The first beer humans brewed was at least 7,000 years ago, in what is now Iran, ironically, but we have the Germans to thank for spreading beer into the far corners of the globe in modern times. Once they and the Czechs started adding hops to the beer brewing process in the 13th century, exportation started to become viable and the Germans settled on standardization in barrel sizes to make it easier to do business. When they moved to new lands, they opened breweries.
The German Purity Law developed in the 15th century and is still in force today, stating, “For the preparation of beer, only malt, hops, yeast and water can be used.” This dedication to quality enabled German emigrants to set up breweries around the world, especially in the Americas, establishing brands that still exist today , such as Coors, Busch, Pabst, Pacifico, Quilmes, Rotthhammer… Unfortunately, the law wasn’t followed when ownership changed. Many of those beers bear no resemblance to the originals, sad yellow fizzy water using cheaper ingredients like rice, with minimal hops.
You can still find the real deal when exploring Southwest Germany, however, and Ehingen is a great place to sample a vast variety. Situated on the Danube, 42 miles southeast of Stuttgart, Ehingen is a town of around 26,000 people with four independent breweries. You can get a real feel for old Europe here, with 1,000 years of history around town, including a former Franciscan monastery.
The Beers of Ehingen
Brewery is brauerie in German, so finding one by its sign is easy. Here are the four of them to visit while exploring the Ehingen area. If you don’t know a dunkel from a doppelbock and want to learn more, Berg gives paid brewery tours in English, scheduled regularly, while Schwanen will provide them for groups of 10 or more.
Schwanen has the best website in town to get a feel for the place and it also brews the most varieties of beer: 19. That’s almost unheard of in Germany, where American-style craft beer experimentation is frowned upon and, in the case of some recipes, outlawed. It’s the youngster on the block, in the same family since the 1860s. Are you getting back on the bike after a stop here? Get the trio sampler for under four euros. In a car? Take a 5-liter barrel home for €29. The brewerie is located in a modern building at Herrengasse 7.
Berg has a commercial brewing history dating back to 1757 and has been in the same family ever since, nine generations now. They don’t let the German purity law restrictions hold them back from variety. They brew nine all-year beers and five seasonal ones, using different kinds of malt, a variety of hops, and varying processes. Yes they have a biergarten but they’re not stuck in the past: there’s a recharging station for your electric vehicle in the parking lot.
Schwert has been an independent brewery since 1675. For you Americans who need some context, that is about when the first carriage road was constructed between the small cities of Boston and New York. You’ll get the purist experience here: four standard German beers that have been around for centuries. “Website? Nein!” Have you ever seen a brewery that closes at 10 and isn’t open on Saturday? Well you have now if you go to Schwert. Located at Am Viehmarkt 9.
Rössle Bräu goes back even further, to 1663, making it the oldest restaurant in the area. They’re closed on Sundays, open until 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and until midnight other nights. Counting seasonal beers, they have more than 10 varieties on offer throughout the year. Located at Hauptstraße 171.
Beer Hiking and Cycling Around Ehingen
How about working off your beer with a 14-kilometer hike? You can walk by historic buildings in the center and hike through the countryside on this signposted bierwanderweg (beer walking path) and there’s even a fold-up map available to download. You won’t have any trouble finding a beer on this trail. It goes by three breweries and a beer garden and ends up at the Berg one. It also goes through Wolfertpark, down to the beautiful Danube valley, and along the river.
Ehingen is on the Danube Cycling Path, which means it’s a great overnight stop for those riding multiple days on the trail, or a base for rides through the countryside on two wheels. If you’re dreading the hills, Berg Brewery arranged two-day e-bike tours that have beer stops built in.
Every month there’s some kind of beer festival or event going on in this town, so check the schedule here (available in English) and see if it coincides with your visit.
Here’s a little YouTube video tour produced by some local students to give you a feel for the scene in this region: