At the Lorsbucher Thal, in the city of Frankfurt, I walked through the underground cellar that houses both an impressive collection of apple wine and a small museum to the craft. Wooden barrels six feet in diameter and fiberglass tanks that look like miniature submarines take up most of the space, while the world’s largest collection of apple wine, according to the owner, takes up only a few shelves along one wall.
Apple wine was known as a poor man’s drink. Apples were always plentiful, especially apples that no one wanted to eat–these are perfect for winemaking. To turn apple juice into alcohol requires little work: a vat, about eight weeks, and nothing more. But like all things that served as staples for the poor, apple wine is being manipulated into a luxury item.
While apple wine is reemerging in Frankfurt as one of the city’s drinks of choice, in a region that once had 400 producers, today there are only ten. The businesses producing this drink all sunk when the Nazis forbade production. One of the best apple wine stories to come out of World War II features one of the largest apple wine producers in the world today, Possmann. After the war, the winemaker at Possman’s discovered the exterior shells of three German submarines. After some negotiating with the Allies, he was able to purchase them. He also acquired a clay pit and stones from a bombed out bridge. He transformed the subs into apple wine tanks and built a cellar for his new tanks out of the stones and clay. With all three submarines, he now produces 450,000 liters of apple wine per submarine, giving credence to the ancient Greek saying, “Wine out of abandoned submarine shells.”
Drinking Apple Wine in Frankfurt
Upstairs, in Lorsbucher Thal’s courtyard, I poured myself some of the house apple wine from the blue and white carafe. A wonderfully strong press, with a great tart finish, Lorsbucher Thal produces only 2,000 liters per year, about three percent of what the winery had pressed in the 1800s. But it was a different time, when most of the wine was purchased for the home.
Today, people gather in the courtyard with tall glasses of apple wine and the German version of tapas, Happchen. The Happchen on my table included bowls of sausage innovatively served (for sausage): whole links with sauerkraut, or sliced up as a salad, or standing erect in a mashed potato and onion marmalade. There were cheeses, too, like sour hand cheese or off-tasting camembert stretched with onions and apples. Best were the creamed herrings with apples and onions and the Frankfurt cream sauce (a mix of cream and fresh herbs that looks like Peruvian green sauce, but lacks the spice). Worst was the potato salad with aspic, a gelatin with assorted meats floating about.
Some of the apple wines I paired with my Happchen tasted and looked like sauvignon blanc, others were better than any dessert wine you could press from another fruit. Regardless, there was an apple wine to wash down all the wonderful and less-wonderful tastes.