Several of the world’s cities evoke a particular thought or mental image: for Paris, it’s the Eiffel Tower; for Venice, it’s the canals; and for Munich, it’s the beer. As a beer enthusiast I had high expectations for the Munich beer scene. Did it measure up?
I should start with a disclaimer. Being from Portland, Oregon, I like to think I already live in one of the world’s premier beer cities, and I have pretty high standards for what a good beer city should offer. In Portland we’re nearly awash with craft brew options, both from microbreweries here in the city and state, and from craft beers that are imported from other states. No self-respecting restaurant in town will have less than a half-dozen beers to choose from, even if they’re not all on tap.
I wasn’t always a beer enthusiast. Back in my school days in the 70’s, the craft beer craze had not yet begun, all that was available was variations on macro beer; some ok, some swill. Drinking beer was more something you’d do because you were young and you wanted to party, and the party wasn’t on your taste buds. While I drank my youthful share, getting blotto on beer wasn’t a priority.
After moving from the midwest to Portland in the late 70’s, I tried a local brew called Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve that measured up pretty well. Henry’s had two styles: a typical American light lager and a slightly darker ale. I migrated to the ale – it was my first step past the usual macrobrew fare.
In the mid 80’s I first encountered a craft brew. It was a funny looking, cloudy yellow concoction called Widmer Hefeweizen. I tried it, and somewhat to my surprise I liked it. That was the beginning of the end for me drinking American macrobrews. As the years rolled by and more craft breweries opened, I tried more styles, widened my beer palate, and decided what styles I liked or didn’t like. In general, I prefer medium to dark ales and darker lagers, more on the malty side than the hoppy side. I also discovered that in addition to the microbrews I’d been trying, there was a whole additional world of imports to try. It was thus that I discovered German brews, and in particular an affection for the Dunkel and Dopplebock dark lager styles.
About a year ago I took the next step in my beer education: I took up home brewing. I’d dabbled with it in prior years, going with a group to a U-Brew place, where they provide all the equipment, ingredients, and hand holding you need to brew a batch of beer without having to know anything. But now I’ve got my own gear. Getting the ingredients, processing, and sanitation right is my own problem, as is the process of understanding how it all comes together.
So, considering this beer tasting evolution, along with the Munich mystique for beer and my taste for German dark lagers, I had high hopes for the beer tasting when we arrived in Munich.
Ground zero for this experience was at the famous Hofbrauhaus.
Upon wandering into this basilica of beer we soon encountered other like minded members of our tour group, and our evening of quaffing commenced.
As you should have noticed from both the title and the opening photo, the beer mugs there were not small. The option of ordering a pint, or what would be a half liter in Europe was simply not available. It was go big or go home. Those Germans figure if you’re going to have a beer, party! And so we did.
It wasn’t all beer nirvana though. Since they had beers as big as your head I had expectations of a beer list as long as your arm. But like all the other restaurants we checked out while on our passage through Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, the beer list was quite sparse. A typical list would have a pilsner (pale lager), a weizen (wheat beer), a dunkel (dark lager), and sometimes a radler (pale lager mixed with lemonade). The liter mugs were common, but half liters were usually available too. I never did find a dopplebock, although Munich is home to the Paulaner brewery which has been cranking out that liquid bread since 1634. As for microbreweries or brewpubs with a Portland-esque list of exotic styles? No joy. I’m sure they’re there somewhere; Germany’s too good a beer country to be missing them, but I never found one. I suspect some of you readers could point out one or two.
So did the Munich/Bavarian beer scene measure up? Yes and no. The beers I had were nearly all of good quality, and as expected I particularly liked the dunkels. But I didn’t find the variety I was expecting. Those more diverse brewpubs must be there somewhere, and some of you may even be in one of those hidden little nooks of malty goodness now, chortling away at my blindness and enjoying a liter of tasty brew.