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Beer

Germany is famous for its beer. There are some 1,250 breweries in Germany – around 40% of the world's total – producing around 7,500 different beers. Half the breweries are to be found in Bavaria.

Munich breweries

Munich is considered by many (rightly or wrongly) to be the capital of beer production. There are six major breweries in Munich. Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr belong since 2003 to Brau Holding International, which is 50.1% owned by the Munich-based Schörghuber company group and 49.9% by the Dutch brewer Heineken. Löwenbräu and Spaten-Franziskaner were also bought up in 2003, and belong to the Belgium-based brewing conglomorate Anheuser-Busch InBev. Augustiner remains in private hands while Hofbräu München is owned by the State of Bavaria.

There are also a couple of brewpubs, such as Unions-Bräu in Haidhausen (formerly owned by Löwenbräu) and the Forschungsbrauerei in Altperlach.

Annual beer production (measured in hectolitres, i.e. 100 litres) is as follows:

Paulaner/Hacker-Pschorr 2,080,000

Spaten-Franziskaner 2,000,000

Löwenbräu 1,000,000

Augustiner 950,000

Hofbräu 218,000

Given the huge number of breweries in Germany (about half of which are in Bavaria), the beer scene in Munich is therefore actually rather limited. Other notable breweries in the region include Weihenstephan, the world's oldest, Schneider Weisse, the first brewery to brew Weissbier, and the monastic breweries of Weltenburg (dating from 1050), Andechs and Ettal.

Franconian breweries

The true centre of Bavarian brewing is in fact Bamberg. With ten breweries within this town of 70,000 inhabitants and some 250 within a fifty-mile radius, this region of Franconia boasts by far the heaviest concentration of breweries in the world. Most are small-scale breweries delivering to a handful of pubs, beer gardens and Getränkemärkte (drink stores).

In a sense, this region is a reflection of how the whole of Bavaria used to be. The number of breweries in Germany has halved over the past fifty years or so. A century ago, for example, there were over 200 breweries in Munich. As a relatively isolated region, Franconia has so far managed to resist the mass closures and international takeovers that breweries elsewhere have experienced.

Reinheitsgebot

Germany is famous for the Reinheitsgebot (the German Beer Purity Law), a consumer law dating from 1516 that limits the ingredients of beer to water, barley, hops and yeast. It was officially repealed in 1987 following a ruling by the European Court of Justice, although even today few German breweries dare to produce beer that doesn't comply with it. Critics argue that it stifles variety and that it is not a problem to brew bad beer within the confines of the law, and vice-versa.

Beer styles

The most common style of beer in Germany is Pilsner (also known as Pils). This is the pale beer style upon which most foreign lagers are based. Relatively dry and bitter due to the hops, this style is unfortunately frequently pretty bland. Helles (light), a less bitter pale beer, is the standard drink in Bavaria. Dunkles (dark) is brewed with darker malts to produce a dark-amber colour and sweeter flavour. Weissbier is a top-fermented beer made from wheat, generally served unfiltered in a tall, slim glass. All these beers are around 5% ABV.

A Festbier or Export beer is somewhat stronger in flavour and alcohol than a normal Helles, generally weighing in at around 5.5% to 6%. Bock beers are stronger still, and commonly served during Lent. These vary between 6% and 8% ABV and vary in colour from pale through to dark, and are deceptively drinkable.

Uerige Altbier from Düsseldorf specialities include Kölsch from Cologne, a pale beer with a light, fruity flavour that is traditionally served in 0.2l glasses, Altbier from Düsseldorf, a reddish-brown top-fermenting beer not too dissimilar from many British bitters, and Berliner Weisse, a sour wheat beer with only around 3% alcohol that is usually adulterated with the addition of a shot of syrup (rot = raspberry, grün = woodruff).

In Franconia, beer categorisation tends to go out of the window, but common names are Kellerbier, Ungespundetes, or Zwickelbier. Although varying wildly in flavour, they share the characteristic of being unfiltered, and tend to be dry and hoppy. Landbier can be considered a filtered version of those styles. Rauchbier is brewed using smoked malt to produce a beer with a distinctive 'bacon' aroma. Franconian beers tend to be low in carbonation and are commonly served direct from a barrel behind the bar.

Zoigl is beer brewed in communal breweries in the Oberpfalz region of north-east Bavaria. The practice dates from mediaeval times, when people were granted licenses to brew beer in the communal brewery and then sell it from their own homes. The Zoigl sign outside a house indicates that beer is currently available there. This practice continues today in five villages.

Beer gardens and Volksfests

Popular venues for consuming beer are beer gardens. Commonly called "Bierkeller" (beer cellars), these gardens are traditionally actually found on hilltops. In the days before refrigeration, beer was stored in hillside caves to keep it cool in the summer. Chestnut trees were planted on top of the hill to help keep the caves cool, and it didn't take a genius to work out the attraction of cool beer and shady trees as a venue for serving beer. The on-going tradition of being allowed to bring one's own food to a beer garden dates from the earliest beer gardens.
Volksfest in Freising


Volksfeste (people's festivals) are also responsible for the consumption of significant volumes of beer. All towns in Bavaria have at least one Volksfest each year, which traditionally involves various fairground attractions, market stands, and a large tent (seating anywhere up to 10,000 people) where food and drink is served to the accompaniment of traditional music. The most famous Volksfest is of course the Munich Oktoberfest, but those looking to escape the tourists will do well to head for a different one, such as the Gäubodenfest in Straubing, which with one million visitors is the second largest Volksfest in Germany. Another popular event in Munich is the Starkbierfest.

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Original text by Small Town Boy, July 2008

DrinkBeer

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