Zoigl may not have the longest history in the German brewing world but it’s nonetheless not only one of the most traditional but also most interesting. Dating back a mere 500 years, brewers in the Upper Palatinate or “Oberpfalz” in German were bestowed brewing rights at varying dates dependent on the town. While not all brewing was done originally in communal brew houses, over the course of time due to various reasons like fire destroying a given town’s breweries, the use of such facilities helped distinguish the Zoigl brewing scene.
the Kommunbrauhaus or communal brew house in Mitterteich
With the inception of the communal brew house, came the idea that residents could brew for private consumption and since the beer was not made with any preservatives and was stored perhaps a bit primitively, it needed to be drunk relatively quickly. Hence, came the idea that neighbors were invited over to “finish off the brew” and it probably wasn’t long before at least some got the idea of charging a minimal amount for it and and snacks. This is where the Zoiglstuben sprung from, much like Biergartens in Munich derived from breweries storing their beer in caves.
bush hung outside Hartwich Zoiglstube in Mitterteich
Over time, to announce the availability of the extra brew, a sign of some sort was hung from the house. Some used brooms or bushes, I guess as they were handy and I’ve seen the practice still used in Mitterteich. More common was a six-pointed star. First recorded in images of a brewing monk from Nürnberg in 1403, it wasn’t likely used in the Oberpfalz until some 70 years later. The star is formed by two triangles. One stands for the three ingredients of beer: water, malt and hops. The second for the three elements: air, fire and earth. The German word for symbol is “Zeichern,” Zeichel or Zoigl in the local dialect. Hence, the name Zoigl came to be associated with the fermented brew drunk in such places.
the Zoigl star at Luggerts Boozhaus
There would have been countless such places and towns following the protocol but today such communal brew houses are far less common. Sesslach is one town where it is still in use, with the communal beer served in a couple guesthouses in the small medieval town. Up until a few years ago, Pegnitz had such a facility, too. These are only somewhat related to Zoigl, not sharing all the history and strict protocols that go along with it.
four of the five communal brew houses in the Oberpfalz
Today, there are only five towns considered to be producing “Echte” or authentic Zoigl: Neuhaus (dating back to 1415), Windischeschenbach (1455), Falkenberg (1467), Mitterteich (1516) and Eslarn (1522). All but one use wood-fired brewing, Mitterteich uses coal. While some of the towns still allow residents to brew in the facilities, there must be some lineage of brewing in that family to do so. The Zoiglstuben serving Zoigl must brew in their town’s communal brew house, using the ingredients of the first triangle only and use the method of fire to heat the kettle. The resultant wort is then transferred to the Zoigl producers house cellar, where yeast is added to start the actual fermentation process. After the lagering process is finished, the Zoigl is tapped right from the tank below the Zoiglstuben.
Zoiglstuben are simple places with varying characters but the one common thing is a homey feel. There is often a kitchen-like atmosphere and even décor. Food is also generally simple with cold snacks and basic warm meals. It is not unusual for them to have their own in-house butcher and meats are generally of great value and quality. A common meal is the “Schlachtschüssel” or slaughter pot. The Zoiglstuben with butchers slaughter the livestock close to the opened weekend of a their Stube and serve the freshly butchered wares there.
Zoigl snacks are tasty, great quality and inexpensive
With limited brewing space, the Zoiglstuben are secondary businesses which are open perhaps 10-12 times a year, with places taking turn as to who is open. In fact, in no town is there more than one open on any given weekend. Consult the Zoigl calendar (www.zoiglbier.de) before venturing into the area to avoid being disappointed. In the past, finding Zoigl wasn’t so easy but today the producers are making it easier to be in the right place at the right time.
There are commercial Zoigl producers and even small Zoigl brewpubs but neither follows the protocol of producing in a communal brew house. While their beer may be equally good, it is not considered “Echte” Zoigl as delineated on their website.
Below are links to the Zoigl towns. Follow the links to discover the Zoiglstuben in each town. There are reviews of Zoiglstuben I’ve personally been to.
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