For Frankfurt locals, apple wine is as much a tradition as beer is for the Bavarians of Munich. Delicious, distinctive and surprisingly healthy, apfelwein (to use the German word) has been bringing ‘joie de vivre’ to the city for hundreds of years. Its roots stretch back to the 17th century when the beverage was not only a thirst quencher, but the saviour of the local wine industry. Here, we explore the craft of apple wine making, which is unique to the area.
From grapes to apples
The birth of apple wine was an unexpected phenomenon. Following a terrible disease that wiped out many of Frankfurt’s vineyards in the 17th century, savvy brewers turned to other fruits to save their wine-making industry. Apples were considered a suitable alternative to grapes and the locals set about creating a new beverage, apple wine. Apfelwein, as it’s called in German, became so popular that it still remains a staple of local culture to this day.
Producing a legacy
The principle apple wine producers in Frankfurt are Possmann and Höhl, the oldest grape crushing company in Germany. Together, they produce a staggering 25 million litres of apple wine and juice each year. While it tastes very different to it’s grape alternative, apple wine is created in a similar way. Each autumn, thousands of apples are picked and pressed to achieve the correct balance of sweet and sour. The juices, known as Süßer, are then barrelled and left to ferment until they become alcoholic and transform into Heller. At this point, the wine can be prepared to drink or left to ferment for longer and mature into aged apple wine, called Alter. Traditional apple wine is made from one variety of apple only, but as wineries get more creative, fresh flavours of apple wine are being produced which mix different types or even introduce new fruits, such as pears.
A fresh taste
Apple wine packs a powerful punch. Its highly distinctive flavour is so strong that new drinkers often dilute it with sparkling water. It’s traditionally drunk out of special ribbed glasses, called geripptes, and poured from earthenware carafes called bembel, which are usually painted with a blue floral pattern. Visitors can sample it at the city’s countless apple wine taverns, which are identifiable by the placement of a green wreath above the entrance. The Sachsenhausen area of Frankfurt is particularly popular with apple wine suppliers and leading apple pubs there include Schreiber-Heyne and Zur Buchscheer, which makes its own wine.
Whether the distinctive taste of apple wine pleases your taste buds or not, one thing’s for sure, after sampling the city’s famous tipple you’ll never look at wine in quite the same way again.