ON THE APFELWEIN ROAD: FALLING FOR GERMANY’S APPLE CIDER
TEXT & PHOTOS: DANIEL COLE
While the Bavarians are chugging from their MassKrugs at Oktoberfest, and those along the Rheingau are celebrating the Feder Weisser festivals, the residents of Hessen are rejoicing in a different kind of harvest.
Renowned for its for Apfelwein – apple wine, or German cider – the area surrounding Frankfurt on the Apfelwein Road celebrates at the end of September with a bunch of festivals celebrating their regional speciality.
Although not known internationally as a cider-country, the Apfelwein producers of Hessen press around 40 million litres per year. Apfelwein, also referred to locally as Schoppe, or Ebbelwoi, is the national drink of Hessen; the byproduct of fermenting compressed, regional apples. Although there is no fixed definition, in the most part Apfelwein differs from its French and British counterparts in that it is not carbonated or sweetened in any way. It is as its name states – an apple-wine; although there are of course always certain exceptions. It also uses a mix of apples not generally used for eating, giving the beverage a more sour and sharp taste.
The love affair between the people of Hessen and its beloved Apfelwein started just over 500 years ago, when the local grape crops and vineyards started to suffer. As such, the regional farmers turned their hand to planting apple trees and substituting wine for Apfelwein – a tradition that still lives on today.
At the end of September, just outside Frankfurt in the town of Hessen, local farmers congregate in the castle-square for the annual ‘Apfelwein-Spektakel’. Next to the army of grilled-meat stalls are buckets of freshly picked apples waiting to be pressed, alongside tables decked out with the traditional blue pitchers, known as bembels. Ordering a fresh Apfelwein from one of the many vendors, you’ll be served it in a traditional gerippte, a jagged, diamond-cut glass into which the drink is poured, a hangover from the days when your greasy – and somewhat inebriated hands – would have had trouble maintaining a grip on the receptible.
Many of the local producers turn up to showcase their seasonal drinks; the tart, flat apple offering, for example, that is served alongside traditional cheeses and herb sauces. Amongst those in attendance on the overcast September day are the producers from the MainÄppelHaus Lohrberg, a community-run local orchard that have an innovative pressing machine, that immediately blends and crushes the apples on the spot, bringing Apfelwein production some way into the future.
The ApfelWein Road
The MainÄppelHaus business is just one of many Apfelwein producers that can be found along the Apfelwein Straße, a 40-kilometre hiking route that connects many regional orchards, from the picturesque villages of Steinheim all the way to Frankfurt. Once the apples are plucked from the trees, they are taken to local Keltereien (pressing factories), where they are fermented and converted into the Apfelwein.
Just outside the town of Mainthal is Die Kelterei Höhl, one of the largest private cider-pressing plants in the country, whose family have been responsible for making Apfelwein for over 250 years. Further along the ApfelWein Road, justeight kilometres outside of Frankfurt, are the orchards belonging to MainÄppelHaus. Along with a rich variety of apples, there are pears, cherries and berries that are also grown here.
The community-run not-for-profit orchards look out across the river Main, and are completed with an idyllic outdoor bistro, a farmer’s shop, and of course its renowned, mobile pressing machine. As part of its commitment to sustainable agriculture, the centre offers courses on conservation, tree care, and orchard management.
MainÄppelHaus can also be found in the heart of Frankfurt’s GrünGürtel, or Green Belt, a 70-kilometre stretch of fruit orchards and nature reserves, which the Apfelwein Road cuts straight through. The protected area is littered with agricultural and horticultural businesses with a vision to safekeep the area’s ecology through programmes and educational initiatives.
Towards the end of the Apfelwein Road, the hiking path starts to creep into the suburbs of Frankfurt, finishing in the district of Sachsenhausen. It is here that one can find some of the region’s best Apfelwein restaurants; locations that embody the traditional, centuries-old tradition. In the likes of Ebbelwoi Unser and Fichte Kraenzi, one can order bembels filled with local ciders, while feasting on Hessian delicacies. Closer to the train station, Apfelwein Wagner is one of Frankfurt’s best restaurants, barely changing its multi-generational aesthetic, serving its apple-drinks and meaty dishes with the same quality and tact as their relatives did decades prior. Here, the festivities don’t end until the last apple is harvested, with ebbelwoi being enjoyed all-year round.
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