple wine in 1803. The equipment used in the two processes is similar, so making the switch was straightforward.
“Apple wine has a wild fermentation process and it’s difficult to get stable results in wooden barrels,” said 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 pointed out.
How to make wine with apples
Naturally, I want to understand how apple wine is made.
“It’s relatively simple,” said 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 wines, you might add yeast and sugar to get a higher alcohol content but we don’t do that.”
The apples are from a meadow in Hohenwald. Surprisingly, they aren’t plucked from the trees. The fruit is harvested from the ground after the apples have 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,” said Thorsten with conviction. Environmentalists might argue that is a reason why apple wine can be enjoyed with a clear conscience.
In recent years storage tanks have been introduced. In them apple wine is cooled and stored, meaning it can be appreciated 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 the washing, coring, cutting and then pressing the apples.
Making apple wine
“Apple wine families are dying out and young people don’t want to take it on because it takes a lot of work to get the quality right. To produce apple wine in quantity is a major challenge and every one tastes different,” said Thorsten, who blends batches to achieve the flavour he thinks is best.
He explained that good apple wine should never be bitter. The taste changes if a glass stands for two or three hours. Thorsten compared this to an apple darkening after it is cut open and exposed to air.
Food from Frankfurt
Back in the courtyard, I looked at the menu and found several regional delicacies. I ordered a portion of Handkaese mit Musik, which translates to ‘hand cheese with music’. What I received was 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 chose another regional delicacy, Schäufelchen mit Sauerkraut; literally a ‘little shovel served with sauerkraut’. But there was nothing dainty about the huge shoulder of roast pork that was served.
As it was served, I wondered if I might still be carving my way through the mountain of meat a couple of hours later. If so, I’d be able to see how oxygen affected apple wine.
Map of Sachsenhausen, Frankfurt
The Google Map below shows the location of bars and restaurants in Sachsenhausen, Frankfurt:
Hotels in Frankfurt, Germany
Search for accommodation in Frankfurt am Main via Travel Supermarket:
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, take a look at the Frankfurt Tourism website.
Find out more about the country as a whole via the Germany Travel website.
Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about Apfelwein or apple wine in Frankfurt, Germany. Interested in history? You may enjoy this post about Saalburg Roman Fort in Germany.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, has lived in Germany and speaks fluent German.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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A version of this post was initially published on Go Eat Do on 11 June 2014.