Starkbiers "Strong" Beers of Munich
Can you say Starkbierzeit? It's German for "strong beer festival," an event held every March in Munich. For two weeks, breweries bring out their most potent beverages, and beer halls throw noisy parties with lots of Bavarian entertainment and food. It's Oktoberfest without the tourists.
The festival's roots go back to the Paulaner monks who, according to legend, began making an extra-strength beer to sustain themselves during their Lenten fast. The beer, first brewed in the 17th century, gained a word-of-mouth following. The townspeople called it Salvator.
Paulaner ended up in the hands of an entrepreneur named Franz Xavier Zacherl, who turned the monastery into a beer hall and mass-produced the monks' beer.
Salvator is classified as a doppelbock, which means an extra-strength version of the Bock style. "Bock," in Bavaria, is a generic term meaning strong beer--pale as well as dark. Just how strong are doppelbocks? They start at 7.5 percent alcohol by volume. And because their strength is masked by a strong malty flavor, they can sneak up on the most experienced of beer drinkers.
The site of Zackerl's beer hall is still the gathering place for Starkbierzeit--especially on March 19, St. Joseph's Day. Today, it's called the Paulaner Keller. This sprawling complex can hold 5,000 revelers, and there's room for thousands more outside. It has everything you'd expect in a traditional beer hall: sturdy beermaids; brass bands blaring out drinking songs; and plenty of malty, amber-colored Salvator Doppelbock. Paulaner Keller is located at Hochstrasse 77; take U-Bahn line 1 or 2 to Sendlinger Tor, then tram number 27 to Ostfriedhof.
It didn't take long for Munich's other breweries to follow Paulaner's lead and come out with their own doppelbocks. But as a tribute to the original Salvator, they've all given their beers names ending in "-ator." It's a tradition followed over here as well.
Paulaner's biggest competitor is Löwenbräu, which brings out its sweetish--and lethal--Triumphator in March. You can find it all over town, but if you want to join the party, the place to go is the brewery's enormous Löwenbräukeller. Show up on the right evening, and the entertainment will include boulder-lifting competitions and other feats of strength. Löwenbräukeller is located at Nymphenburgerstrasse 2. Take U-Bahn line 1 to Stiglmaierplatz; once you come out of the station, look for the roaring mechanical lion.
Doppelbock isn't the only style of beer served during Starkbierzeit. For an interesting change of pace, head for Weisses Bräuhaus, a popular destination for those who like to start their evening with a good meal. As the name suggests, it specializes in wheat beers, which Germans often call weiss, or white, beers. This time of year, the brewery pours Starkweizenbier, a dark-colored beer whose pronounced wheat flavor hides a big alcoholic punch. Weisses Bräuhaus is located at Talstrasse 7, in the heart of the pedestrian zone. It's a good starting point for a downtown pub crawl: two Munich institutions, Hofbräuhaus and Augustiner Grossgastsätte, are close by.
Munich's most intriguing strong beer venue is Forschungbrauerei, which means "research brewery" in English. By tradition, it's allowed to start serving its doppelbock, called St. Jakobus, a week before Starkbierzeit officially opens. Forschungbrauerei is a small, family-run establishment whose entire production is consumed on the premises. It's also one of the few remaining places where beer is served in ceramic mugs, which do a better job of keeping beer cold. The brewery is located at Unterhachingerstrasse 76. To get there, take S-Bahn line number 1 to Perlach; it's about a 10-minute walk from the train station.
Starkbierzeit isn't widely publicized, which is just fine with Münchners. It's their time of year to show pride in Bavarian culture and tradition. But don't let the local color scare you away; that's why millions of people visit every year! Bring a good guidebook, a hearty appetite, and a taste for strong Bavarian beer.
BEER TASTING IN MUNICH (MÜNCHEN)
Germany has more breweries than any other country in the world and many would list the state of Bavaria (Bayern) (centered around Munich, the largest city in Bavaria) as the region of Germany with the most significant brewing tradition. In fact, the famous Reinheitsgebot (purity law) of 1516 is really a Bavarian creation that was adopted by the rest of Germany at the time of unification.
Within Munich itself are five, six, or even seven major breweries, depending on how you count them. They are listed below along with some other breweries. Their beers are served at beer halls at some of the breweries, at restaurants and pubs all over the city, and are also sold in bottles.
The photo above shows a large sign on the even larger Maypole in the Viktualeinmarkt (the outdoor market), near the center of Munich (near the Marienplatz), of six barrels representing six major breweries, plus one commemorating 500 years of the Reinheitsgebot.
Spaten and Franziskaner
Joined for a long time.
At Mars Strasse 46 at Spaten Strasse.
Spaten makes a variety of beers, many of which are exported to the U.S. The Franziskaner wheat beers (regular and dark) are good. Optimator, Spaten's doppelbock, is also good.Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr are now a joint venture.
At Hoch Strasse 75.
Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr each brew a variety of beers. I don't know what will happen with their merger. Paulaner exports a lot of beer to the U.S.
Hacker-Pschorr's Braumeister Pils is nicely bitter and hoppy due to the inclusion of hop extract. The Dunkel Weisse (dark wheat) and Märzen are also excellent. Paulaner's Salvator Doppelbock, the first brewed, is excellent. All of the Paulaner bottle labels I've seen have nice pictures of festivals.
At Nymphenburger Strasse 4 at Dachauer Strasse.
Löwenbräu is one of the most recognized beer brands in the world.
Export-Helles was nothing outstanding and lacked true character. The Weissbier was light bodied but very carbonated with a hint of clove. Truimphator Doppelbock was smooth, and a bit sweet, the sweetest of all the Doppelbocks in Munich with a potent ABV of 7.6%.
Löwenbräu has a nice restaurant and beer garden across the street from the brewery.
More tasting in Munich
At Munz Bräuhaus and Orlando Strasse, near the Marienplatz.
Most American beer fans have heard of the Hofbräuhaus, a traditional beer hall. Indeed, during a visit one spring, I estimated that half of the patrons were American and another quarter were other non-Germans. Nevertheless, it had a Bavarian feel with rows of personal beer steins stored in little "lockers" waiting for their owners. The waitresses could indeed carry several one-liter steins in each hand. I had the Weisse which was very thirst quenching and clovey a great beer with a lot of character.
The Delicator, the Doppelbock, was very smooth, malty, with a chocolate aftertaste, light in body but very flavorful and nice alcohol balance in the finish. The Hofbräuhaus is state-owned.
On Landsberger Strasse at Holzapfelstrasse.
Augustiner is supposed to be one of the most beloved of the local breweries, and it appeared that way on a visit. It has a traditional beer hall at the brewery serving Edelstoff, a rather plain beer; Maximator, a doppelbock was excellent with great malt character and chocolate overtones; and a not-very-spicy weissbier.
There are also many significant breweries near Munich, including:
Beer hall at Daimler Strasse 8 at Maderbraustrasse just off the Marienplatz.
Formerly located in Munich, Schneider maintains the traditional beer hall Weisses Brauhaus in its original location. Serves a Hefe-Weizenbier and Aventinus, a strong wheat beer, neither of which have the yeast-induced spicyness of some other wheat beers.
Beers pictured to the right in Andechs. A monastary brewery with a tasty Dunkler Doppelbock and Weisse as well as a Dunkel Weisse beer.
In Aying. A very good brewery, especially for wheat beers.
In Erding. Another great wheat beer brewery. The beers have a clove-like spicyness from the strain of yeast used. Brews regular wheat beer, dark wheat beer, and even a wheat bock. Great place to take a tour for a half day where they serve Weissewursts (White Sausage made of veal) along with huge Bretzels, or (Pretzels) for a nominal fee. They had 4 beers on tap and all were smooth and fruity with hints of clove.
In Freising. Claims to be the world's oldest brewery, since 1040! Still another great wheat-beer brewery. Has a well-known brewing school. Its yeast is even sold in the U.S. for homebrewing.
NOTES ON BEER HALLS
The standard size beer, for lighter-bodied beer (Helles) at least, used to be a liter (called a "Mass"). With the increased awareness that excessive alcohol consumption isn't so healthy, the standard size for most beer now seems to be half of a liter (0.5 l = 50 cl). For some reason, however, most Pils beers come in a third of a liter (0.33 l = 33 cl). Many of the beers are served in their own glasses.
The traditional beer halls have long wooden tables with benches on both sides. If it is crowded, just find a place where no one is sitting and have a seat. Greet your fellow beer drinkers and check that the seat is free.
Many restaurants have tables with a sign saying "Stammtisch". This is a table reserved for regulars.
Bier = beer
hell = light; Helles = clear or light-bodied beer (similar to American lagers)
dunkle = dark; Dunkles = dark beer
stark = strong
Weizenbier = wheat beer (Weizen = wheat). Uses ~50% wheat malt (the rest is barley malt)
Weissbier = wheat beer (Weiss = white). These terms seem to be used interchangably
Hefe = yeast
Pils = pilsner, a crisp, hoppy, lighter-bodied beer
Bock = a heavier, stronger beer, often dark
Doppelbock = double bock, an even heavier and usually dark beer
Oktoberfest = not quite as heavy as Bock
Märzen = "March" beer. Same as Oktoberfest
Alt= "old," an older style of beer that uses ale yeast rather than lager yeast
ur = original
vom Fass = from the keg
Holzfass = wooden keg
Flasche = bottle
-ator = this suffix denotes a doppelbock, in tribute to Salvator, the original