Munich´s “Big 6” (And a few more)
Look in the window of a Munich antique shop and you will see the iconic “steins” – the ceramic beer mugs, usually with the name of the brewery or pub where they were used. The chances are that the names will reflect a long defunct brewery – in the 19th century Munich had over 50 breweries. These days, six big firms dominate the beer scene:
Augustiner: In 1328 Augustinian monks started brewing beer in a spot just inside the city wall. Monks were closely associated with brewing: part of their remit was to help the poor, the needy and sick. In a period where safe drinking water was a rarity – wells were often contaminated with seepage from latrines and privvies – beer was the drink of choice: crucially, in the brewing process, the water had been boiled. Beer was dispensed to the poor either as a drink or in the form of soup. (Biersuppe is still to be found on the German menu today: it is delicious)
In 1803 secularization took the brewery out of the hands of the monks and passed to the state, but the name remained. Augustiner moved to a new location on Munich´s Neuhauser Straße in 1817 and was purchased by Anton and Therese Wagner in 1829. In 1858, their son, Joseph Wagner, took over the family business. It is his initials that you see on the company logo. The brewery later moved to its current Landsberger Straße (cheapest pint in Munich!) location and was badly bombed during World War II. Thankfully it was rebuilt and is protected historical monument of Munich. Augustiner is easily, the beer most popular with Munich locals. It is unique amongst the Big 6 as being the only brewery to exclusively use wooden kegs for its Helles.
A well known beer, if you have tried it outside of Germany it was probably brewed under licence. Try it in Munich for the real deal. Löwenbrau (Literally “Lion´s Brew” – one of the city emblems is the lion, in memory of the founding father of Munich – Henry the Lion) has been going since 1324 and their signature beer is a light, refreshing Helles. They also do a particularly tasty Dunkels. Pubs selling Löwenbrau are found all over Munich but their main beerhall is just across the road from the brewery at Stiglmaierplatz – about a 10 minute walk from the main train station, on the junction between Dachauer Straße and Nymphenburger Straße.
Originally founded in 1589 by Duke Wilhelm V, Hofbräu beer – or rather – their most famous establishment – the Hofbräuhaus – is easily the beerhall that the majority of visitors to Munich will have heard of. They make a decent enough Helles and their Dunkels is yummy but I would say that their wheat beer (“Wießbier“) is particularly good. If you have to drive or for whatever reason can´t drink alcohol, their alcohol free wheat beer is also very refreshing. It is hardly surprising really, when one considers that the Hofbräuhaus was once known as the “Wiesses Hofbräuhaus” for the quality of the wheat beer they were knocking out, initially just for the upper classes. Keen to protect the revenue that the tasty and sought after wheat beer brought, the permanently indebted Duke Maximillian I (son of Wilhelm V) decreed that only he may produce wheat beer in Bavaria, a rule that lasted until the nineteenth century. (See below). In addition to the Munich standards, they offer a slightly fruity summer beer while in winter be sure to try the “Winter Zwickl“.
Paulaner began life as a monastic brewery in 1629, supplying monks with “liquid bread” throughout the year – water, unless sourced from springs was likely to be polluted and so beer was the drink of choice. During Lent the monks faced a long fast – which led to the creation of the legendary Salavator stark beer. To this day, the Lenten period is marked by a Strong Beer Festival (“Starkbierfest”). Many of the breweries here will knock out a strong beer and but unlike say Oktoberfest, there is no one single event location. The Paulaner fest is held at their brewery at Nockherberg and is really worth a look.
The first Hacker brewery is mentioned in 1417, located at the corner of Sendlinger and Hackstraße in Munich. Today the site of the former brewery is home to the Altes Hackerhaus restaurant. The name reflects the fact the brewery is a consolidation of two Munich breweries – Hackerbräu and Pschorrbräu, owned in the early 1800s by Herr Joseph Pschorr. Pschorr’s sons later went their separate ways and divided the brewing business into two entities: Hacker and Pschorr (who would have thought it?) . Both brothers produced quality beers, well respected and beloved by Munich´s beer aficionados. In 1972 the two breweries went back into partnership: Hacker-Pschorr Bräu was reborn. For me, their Helles is as good as Augustiner, although their dark wheat beer – “Sternweiße” makes a nice change now and then. When I visit the Oktoberfest I have a table reserved in their tent every year – their Festbier is one of the better ones you will come across – very tasty.
Spaten can trace their history back to 1397 when a certain Herr Spaeth began brewing. Centuries later, in 1807, the company was acquired by Gabriel Sedlmayr. Spaten may not be the beer on everyone´s lips but it was they who introduced strong “Märzen” beer at a certain beerfestival in 1872 – the same style of lager that we drink at Oktoberfest to this day. Gabriel Sedlmayr is also remembered as being a man who really had vision: he funded the research of a German engineer by the name of Carl von Linde, who was experimenting with refrigeration technology. Linde pioneered a cooling process that substantially aided the bottom-fermentation method for brewing Munich lagers, leading to the creation of the beer styles we enjoy today. Parts of these early cooling machines can be seen in the Beer and Oktoberfest Museum . The most well known Spaten pub is the Spatenhaus an der Oper (opposite the opera house on Max-Josef Platz, it attracts – as you would expect – the opera crowd for pre or post show drinks and food) although if you are in the English Garden, the Seehaus, next to a lovely little lake is more relaxed.(In general, expect to pay a little more for your food than you would elsewhere)
Other Munich breweries:
The Big 6 are known for their Helles. However, Weißbier has long been a staple and increasingly, craft brewers are making their presence felt.
Schneider Weisse can trace their history back to 1872. In this period, King Ludwig II (a.k.a “Mad” Ludwig) was considering the future of his brewery, Hofbräu. With the advent of Linde´s cooling machines, Helles and Dunkles were taking centre stage and to stay in the game, they would have to adapt. Wheat beer was no longer the goose they would always lay the golden egg. Entrepreneur Georg Schneider saw his opportunity and negotiated with the kings beer authority – the Hofbräuamt – to obtain permission to brew wheat beer. When he gained the coveted “Weisbierregal” from the bureaucrats, he set about adapting the recently defunct Maderbrau brewery premises, not 100m from the Hofbräuhaus. Today they offer 10 different types of wheat beer, although some are seasonal. In addition they produce an acceptable Helles and Dunkels. The site in town is no longer brewing but is instead a very welcoming pub and restaurant with decent food. (Tal 7, 80331 München, on the corner opposite McDonalds. S/U-Bahnnhof Marienplatz)
Micro and craft breweries:
Although Munich and its environs produce some fantastic tasty beers, there has been a demand for something new, something different from Helles, Dunkels and Weissen, to excite tastebuds which have been acclimatised to beers which are easy drinking and not too complex on the palette. There are several micro-breweries in Munich, some of which are start-ups and are still trying to get their break. Two are particularly worthy of note:
In 2011 two local guys – Mario and Timm started experimenting with home brew in their shared flat. From the first, their plan was to create hoppy IPA´s along the lines of those which are popular in the US. (British IPA´s are generally milder and don´t go for the jugular with the hops). From little acorns grow great oaks – they now have a brewery out in the Munich suburbs and produce a variety of IPA´s and stouts. At the time of writing (January 2018) the brewery is only occasionally open to the public (Summer 2017 they were open once a week and that was a Friday!) but their beers turn up in smaller restaurants like Taco Libre and bars like Flaschenöffener (This is a bottle bar. Open late and good fun)
The brewery is in a lovely spot, opposite the Heilige-Kreuz church, on a hill overlooking Munich. Unlike Crew, they have a tap house open as a matter of course. They have as standard at least 10 beers available, ranging from their take on Helles and Dunkels to stouts and porters. As well as great beer, they have some pretty good food – but be warned: this is a popular spot with locals and so can sometimes be tricky to get a table, especially if you are in a big group. In the summertime pull up a seat outside in the yard. Away from their brewery, you will see their wares in regular grocery stores and speciality beer shops as well as smaller eateries: again, Taco Libre, near the main station offer this.(Martin-Luther Straße 2, 81539, Munich. U2 +U7, Silberhornstraße)