I'd visited the first brewery on the trail - Brauerei Herold in Büchenbach - the day before, stopping there near the end of my walk from Pottenstein to Pegnitz, so left it until the end. I was keen to cover a little bit of distance before tucking in lest I abandon the whole exercise at the first pitstop. So it was straight on to Brauerei Grädl in Leups. I'd read descriptions of Grädl's dark beer online and it sounded really special.
The gasthof in Leups sits next to a separate building housing the brewery. That's not always the case in Franconia, where some breweries are so small they're under the same roof as the tavern. Two rooms decorated in an unflattering 1970s style are what you get inside. There's nothing to look at apart from other happy drinkers and the poor old landlord, bent double at the waist with a crippling back complaint. He struggled to pour beer (directly from an old-style barrel on the bar, incidentally). He struggled to bring it to people's tables, sometimes spilling some as he went. I still got my first jar quicker than I would in most pubs over here with four or five kids behind the ramp. Overstaffing is never a problem in Franconian pubs.
The pub was nearly full at 11am on a Saturday. The sun was coming in through the windows and spreading a warm glow across the few tables. There was no music. Conversation was hushed or non-existent. Noone was shouting their head off or enforcing their dull anecdotes on everyone else. The clientele was a mix between hikers and cyclists in their technical gear and middle-aged rural Franconians dressed in the way you would expect them to be. A little girl and her father got up to leave. She went to every table and knocked on the edge, catching everyone's eye and saying tschüss. The undemonstrative landlord smiled for the first time and ran his hand over her head as she skipped gleefully out the room. I later observed that this wasn't the charming habit of one gregarious child, but a convention in the pub: everyone did it as they left.
The beer arrived. Properly dark, just how I wanted it to be. The old boy's exertions at the barrel - his agonised posture meant he was pouring at the strangest angle you could imagine - had not been in vain, and the foam sat proud atop the glass. Now you expect there to be plenty hops in a Franconian dark beer, but some can disappoint. Not so here. Grassy, resinous, lovely. Raisins. Chestnuts. A lot going on, all quite distinct. What I remember most was the hard, flinty edge and the unexpected dry finish. I had four of them before pressing on north to the next brewery. But I already knew I'd had the best beer of my holiday. In truth, I think I'd had one of the best beers of my life.
I forgot to knock on all the tables and say goodbye to my fellow drinkers. Next time I go to Leups I'll get that bit right, and it'll be the perfect trip to the pub.