Cider Culture Reborn in Frankfurt
To most people, Frankfurt is known as a center of business and banking. Rarely is this city on the Main River thought of as a place with a distinctive beer culture. Yet Germany’s “Mainhattan” as it is referred to on occasion, doesn’t lack for a culinary history of its own. Nor does it try to rival the nation’s great capitals of brewing: Bamberg, Munich, and Köln. Instead, the Frankfurt region simply devotes itself to cider, a beverage its residents call apfelwein, äbbelwoi, or stöffche in the local dialect.
Mentioned in the eighth century Capitulare de Villis and known to be a popular drink since the time of Charlemagne, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the first apple wine taverns began to appear, advertising their blends of this low-alcohol beverage by displaying a green wreath outside. Entrepreneurs like Wilheim Höhl and Philipp Possmann eventually capitalized on the popularity of apfelwein, expanded to meet a growing demand, and are now two of the biggest producers in the country. In the last decade though, a number of smaller artisanal cidermakers have emerged, aspiring to reconnect with the region’s agricultural heritage by working with native apple varieties such as Bohnapfel, Anhalter, and Winterrambour.
“Cider is culture,” Andreas Schneider told me during a visit last summer. “We are now growing more than 70 varieties of apples and more than 25 varieties of pears.” About eight miles north of Frankfurt—close enough to still see the skyline—Schneider concentrates on nurturing the orchard his parents planted in Nieder-Erlenbach in 1965. Today he’s the only cider maker in the immediate area that still grows, presses, and bottles his own fruits. Granted, his dry, single variety ciders lack the malted barley and Noble hops used in the beers brewed throughout Germany, but in other ways his cold fermented, small batch creations aren’t so different from the hand crafted ales and lagers found in German brewpubs and beer gardens.
Within walking distance of Frankfurt’s financial district on Schweizer Strasse, restaurants Zum Gemalten Haus and Apfelwein Wagner are two surviving examples of the numerous apple wine taverns that could once be found in large numbers here at the crossroads of commerce in the state of Hesse. “In the seventeenth century the first gardener of Frankfurt got permission to sell his apple wine from the Magistrate of Frankfurt,” Schneider explained. “He was located in the south of Frankfurt on the other side of the river Main in Sachsenhausen. He, and later on many more gardeners and farmers, sold apple wines in very simple taverns, like in their barns for example."
Schneider’s own farm is similarly rustic, with a small bottle shop and farmstand in the front, and a larger semi-enclosed cider cafe overlooking the orchard. It’s the ideal place to share a bottle of Cox Orange (7% ABV), a dry, yellow-green nectar with an aroma reminiscent of ripe banana. The organic, locally made bread, cheese, and sausage served in the cafe make for a happy pairing with any of Schneider’s ciders, but are far from the only foods that work with apfelwein. “I think it’s beautiful with scallops and all the kinds of fish,” he told me. “But you can serve all dishes: Thai, Indian curries, sushi, and more can be served with our apple wines. My biggest dream is to meet an Indonesian chef.”
If you can't make it to his orchard, look for Schneider's uncommon ciders in Frankfurt on the menus of restaurants like Heimat Essen & Weine on Berliner Straße, Margarete on Braubachstraße, and Villa Merton on Am Leonhardsbrunn near the Botanical Garden. Another option is to time a trip to Germany that coincides with the city's week-long Apple Wine Festival in August. A second annual event, Apfelwein im Römer, is held each spring. In the near future, visitors will also be able to learn more at a planned Cider Museum in Frankfurt.