Munich has 3 basic styles available all year round, along with some really delicious seasonal beers:
Helles: “Hell” – it sounds bad but do not be put off: hell means light. When describing a beer it describes the colour – a light yellowy straw colour, rather than alcoholic content. Helles is typically around 5 – 5.2 % abv – stronger than session beers you might be used to – but are very smooth and easy drinking: this is why they can be dangerous!
Augustiner brew what you might call an export-strength version in addition to their regular one called “Edelstoff” (Literally “Noble stuff” – but I think of it as “The good stuff”). It clocks in at 5.6%, is slightly more complex than its brother and has a longer finish. In some places they will tell you up front that the one they serve is from a bottle but elsewhere it is from a wooden keg: my tip – in the summer, try it in the Augustinerkeller biergarten.
Dunkles: Dark beer. These beers are dark lagers, typically with subtle malty, nutty or dark chocolate notes. Delicious all year round, for me, this is more of a winter drink – Helles is really thirst quenching in summer time, you can just knock them back – Dunkles is one to savour as you look through the window of the pub, watching the people outside battling the elements and saying to yourself “Suckers”!
Weißbier: Wheat beer. In 1589, Duke Wilhelm V created a brewery known as the Hofbräuhaus. In a period when drinking water was suspect, selling beer was a sure way to money – and which ruler does not need more money? The problem was this new brewery was not making anything special – it was just one brew-house among many – and so the Duke was forced to find other ways to make ends meet. This proved tricky and so he abdicated in favour of his son, Maximilian. Max had some canny advisors who suggested they switch from brewing dark beer to wheat beer. This seemed like suicide on the surface since good quality wheat was expensive – and also because the fickle Müncheners were a picky, conservative lot… not too keen on change. However, the gamble paid off and they loved the new brew. Max was keen to capitalise on the huge demand for the new brew and so gave himself the monopoly on its production. These days all the Munich breweries will have a wheat beer, some better than others.
Wheat beer, of all the Munich beers, is the one that has most variations: A Hefeweisen is an opaque brew which can taste rather bready, usually with subtle citrus (orange or grapefruit) aftertaste: quite unusual the first time you try it but not at all disagreeable. A Dunkelweisen is, as the name implies, a dark wheat beer (the wheat is lightly roasted, rather than toasted). A “Kristall” is a clear lager, superficially looking like a Helles.
If this is your thing, pay a visit to the “Schneider Brauhaus” at Tal 7 (2 mins from Marienplatz) – they have a minimum of seven different types available, including the legendary Aventinus Eisbock – at 12%, this is one to sip!
Wait – hang on! What no Pilsner?
Pilsner is brewed by all of The Big 6 in Munich except Hofbräu. It´s just not so popular here and has trouble competing against the omnipresent Helles. Or perhaps the Bavarians are put out by having this “foreign” style imposed on them. Whatever the reason, often if you order a Pils, the barkeep will try and correct you: “Surely you mean you want a Helles“? or “Pils? Are you not feeling right? Are you ill“?
Pils is always served in a smaller measure – 330 ml in a specially designed glass – and so if you are after a big beer, be sure to order a Helles or Dunkles (Likewise, Weißbier is also served in a special glass, although in this case, it is 500 ml, the same as a regular beer)
Starkbier – Strong beer:
During the Lenten period, the clergy would drink strong beers which were high in calories to get through the fasting period. No-one expects you fast these days but you can still enjoy some delicious beer in this period. In Munich expect to see the following “Doppelbocks” during the Easter period:
“Salvator” by Paulaner. Salvator with its strong malty taste is the original Starkbier – and at 7,9% abv, it really is a strong one. This bottom-fermented Doppelbock is a dark amber colour with a about a finger´s width of head. On the nose, expect toffee, caramel, bread, dried fruits and nuts. Taste wise it is medium sweet with caramel, dried fruit and a bready finish. Delicious.
“Animator” by Hacker-Pschorr. This 8,2% doppelbock has a clear deep amber colour with a medium head. On the nose we get caramel, chocolate, roasted malts, dried fruits, some brown sugar, a hint of spice. Taste is caramel, dried fruits, brown sugar, some plum and prune, slight chocolate, a little fruit, and subtle spices.
“Maximator” by Augustiner. Weighing at 7,5%, “Maxi” as it is known is a big hitter. I have seen hardened beer aficionados become burbling wrecks after less than a litre. Dark ruby-red in colour, expect malt and molasses on the taste buds and nuts and vanilla on the nose a smaller head than you would expect with a Helles.
“Triumphator” by Löwenbräu / Spaten . At 7,6%, this is one beer that you certainly don´t quaff down – this is one to sip and savour. Expect roasted malts, fruit and a very gentle underlying bitterness – which creates a very flavourful – and yet mild brew. This one can really sneak up on you if you are not careful.
“Optimator” by Spaten. Probably the least encountered of the Munich doppelbocks, most likely due to the relative scarcity of Spaten pubs in the city centre – but you certainly see it in bottleshops. This is 7,6% of deep amber loveliness. The nose is caramel and malt. The first taste is roasted malt, grain and caramel. This gives way to chocolate and fruits, with a slightly bitter plum finish. Yep, give it a go if you see it.
Watch this space for more beers shortly…