BAMBERG. We arrived in Bamberg yesterday, zipping immediately to Schlenkerla to meet with Matthias Trum. He's a youthful 37, but Trums have been running the brewery for five generations before him.

Probably a lot of people are familiar with Schlenkerla, the most well-known of the rauchbier producers. Trum brews on a "new" system (1930s) from barley he malts himself in a smoky beechwood kiln--from which comes the characteristic smoky flavor. The pub is an extraordinary 600-year-old place and the site of the original brewery. Now Trum brews at a location a few blocks away that sits atop a warren of old cellars; that's where the beer is lagered now.

As I have discovered time and again on this trip, freshness is key. Schlenkerla is great in the bottle, but I have never apprciated the nutty, plummy nuances of the malt until having a fresh-from-the-cask "seidla" half liter.

More Bamberg today, with stops at Spezial and Mahr's in the offing. (Next to Schlenkerla, incidentally, is Bamberg'a newest brewery, Ambräusianum, which has an excellent helles.)