Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Apple Wine Tavern as Traditional as can be in Frankfurt am Main: “Zu den 3 Steubern” of Wolfgang Wagner, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Wolfgang Wagner in the Zu den 3 Steubern

I grew up with apple wine in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Although there are 3 beer breweries in Frankfurt and the world renowned Rheingau and Rheinhessen wine regions just 30 minutes away from Frankfurt by S-Bahn or car, I would say that Frankfurt am Main is a city of apple wine - (hard) cider.

Frankfurt am Main has a large number of traditional apple wine taverns (Apfelweinwirtschaft), where you sit on communal benches, eat hearty local food and drink sour and tart German apple wine. Typically, there is only one apple wine – the house apple wine – available.

Overall, the various apple wine taverns do not differ that much one from another. However, while most of the apple wine taverns pour an apple wine bought from an apple wine producer, there are a few taverns that still make the apple wine they serve on the premise. Zur Buchscheer in Frankfurt Sachsenhausen is one of the apple wine taverns in Frankfurt, where the apple wine you drink is also produced on the premise. Then there are some apple wine taverns, where you meet more tourists and foreigners. These are very good apple wine taverns, which try to be open-minded to foreigners and tourists, while preserving the traditions of a typical apple wine tavern. A prime example is Adolf Wagner in the Schweizer Strasse in Sachsenhausen. Others are less accommodative to foreigners and more rigid in terms of how the place is being run.

Zu den 3 Steubern

Zu den 3 Steubern belongs to the category, where the share of tourists and foreigners is very low. Your rarely meet non-Frankfurters in this very charming apple wine tavern. And, the apple wine that owner Wolfgang Wagner serves, is apple wine he has been making on the premise for decades.

The first guests were rafters and fishermen from the near Main River as well as butchers from the Schlachthof that used to be in the neighborhood. Wolfgang Wagner (and his sister) took over the tavern from their grandfather in 1954 at a very young age. Wolfgang Wagner has become known as “Wirt” who can be a bit rough but always treat his guests with a full heart. At the bar (Tresen) you meet bankers, writers, marketing people and long time residents of Sachsenhausen.

Pictures: Zu den 3 Steubern

The Place

As in all apple wine taverns, you sit on communal benches. In the “Schankstube” there are 6 long tables for 8 to 10 people and 1 round table for the “Stammtisch” (daily regulars). In addition, behind the house in the backyard are 4 more tables. And then there is the bar (Tresen) where people stand.

The Food

The food is typical apple wine tavern food, nothing fancy, with the standards such as Rippchen mit Sauerkraut (grilled pork, sauerkraut and bread) and “Handkäs mit Musik” -a Frankfurt cheese speciality with “Musik” (oil, vinegar and onions). The prices are relatively modest. A house specialty is the original “Wasserweck” for 60 Cent (from bakery Kling in Sachsenhausen).

The House Apple Wine

A few years ago, a number of apple wine producers have ventured into the art of apple wine making by starting to produce vintage apple wines and special variety apple wines. This is not the world of Wolfgang Wagner. He only makes and serves one apple wine, his house apple wine made by himself.

It is served in a Geripptes, a glass with a lozenge cut that refracts light. A filled Geripptes is called a Schoppen. If you drink more than a glass or are in a group, you typically order a Bembel (a specific Apfelwein jug). The different sizes of a Bembel are designated after their contents in glasses from 4-er to 10-er Bembel.

The apple wine is produced on the premise in large barrels in the cellar of the tavern. For those, who can read German, a quote from an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by Andreas Maier: „Die Höchstform des Apfelweins findet man unter den Selbstgekelterten. Es gibt, wie gesagt, nicht mehr viele in Frankfurt, die ihren Apfelwein von vorne bis hinten selbst machen. Mir fällt etwa die Buchscheer ein, das Rad, der Momberger, das Einhorn in Bonames und die Apfelweinwirtschaft zu den Drei Steubern, geführt vom Wirt Wolfgang Wagner. Und als Gipfel von allem gilt vielen, nicht nur mir, der Apfelwein in den Drei Steubern. Er ist massiv saurer als die anderen und trifft nicht den Geschmack derer, die sich an den „Weichgespülten“ oder auch Touristen“-Schoppen gewöhnt haben. Mit einer solchen Säure muss man erst mal zurechtkommen. .....Wenn dieser Apfelwein verlorengeht, geht viel in Frankfurt verloren.“

Pretzel Man in the Zu den 3 Steubern

A Sachsenhausen tradition, the Pretzel Man delivers fresh-baked soft pretzels and other breads along the street and from restaurant to restaurant, taking his bread basket indoors to sell tableside much as flower vendors do in other big cities. My soft, salty pretzel paired perfectly with a glass of apple wine.

Picture: Pretzelman

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