In July 2023 we experienced the Upper Palatinate’s ancient Zoigl tradition first hand! In this article you will find out what Zoigl beer and culture is all about. We hope you’ll be fascinated and keen to experience it yourself!
What is Zoiglkultur?
Between the years 1415-1522 around 75 small communities in a sleepy corner of Germany near the Czech border, were granted brewing rights enshrined on the title deeds of each eligible property. Families earnt Royal and therefore legal permission to brew beer at a communal brewery in their town and open their own houses to locals and visitors on rotation and on special occasions. With rights come responsibilities, and each brewer has a collective duty to maintain the brewery and pay in to a communal kitty known as the ‘Kesselgeld‘ (Kettle gold).
Spin on to the present day and the tradition of communal brewing remains alive, creating what are in effect transient pubs, which open only a few days each month. These pubs are why we, The European Bar Guide visited the region.
Beyond novelty value, the limited nature of each opening results in certain effects – some deliberate, some happy accidents. Each occasion feels special – you will not forget an evening experience when the whole neighbourhood turn out. The hosts know life will return to normal after their turn has ended, and are revived by the time it is their turn again, which helps prevent Zoiglpubs becoming tired or stale. In the case of Reinhard Fütterer of Schafferhof Zoiglstube in Windischeschenbach, his day job is a professional chimney sweep, and is keen to point out that he prizes the social value beyond any money he makes. As a visitor, knowing that you are unlikely to ever finish the full set of Zoigl pubs and beers will either inspire you to dive deeper or divest you of any stress accompanying those completist urges. Lastly and definitely most profoundly, Zoigl culture binds the community as neighbours become friends, their knowledge and resources are shared and the tradition is repeated and reinforced through generations.
This has been recognised as “intangible cultural heritage“, by UNESCO, as their inscription confirms.
Because no true Zoiglstube is open every week, some forward planning will be necessary for your visit. Your reference guide should be the Zoigltermine, maintained by the “Echter” (or Real) Zoigl community. N.B – Please be aware that this only lists the original/real Zoigl pubs, but there are a wider community of Zoigl pubs, as we will explain.
You should also refer to Oberpfaelzer Wald‘s Zoigl Kalendar (.pdf format – 2023 edition) which lists the true Zoigl pubs in bold as well as opening times for other Zoigl pubs. The others may brew their own Zoigl or buy it in.
Zoigl itself simply means “sign”, or “show”. It attracted this name because the Zoigl star (a star of David, but also synonymous with brewing guilds) is hung from the gable of a Zoigl pub to show when it is open for business.
What is Zoiglbier?
Zoigl beer production has some agreed parameters – boiling in an open pan over a wood fire, bottom fermentation and, after sitting in the attic coolship it is transferred (via a dairy tank in the case of Windischeschenbach) to their home cellars for lagering and maturation. All Zoigl is to some extent or another a ‘Kellerbier’. Unfiltered, ie. cloudy and usually (though not always) pale lager, but with lower carbon dioxide content than most. You will find the creations wholesome, rich in flavour but distinctly different from one another. Some are simple and indulgent, some subtly complex, some have a wilder approach, others show a high level of skill and refinement. But what all non-commercial “Echter” Zoigl has in common is social binding. Zoigl is best seen as part of a culture above a beer style. This is the merely the milkshake that brings the boys to the yard.
Pub Culture and Etiquette
Expect a more casual approach in the Zoigl pubs than some of the stuffier Wirtshaus venues you may be familiar with around Germany. There is no ‘front of house’ nor gatekeeper, so just like a true pub you wander in and look for a space to sit inside or in the garden/yard. Watch out for the ‘Stammtisch‘, the table reserved for regulars, which is normally the one nearest the bar. There is typically a sign to mark it, but if there isn’t then look elsewhere to avoid embarrassment.
Communal seating is part of German culture, a sort of leveller across class and ages which encourages cross-chat, socialising, bonhomie, etc. It has also given rise to certain rules and rituals – things Germans are also big fans of. Tischetikette requires from politeness to ask if space at a half-full table is free before sitting down, to greet those you’re sitting next to, and, if some food arrives, to wish them ‘Gut appetit’ (as they will do for you). If anyone leaves, bid them Adieu (or, well, you know…) and you may notice your fellow pubgoers rap the table with their knuckles on their way out – a curious little habit to say farewell. As well as general chit-chat, card games and live music are common in these pubs.
Once seated, table service is how things are done, so you won’t find bar service in Zoigl pubs to be typical. However, some may have a Schänke, a hatch to order a quick beer. As for tipping, it isn’t typical to Tip for 1 round of drinks unless there is a big group, but as the service for food/drinks piles up it is common to tip at least 10%. Bear in mind that unlike the touristy beer halls in Cologne or Munich, these pubs are run by families – they are glad you’re there, and the sign of a full house making demands for food and drink gladdens their hearts as well as their wallets. The hospitality is warm, jovial and quite personal too. A few we met were delighted to know we had come all that way. Be reciprocal in your generosity if you’ve had a great time.
Franconia and the Oberpfalz are known for their difficult dialects with crushed consonants and quirky vernacular which flies over many Germans’ heads, let alone foreigners. During typical pub transactional conversation you shouldn’t have trouble, but you may find yourself reacting blankly to something they intended as a joke. Don’t think anything of it. Everyone is there to have a good time.
Lastly, a wide selection of Schnapps/Brandies is nearly always notable on a Zoigl menu card. This is as typical a way to end the evening as you can find. Some of the creations on offer may seem unusual to foreign eyes. You aren’t obliged, of course, but if you find yourself with a friendly group, they may ask you to join in as part of the communal ritual. These can be anything from shop-bought to home made using the brewing liquor created as part of the process.
Prices & Value
True Zoigl pubs are very low-priced by German standards, with the beers as of 2023 being sold between €2.40-2.60 on average, and most dishes clocking in between €4-7 (although you will find cold cuts, bread and cheese rather than big meals in most of these places). A good number of Zoiglstube owners are butchers in their day job (or best mates with someone who is) so some of the produce available is as fresh as you will find, occasionally as good as anything available in the region. Yes, you can get double for your money here versus what you may pay in central Cologne or Hamburg.
Zoigl bier is brewed to be consumed quickly. That isn’t to say gulped in 10 seconds, but in terms of each batch they brew. They are open only 3 days a month so the beer and food cannot linger around; it is sold at a fair price to discourage waste.
There are no small measures of beer – officially, that is – but after your first beer is consumed, you may ask for a Pfiff. This habit (also known as a Schnitt elsewhere in the region) stems from when men didn’t desire or have time to drink an entire beer, but did not want to look feeble among their comrades clutching a smaller glass. As a form of camouflage, the tapster serves a wild pour with a large head that reaches near the top, while containing around 60% of a normal serving. It isn’t just for show, but also affects the flavour. I strongly recommend trying a Pfiff which often adds a drier, rasping finish that is deeply moreish when combined with the sweet, spicy flavours and can elevate an already enjoyable beer to an exceptional one. Just don’t order it as your first beer – that will come across strangely!
This habit has mutated to the point where the huge lager producer Pilsner Urquell markets a ‘Šnyt” pour as a kind of epicurean delight (in reality more of a gimmick) whereas the true culture of such a pour has practical, if quirkily amusing origins.
Even the term Pfiff has been co-opted and distorted where, in Vienna 🇦🇹, the famous Trzesniewski snack bars serve 0.15l portions of Ottakringer Gold-Fassl described as a Pfiff. Both Wiener and Oberpfalzer would claim their use is legitimate!
The ‘Echter’ (real) Zoigl Towns:
Nowadays five communities maintain the true Zoigl tradition:
The main Zoigl hub would have to be the most tongue-twisty to pronounce, wouldn’t it? A small settlement slightly smaller than a ‘market town’, really, but with an enormous porcelain factory in the valley by the train station. You’ll find a not exactly affluent high street and church with some unused land, a building site where the town centre should be. Remarkably unremarkable to have something so remarkable going on. At the last count there are 5 venues to experience “Echter” (real) Zoigl and 8 venues in total although you’ll find no more than 3 will be open at the same time. The bigger, more frequently open venues are Beim Binner, Fiedlschneider, Beim Gloser. There is also Schlosshof-Zoigl, Zum Posterer, Homely Zum Roud’n is the more rustic counterpoint, a real throwback more like drinking in someone’s pantry. There is also the Gasthof Zum Weissen Schwan serving true Zoigl on tap in a pretty pubby feeling venue and the Zoiglstube Wolframstubn. Sadly the commercial Zoigl brewery Brauerei Würth closed in 2020, diminishing the options available, while the Zoigl-Schänke Loistl Rudolf also appears out of action. However, given the size of the town, it feels very well served with the current roster.
Neuhaus an der Waldnaab
Set on a hilltop, but reachable on foot from neighbouring Windischeschenbach, Neuhaus high street is a 15 minute climb away – not so easy after a few Zoigl biers! An impressive castle with rocky promontory greets you as you duck under the underpass and across the bridge spanning the Waldnaab. In town you’ll find a cute little church and more typically colourful Bavarian houses on the high street making Neuhaus a slightly more aesthetic choice. You will find 6 Zoiglstubn more or less in a line along the main street, with the hotel Zum Waldnaabtal also offering Zoiglbier vom Fass (on tap). The Zoigl pubs are: Bahler, Beim Käck´n, Lingl, Schafferhof, Schoilmichl, Teicher. Again, I must stress it is unlikely any more than 2 or 3 of these venues will be open at the same time. However, combined with Windischeschenbach down the hill, you may find 3 or 4 are open on the same day.
Approaching Falkenberg offers a picturesque idyll of rural Bavarian life, as you pass wheat fields to a view of a gentle river, field with storks grazing, with distant Schloss, church and the communal brewery. There are 3 Zoigl pubs in the village, 2 of which are often open at the same time. Kramer is both a small pub and a giant barn, with a characterful owner and “Echter”, as is Schwoazhansl-Zoigl. Wolfladl is a homely corner pub with a down to earth family operation, but not among the few “Echter” Zoigl venues. You will also find 2 Gasthofs which may offer beer and food and a pub atmosphere of sorts. Generally regarded as distant to reach, but we found it is reachable in a few hours hike from Waldnaab, which happens to be a scenic riverside walk. If you hire a bike you can cut further time from the journey. We hiked from Neuhaus to Falkenberg then asked a Zoiglstube owner to arrange a taxi for us back (cost for the ride in 2023 was 35 euros so bear that in mind).
Small town in the North East Oberpfalz near Marktredwitz. Currently served by a 7620 bus between Mitterteich and Marktredwitz which runs every 90 minutes during the day. There are 3 Zoigl venues, 2 of which are “Echter” (Real). These are Hartwich Zoigl (non “Echter”), Zoiglstube Oppl, and Lugert (The real deal). Wiesau, with 2 Zoigl venues and a train station is nearby, so combining the two is possible if the dates match.
A remote village on the Czech border with one Zoiglstube: Beim Strehern. In comparison with the other 4 settlements there is no rotational transfer of brewing to different families, but one master brewer brewing for the whole village. In that sense it stands apart from the full Zoigl tradition.
Other towns to find Zoigl in the Oberpfalz
Weiden in der Oberpfalz – A pretty town in itself with a classic Bavarian town square with gate towers, a characterful town hall on raised arches you can wander underneath, and painted gabled town houses. There’s a central not-very-pubby Brewery Restaurant BräuWirt serving commercial Zoigl (brewed to a similar method but not part of the tradition), Kloine Zoigl Stub’n, a popular Zoigl pub that’s a little closer to the original tradition and Zum Glöckerlbauer a characterful, twee venue on the outskirts.
Neustadt an der Waldnaab – A village easily reached by train from Weiden with two Zoiglstubn. Not recognised as part of the ‘Echter’ tradition, they nevertheless run a pretty similar operation. Beim Brucksaler offers warm hospitality and is a popular spot, albeit without the quirks of some. Zum Waldhauser is a homely, rustic, genteel venue that also doesn’t stray far from the venues listed above.
Amberg – A sizeable town of 42,000 people. Not known specifically for Zoigl, but the Zoiglstube Winkler is located in the town centre.
Marktredwitz – A small, but well-connected town with more Zoigl history than present day operations. However, you will find Oberredwitzer Zoiglstub´n and a typical town brewpub Zoigl Am alten Rathaus.
Villages & List of Other Zoigl Venues
The below venues either brew their own Zoigl/Kellerbier or buy it from Zoigl families and sell in their own Zoiglstube. Most of these pubs are aiming for the same/similar atmosphere.
(Again I must stress: Consult the Zoigl calendar or ring ahead for opening hours in order to avoid disappointment!)
Altenstadt an der Waldnaab – Alter Pfarrhof
Auerbach in der Oberpfalz – GrenZ-Zoigl Ranna
Bärnau – Zoigl Hohenthan
Buchwald – Buchwalder Zoiglstub’n
Erbendorf – Beim Meislbeck
Erbendorf-Pfaben – Zoigl am Räuberfelsen
Floss – Zoiglstube Zum Gogerer.
Fuchsmühl – Zum Schnapper
Grafenwöhr – Zoiglstube Zum Adler
Hammerles – Zum Vinzenz
Kemnath – Houderer Zoigl
Kohlberg – Zum Binnerlindl
Konnersreuth – Zoiglstube Hofner
Krummenaab – Grandlhof Zoigl
Nabburg – Mutzi’s Zoiglstube
Neunkirchen – Zur Gerechtsamkeit
Pfaffenreuth – Zum Schreiner Schorsch
Pfreimd – Bene’s Zoigl
Pleystein – Zoigl-Voit
Plößberg – Bräustüberl Riedl
Plößberg-Ödschönlind – Zum Waldnaabsee
Reuth bei Erbendorf – Zoigl zum Rechersimer
Schirmitz – Beim Heigl
Schnaittenbach – Schmiehansl – Familie Schadl
Schönficht – Beim Gutbauern
Steinwald – Waldhaus im Steinwald
Stornstein – Zoiglstubn zum Mundl.
Tirschenreuth – Zoiglstube “Hammerer”
Trausnitz – Zum Lohbinder
Waldershof – Brauhaus
Waldsassen – Zum Sprea‘n
Wernberg-Köblitz – Zoiglwerkstatt Wernberg (A brewery with a Braustuberl – brewpub)
Wunsiedel – Zoiglmoos
A Map of Zoigl Pubs
Zoigl culture couldn’t stay confined to a handful of villages; naturally bigger businesses wanted to co-opt its home-spun, countryside vibes for their own means. These days there are many German brewers (usually, but not exclusively Bavarian ones) brewing a ‘Zoigl’. Some are faithful in method, some relatively faithful, some not at all faithful. There are dozens of fantastic beers brandishing the Zoigl label, and they can be enjoyed every bit as much as the “Echter” Zoigl producers, however it is still important to note that these brewers are not usually participants in the culture – they are brewers that sell direct to the market, often only in bottles, sometimes without even having a Gasthaus or pub operation. Commercial Zoigl is shipped worldwide, whereas if you want to drink the Echter Zoigl beer you need to visit the Oberpfalz.
Zoigl in the Allgäu?!
Further proof that Zoigl is a state of mind rather than a beer or some lines on a map is present in the form of Gernot Wildung’s self-built Kommunbrauhaus and his Zoiglstube in Kaufbeuren, a town nearer to Liechtenstein than to Windischeschenbach. Despite the distance from the core culture, this operation wishes to adhere to (where possible) the same traditions and values and spread the message. The reviews say it all.
How do I get to Zoigl country?
The vast majority of Zoigl pubs are based in the North of the Upper Palatinate close to the Czech border. On a map, the area looks rural. Between Nuremberg to the West and Pilsen to the east there are no cities and virtually no large towns for over 120 miles. However, don’t despair. The major Zoigl town, Windischeschenbach (and its hilltop neighbour Neuhaus) are served by a train station with frequent trains passing through from Marktredwitz from the North and Regensburg from the South, with the region’s central town of Weiden connecting to the rest of Bavaria.
From Nuremberg 🇩🇪: 1hr 32m train with a change at Weiden an der Oberpfalz. By far the easiest major city to reach Zoigl country. If you are visiting without a car I strongly recommend this as the simplest route.
From Munich 🇩🇪: 2hrs 54 with a change either at Regensburg or Schwandorf.
From Czechia 🇨🇿: Train from Karlovy Vary, changing at Cheb to Marktredwitz and on to Windischeschenbach. Timings vary substantially depending on connections.
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