Traveling Through Time: Down the Danube Narrows to Weltenburg Abbey

Weltenburg Abbey was more than four centuries old before the monks first began brewing ale—or at least ale worth noting–in 1050. Now vying for the title of the oldest monastic brewery in the world (Weihenstephan Abbey also claims the honor), they set their claim on maintaining the original brewing process. Like the beer, much is as it was remains at the Abbey, the somewhat plain exterior of the cathedral opens onto an elaborately ornate and gilded interior. Services are still held regularly, and monks still live and work on the premises. And just as abbeys were places for gatherings for a millennium and more, Weltenburg also remains a destination. Located 25 miles west of the charming Bavarian city of Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage City and just three miles from Kelheim, it is accessible by car. But I totally like immersing myself in history and my goal today is to replicate—as much as I can—the 1050 experience.

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Long Wall and St. Nepomuk

On the ferry from Kelheim, I watch as the boat’s wake cuts through waters reflecting the dark greens of dense woods and whites of limestone rocks of the Fränkische Alb mountains, some rising 300-feet high. Winds, water and time have carved caves and nooks in the limestone and in one of these crannies on an expansive stretch of stone called the Long Wall someone has tucked a statue of St. Nepomuk, the patron saint of water and bridges who was drowned when he refused to reveal the confessions made to him by the Queen of Bavaria. Her husband must have really wanted to know what she was up to.

The Danube Narrows

Today it will take 40 minutes to travel the Danube Narrows, an ancient waterway to and from Weltenburg Abbey or if you want to be really German about it, Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei, a sprawling complex of Baroque stone buildings surrounded by the lush rural beauty of Southern Bavaria.

There are times when the river is a lively place with small boats passing by and bicyclists and hikers making their way along the riverbank. Then suddenly, navigating a bend, it’s all calm waters and quiet.  I imagine this is how it was when pilgrims and tradesmen (and hopefully tradeswomen as well) came to the abbey to retreat from the world, rest or conduct business. It was a time when travel was mainly by water as roads barely existed and their trip would have taken much longer without our gas powered engines. But the sight they saw when making the final curve is much the same as today—Weltenburg’s blue tower roof and the washed pink walls.

Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei

The abbey sits on a bend of the river and in front is a small sandy beach and shallow waters where people play. It’s hot today—a heat wave is moving across Europe—and I envy them as the water looks cool and refreshing. But history calls and instead I move up the walk leading from the dock to the entrance already awed by the size and beauty of the place.

There are always hard choices and today I need to decide whether to tour first (there are self-guided and guided tours available) or take a seat in the sun at the biergarten, It appears that most people have chosen the latter and rather than wait for a table or sit inside the restaurant, I enter the church.

St. Georg Church

We’re talking seriously rococo inside, an overdrive of theatrical flourishes mixed with more Gothic elements. Paintings date back to the 1300s, a statue of the church’s namesake St. George or St. Georg as its spelled here, sculpted in smooth, sleek marble, rides his horse most likely on his way to slay the dragon. The main room, its ceiling 65-feet high, has alcoves off to the sides, each one just as ornate. It’s hard to take in everything at once, the artistry, pageantry and craftsmanship are so amazing.  Standing near a group tour, I hear phrases like “eight ionic columns, Weltenburg marble and gold fresco” and hurriedly write the words down as it helps sort out this wonderment of riches.

Bavarian Fare

Back outside, I spot an empty table and grab it. Addicted to German fare (yes, really), I order pigs’ knuckle known as schweinshaxe, schnitzel and even though I’m in Bavarian and not the Black Forest (hey, it’s nearby) the famous cake from that region. Of course, I need a glass of their Kloster Barock Dunkel—an almost black in color ale which is still made on site in a rock cave and then sent by pipeline to the monastery taps. Also available—to drink or take home, there is a gift store of course–are other brews and such medicinal spirits as their Weltenburg monastery bitters and liqueurs. And if you want to go full abbey, there’s their klosterkas and monastery sausage both based on ancient Weltenburg recipes.

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that last schnitzel and definitely not the cake. To assuage my conscience, I climb the mountain path as it winds past the Stations of the Cross. It’s steep but the gaps in the woods offer commanding views of the valley, abbey and gorge below. I briefly contemplate spending the night at the St. Georg Guest House to be able to walk the abbey grounds late at night when all the visitors are gone but I don’t have a reservation. Next time for sure.

The Oldest Wheat Beer Brewery in Bavaria

          Returning to Kelheim isn’t exactly like entering the 21st century. In the old town I wander the narrow streets snapping photos of perfectly maintained Medieval-era buildings just a short walk from the docks and on the way to where I parked my car, I let my friends talk me into stopping at Weisses Bauhaus Kelheim.

It’s a beautiful place, all wood, vaulted ceilings and archways leading from room to room. Outside we sit in, yes another beer garden, this one next to a small stream, and order a round of their wheat beer. Really, I had to since they’ve been brewing beer here since 1607, making the Weisses Brauhaus the oldest wheat beer brewery in Bavaria.

 

I’m not typically a beer lover but both the Kloster Barock Dunkel at the abbey and the TAP7 here, made from the original 1872 recipe, are robust and flavorful without bitterness or an overly hoppy taste. I’m driving so instead of more beer, I listen to the live music, enjoy the myriad of colorful blooms cascading from window boxes, baskets and containers and contemplate how I’ve spent the day moving through history and only now have reached the 17th century.

Camp Runamok: Barrel-Aged and Smoked Maple Syrups

Maple syrup, one of the original cash crops, is the rich and delicious gifts the sugar maples give us every spring–at least for those willing to tap and collect the thin sap that is then boiled down to a thick amber consistency. For Eric and Laura Sorkin of the Vermont-based Camp Runamok, who make barrel-aged and smoked maple syrups, it’s more than just a pancake topping in the morning. One of Runamok Maple’s core missions has always been to educate consumers about the versatility of maple as an ingredient and they recently upped the ante with a variety of fascinating products such as their special-editions syrups including Cocoa Bean Infused made with only two ingredients–organic maple syrup and cocoa bean nibs

The Sorkins also produce jazzy Maple Sparkles (yes, just like the name implies it’s sparkly), and Strawberry-Rose Maple Syrups that can be used as a topping on pancakes and waffles and also in such recipes as Crepes with Sliced Bananas and Peanut Butter Pie.

Now they’ve upped the ante with their their new collection of cocktail mixers includes four syrups – Maple Old FashionedMaple TonicSmoked Old Fashioned, and Ginger Mule – and three different kinds of bitters – Floral MapleAromatic Maple, and Orange Maple.  All are made with 100% pure Vermont maple syrup. The cocktail syrups can easily take the place of simple syrup, and will leave cocktail enthusiasts wondering why they hadn’t previously opted for the rich, complex flavors of maple syrup instead. The maple-based cocktail bitters are jam-packed with earthy, botanical flavors and will quickly elevate cocktails with just a few drops. Customers can purchase 250 mL bottles of the cocktail syrups for $16.95 each and 100 mL bottles of the bitters for $11.95 on runamokmaple.com

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The line of cocktail mixers will feature four different syrups – Maple Old FashionedMaple TonicSmoked Old Fashioned, and Maple Ginger Mule – along with three different kinds of bitters – Floral MapleAromatic Maple, and Orange Maple.

“At Runamok Maple, we have been creating cocktails using our infused and smoked maple syrups since we started production,” said Laura Sorkin, co-founder of Runamok Maple. “Through our experimentation over the years, we have come to realize that our maple-based creations are, to this day, some of our favorite cocktails. With the launch of our new cocktail syrups and bitters, we want our customers to experience those same flavors that we have been sharing with our family and friends.”

Most cocktails feature a touch of sugar, which most commonly comes in the form of simple syrup, but the process can be tedious, particularly for the home bartender, and the taste of the granulated sugar dissolved in water is sweet but plain. Runamok Maple’s new cocktail syrups feature the rich, robust, and nuanced flavors of organic Vermont maple syrup, along with additional flavor notes from high-quality ingredients such as ginger and orange. The cocktail syrups, which are priced at $16.95 per 250 mL bottle, also have the added bonus of already being in syrup form, eliminating the extra step of dissolving sugar.

Made with 100% pure Vermont maple syrup, the Maple Old Fashioned cocktail syrup is an infusion blend of real herbs and spices, without any refined sugar. The syrup features a slight bite from Runamok Maple’s very own bitters, along with the subtle essence of orange and cherry, making it the perfect all-encompassing mixer to add to your favorite bourbon or whiskey. Similarly, the Smoked Old Fashioned cocktail syrup is packed with all of the classic Old Fashioned flavors – only this time Runamok Maple uses its Smoked with Pecan Wood maple syrup to add a unique flavor dimension. Maple syrup and whiskey are the perfect pairing, with each offering complex flavor profiles that bring out the best in the other. The added element of smoke creates the perfect drink to enjoy near a fire on a crisp fall evening. 

In addition to the Old Fashioned, Runamok Maple drew inspiration from two more classic cocktails, the Gin & Tonic and the Moscow Mule, for its other cocktail syrups. The Maple Tonic combines Runamok Maple’s signature organic maple syrup with the addition of quinine extract, lemon, and lime, giving the mixer a bright, refreshing taste that will have cocktail drinkers quickly forgetting about traditional tonic water. Mixing the Maple Tonic cocktail syrup with gin and seltzer water makes for an easy and delicious summer cocktail. Like the others, the Maple Ginger Mule cocktail syrup features 100% pure Vermont maple syrup as its base. Runamok Maple then infuses fresh ginger and lime into the cocktail syrup to give it a crisp, zesty flavor profile and a cleaner overall taste than mixers that use artificial flavors. 

On the back side of each cocktail syrup bottle and on their website, customers will find a suggested cocktail recipe to use with each syrup, including the Amber Old Fashioned (using Maple Old Fashioned), Tapper’s Tonic (using Maple Tonic), Leather & Velvet (using Smoked Old Fashioned) and Green Mountain Mule (using Maple Ginger Mule). 

Launched alongside the cocktail syrups is Runamok Maple’s collection of cocktail bitters. Made in the traditional way with all-natural herbs and root extracts infused in alcohol, Runamok Maple delivers its version in a maple base. Though they’re maple-based, the bitters pack a punch, like traditional bitters, and just a few drops can take a cocktail to the next level. Each 100 mL bottle of bitters is priced at $11.95.

With notes of cardamom and ginger, the Floral Maple bitters combine botanical complexity and subtle aromas with a smooth maple base. The addition of rose, citrus, and clove makes these bitters perfect for any gin or vodka cocktail. Built on a warm base of maple, cinnamon, clove, and allspice, the Aromatic Maple bitters meld perfectly with the flavors of darker spirits, like bourbon and whiskey, and even feature subtle tasting notes of sarsaparilla and vanilla bean. Lastly, the Orange Maple bitters are perfect for brightening up any cocktail – whether fruity or neat. The citrus aromas, layered on top of a subtle maple base, make it a wonderful addition to cocktails made with vodka, gin, and even bourbon.

Pistachio Cardamom Cake

Runamok Maple’s full collection of products – including specialty maple syrups like Bourbon Barrel-Aged, Cardamom-Infused, Cinnamon + Vanilla-Infused, and Pecan Wood-Smoked – are available on runamokmaple.com. The products can also be found on the brand’s Amazon page, as well as at specialty food shops across the country. 

For making cocktails, there’s a selection for mixing Manhattans as well as several types of bitters and with Mother’s and Father’s Day coming up, the gift packages should make any parent happy.

The following recipes are courtesy of Camp Runamok.

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Roasted Pears with Royal Cinnamon Maple Caramel

2 pears, ripe but not too soft

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/3 cup Runamok Royal Cinnamon Infused Maple (can also use Sugarmaker’s Cut Pure, Cinnamon+Vanilla Infused or Whiskey Barrel-Aged)

1/3 cup heavy cream

Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Peel the pears and then cut them in half. Remove the cores with a melon baller or pairing knife. Slice the pears starting an inch down from the stem, keeping them still attached (if a slice comes off, just roast it next the the pear in the pan and add it at the end).

Find a pan that fits all four halves snugly but in one layer. Put the butter in the pan and heat on the stove until melted. Place the pear halves in and fan the slices gently. Baste with a the melted butter and then sprinkle the sugar on them evenly. Place the pan in the oven and roast for about ten minutes or until they have just begun to brown. Remove from the oven, take the pears out with a spatula and set aside. Pour the maple syrup into the pan and heat to a boil. Add the cream and stir, cooking about another five minutes until the sauce has thickened. 

To serve, put two pear halves on a plate and drizzle with the warm maple caramel sauce. Add a dollop of vanilla ice cream if you like. Serves 2.

“If they are not crispy, chicken wings can be a big disappointment,” writes Laura Sorkin in this introduction to Wings with Maple Hot Sauce.  “I never cared for them until I tried a recipe that involved baking them in high heat for almost an hour.  Wow, what a difference.  Most of the fat is rendered, leaving crispy skin and tender meat.  Wings are now my son’s yearly request for his birthday dinner and we are always game for trying new sauces.

“Runamok Consiglieri, Curt Alpeter is all about wings and developed this sauce using the Cardamom Infused Maple for the sweet counterpart to the heat of Texas Pete’s.  Curt is from Ohio which is near enough to Buffalo, New York that we are going to allow that he is a wing expert by proxy.  He has related to me that the chopped scallions and cilantro are key.   I did not include measurements because it should be a little-of-dis, little-of-dat kind of dish.”

Wings with Maple Hot Sauce

Chicken wings

Vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

Texas Pete’s Hot Sauce or similar

Runamok Cardamom Infused Maple Syrup

Butter, softened

Scallions, chopped

Fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 400.  Place wings in a sturdy pan, making sure there is enough room for a single layer.  Drizzle just a tad of vegetable oil and sprinkle on some salt and pepper.  Place in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, flip the wings over and return to the oven.  Bake until crispy and brown, about another 20 – 30 minutes.

In the meantime find a bowl large enough to hold all the wings.  Pour equal amounts of hot sauce and maple syrup and butter.  If you are cooking a few pounds of chicken, try 1/4 cup of each.  Combine with a fork, mashing up the butter and blending it.  Don’t worry if the butter leaves chunks, it will melt when you add the hot wings.

When the wings are fully brown and crisp, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and put in the bowl with the sauce.  Add scallions and cilantro.  Toss until coated and serve immediately with plenty of napkins.

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Sparkly Maple Bourbon Smash

2 ounces bourbon

1 ounce Runamok Maple syrup (Sparkle Syrup or Sugarmaker’s Cut)

1 ounce lemon juice

1 lemon twist

Combine over ice and serve.