Not that Frankfurters don’t like their beer—they do. The city’s local brand is Binding. But I discovered pretty quickly on my most recent meanderings through the Hessian capital that Frankfurt really loves its trademark drink, apple wine.
Called Apfelwein in German, or Ebbelwoi in the local dialect, apple wine is a bit thinner and tarter than the hard cider made famous by the French. And if it’s a German beverage that few have heard of, that’s because it’s a drink truly found only in Frankfurt.
And you’ll find it pretty easily in this city. At apple wine taverns across Frankfurt and at festivals year-round, Apfelwein takes its place proudly alongside beer taps in Frankfurt, served chilled and delivered to the table in a traditional glass, tall, clear and scored with cross-hatches.
In Your Bucket Because…
- Apple wine is a Frankfurt specialty–you won’t find it anywhere else.
- Some of Frankfurt’s most attractive restaurants are actually Apfelwein taverns. Interior walls are covered with paintings of local landscapes and most of the patrons are locals.
- Come on! Have you ever known the Germans to steer you wrong when it comes to fermenting good beverages?
In Search of Apple Wine
It was easy to tell when I’d encountered an apple wine tavern. Frankfurt proprietors announce their specialty by displaying an evergreen wreath (symbolizing hospitality) with a Bembel, a traditional gray-and-blue crockery pitcher that is still used to serve apple wine when it’s been ordered by the whole table.
While apple wine is served at establishments throughout the city of Frankfurt, it is most widely available in the Sachsenhausen neighborhood. Just 10 minutes by cab, tram or subway from Frankfurt’s Main Train Station, Sachsenhausen lies on the southern side of the Main River. And while I could still see the towering glass-and-steel skyscrapers of Frankfurt’s Financial District from Sachsenhausen, this neighborhood preserves old Frankfurt with its half-timbered storefronts and apple wine taverns.
I headed first to Apfelwein Adolf Wagner, a family-owned tavern since 1931 and highly praised for its apple wine. My waiter delivered a glass of the cool beverage just as I was being greeted by the neighborhood Pretzel Man. A Sachsenhausen tradition, the Pretzel Man delivers fresh-baked soft pretzels and other breads along the street and from restaurant to restaurant, taking his bread basket indoors to sell tableside much as flower vendors do in other big cities. My soft, salty pretzel paired perfectly with a glass of chilled apple wine.
I wondered if I might run into the Pretzel Man again at Zum Gemalten Haus. Just a stone’s throw from Adolf Wagner and another Sachsenhausen favorite, this apple wine tavern takes its name—The Painted House—from its typical Hessian interior walls which are covered in paintings of the surrounding countryside. But it was the restaurant’s brightly-painted exterior that caught my eye as well as its reputation locally as being another good source of locally-fermented apple wine. In fact, an Apfelwein tavern has been located on this Sachsenhausen location since the 19th century.
Apple Wine in the Tourist District
Tourists with very little time in Frankfurt don’t need to go as far as the Sachsenhausen neighborhood to sip good, traditional apple wine. In the heart of the city’s prime tourist district, called the Römer, the restaurant Römer Bembel serves up Apfelwein within its stately, rose-colored stone walls.
Usually flooded with tourists in search of the Hessian pork specialty called Rippchen and mugs of cold beer, Römer Bembel offers chilled apple wine on tap—a fact I might have figured out if I’d been paying attention. There was the telltale gray-and-blue sign of the Bembel hanging out front and the tavern was, after all, called Römer Bembel.
Waiters scurried around with trays of cold Binding beer and glasses of apple wine complete with the traditional cross-hatches. The locals say the engravings help a person maintain his grip on the glass as the evening progresses. I couldn’t quite imagine ever drinking enough tart Apfelwein to lose hold of anything, but who knows? They say the drink grows on you…and the night was still young.
Apfelwein is served by the glass or the pitcher at traditional apple wine taverns like Apfelwein Adolf Wagner and Zum Gemalten Haus in Sachsenhausen or at Römer Bembel in Frankfurt’s downtown tourist district, the Römer. You’ll find detailed subway and tram maps on Frankfurt’s website.