It’s difficult to overstate the influence that Germany—and more specifically Bavaria and its capital of Munich—has had on the global evolution of beer. Not only were beer styles including helles, Oktoberfest and bock born in Munich breweries, but beer is inextricably linked with the country’s history. “The economy of Germany had been agriculture-based until the Industrial Revolution,” says Horst Dornbusch, an international brewing consultant and the author of books including Prost! The Story of German Beer. “Beer acquired inevitable political and social importance because there were also frequent crop failures. In fact, the famed ‘water-barley-hops-only’ Bavarian edict was issued in part to head off a recurring wheat shortage for bread-making.”
The Reinheitsgebot, Germany’s so-called beer-purity law, was issued by Bavaria’s Duke Wilhelm IV in 1516 and stated, more or less, that beer could only be brewed with water, barley and hops. The law was later amended to include yeast, and by 1906 the rule was adopted by the country as a whole and still remains in effect.
Today, craft beer in Munich holds about 1 percent of the market, which is dominated by the city’s six historic breweries: Augustiner, the oldest, founded in 1328; Spaten and Löwenbräu, from the late 14th century, now owned by AB InBev; Hacker-Pschorr and sister brand Paulaner, founded in 1417 and 1634 respectively; and Hofbräu, founded in 1589 and owned by the state of Bavaria since 1939.
While its own craft culture is still small, Germany’s influence on global beer styles continues today as traditional brews like pils, kölsch and gose form the base for the popular wave of crisp, easy-drinking beers. “The German beer scene is about a quarter of a century behind the beer scene in the New World,” says Dornbusch. “But the Reinheitsgebot, for all its faults, has fostered the emergence of a distinct beer culture of mostly delicate, sublimely balanced session beers.”
*The tradition of Oktoberfest began in October of 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig invited all the citizens of Munich to attend the celebration of his wedding in the fields in front of the city gates. Now, more than two centuries later, the annual festival attracts visitors from all over the world and pours more than 7 million liters of beer.
*On November 8, 1923, Adolf Hitler and his followers attempted a coup d’état by seizing control of the Bürgerbräukeller, one of the largest beer halls in Munich, where several of Bavaria’s politicians were addressing the crowd. The failed takeover became known as the Beer Hall Putsch and resulted in Hitler’s imprisonment for treason.
*The oldest archeological evidence of beer making in Central Europe is a Celtic beer amphora dated to 800 B.C. It was found in a grave mound in northwestern Bavaria and is now on display in Kulmbach’s brewery museum.
5 Places to Try
The city’s most famous beer hall, Hofbräuhaus was built in 1589 at the behest of Bavarian Duke Maximilian I. “Although obviously very touristy, the Hofbräuhaus is still a must,” says Dornbusch.
Located in the basement of the old city hall, the Ratskeller restaurant dates to 1874 and still serves classic German fare and brews. “It’s where the city councilors used to hang out and hatch their felonious plans for the good of the burghers,” notes Dornbusch.
Just off Munich’s Marienplatz, the Weisses Bräuhaus serves as a principal tavern for the Schneider Weisse brewery. “Order the Weizen-Eisbock,” suggests Dornbusch. “It comes in small, numbered bottles and is brewed only once a year.”
The Augustiner brewery has several beer halls around the city, but Dornbusch prefers the Zum Augustiner. “Try the Augustiner Edelstoff. It’s a wonderful helles made with 15 percent floor malt from the ancient Augustiner maltings, and the beer is gravity-dispensed from wooden casks.”
“When the weather’s nice, you can take the S-Bahn, the local commuter rail, to one of the world’s largest beer gardens, the Königlicher Hirschgarten,” says Dornbusch. “It has outdoor seating for thousands at a time.”
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