Tag Archives: Paulaner

A Season for Strong Beer

You have to admire a city where the rhythms of life revolve around excuses to tap a keg and raise a mug of good cheer.

Munich is one such city where the seasons are marked by festivities that involve a healthy amount of imbibing. Most of these beer festivals have their roots in Catholicism and are, more often than not, bound up with the arrival of spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

Salvator atop the Nockherberg

Not only is Oktoberfest famous the world over; residents of Munich survive the Lenten fast with hearty steins of “liquid bread,” and then ring in the threshold between spring and summer with Bockbier. Summer may not have its own beer –– plenty of helles Lager and the occasional Pilsner to go around, after all –– but it is the season for something quintessentially beer-related: the beer garden. Once the weather warms up, folks in Munich (and everyone else who happens to be in town) flock to shade of the stately chestnut trees to down liters of beer in the company of as many as 8000 like-minded connoisseurs of the leisurely life. We all know what transpires in Munich during September and early October. Then comes winter, and winter, too, demands a richer beer befitting the season.

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Since the weather still hasn’t turned beer garden in Central Europe, let’s dwell, for the moment, with those last drops of Doppelbock trickling from casks in Munich.

Doppelbock has a history that dates back a few hundred years, and is intimately bound up with the Paulaner monks and the beer garden atop the Nockherberg where both monastery and brewery once stood. Already in 1843, visitors to Munich took notice of this Starkbier (strong beer) that flowed in abundance during Lent and was popular enough to occasion a festival:

On particular feast days during the spring and summer, the citizens of Old Munich cultivated the habit of seeking out houses of God beyond the city walls to perform their devotions. The church of the Paulaner monastery in the Au district counted itself among those places. Here, the monks held an eight-day festival in honour of the founder of their order, the holy Father Franz von Paula. The so-called “Festival of the Holy Father” began, as a rule, on 2 April and is said to have radiated a particular charm among the male population as far back as the eighteenth century. One reason for this may well have been the “Holy Father Beer” brewed by the monks, which just so happened to be served during these festive days. The beer was also called “Oil of the Holy Father” (Heil Vater Öl), on account of the fact that the Paulaner monks were only permitted to nourish themselves with oil during the Lenten fast. Apparently this particularly strongly-brewed beer counted as such.

No less a literary luminary than Friedrich Schiller penned these observations about Munich and its manifest love of Starkbierzeit (the season of strong beer). But how did Nockherberg reach such a pinnacle? Or, put differently, why was it –– and why is it still –– that aficionados of Doppelbock make their way up the Nockherberg to the Salvatorkeller, as it’s known in the vernacular, that pinnacle of Starkbier where “the father of all strong beer” was first brewed?

~Stay tuned!~

Paulaner am Nockherberg

Related Tempest articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

Sources:

Süddeutsche Zeitung (ed.), Mir san Bier: Braukunst und Biergärten in und um München, 2013.

For the Schiller passage, see Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016, p.312 (translation F.D. Hofer).

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

O’ zafpt is! Oktoberfest 2016

Most every beer enthusiast I know has his or her mythical geography of the beer world, a mental landscape dotted with legendary breweries and drink-before-you-die beers. This topography might also consist of wild yeasts residing in the rafters of old farmhouses, or historic hop kilns concealed along country back roads. Cities themselves stand out like beacons: Munich, Portland, Bamberg, Brussels. A large part of what sustains this mental geography is the excitement of the quest. Sometimes we manage to satisfy of our desires relatively quickly; sometimes the quest may take years.

For me, lover of German beer that I am, it took twenty-five years to make it to Oktoberfest.

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If you want to learn more about the history of Oktoberfest and its beers, check out my other articles about Munich’s favourite festival:

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

I’ve written about my conversion to good beer elsewhere, and I’ve also written about my first visit to a beer garden and my first winter Glühwein. All of these happened way back during my first study year abroad. But why was it so difficult to get myself to Oktoberfest? Well, you see, I thought that Oktoberfest happened in October.

It was the autumn of 1991. I had my bags packed and ready to go. The kindly woman who tended to international exchange students asked what my plans were for that particular weekend, the second in October. “Oktoberfest!” I responded. She slowly shook her head. “Oktoberfest ended last weekend.”

If you, too, happen to be traveling around Europe and are blithely planning a trip to Oktoberfest in mid-October, keep in mind that it ends on 3 October this year.

Which brings us to about ten days ago. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of my disappointment, I headed out not just for Oktoberfest, but for the opening ceremony itself.

The morning dawned gray and wet. Over coffee I read yet another newspaper article about how heightened precautions such as a perimeter fence and security check had all but overshadowed the perennial talk of increasing prices for a Maß (1 liter) of beer.img_0258 But the sheer crush of lederhosen and dirndls on my train from Freising to Munich spoke volumes against the anxiety expressed in certain quarters. Neither the vague threat of terrorism nor the minor deluge seemed capable of holding back the throngs of people streaming from all sides toward the Theresienwiese.

I threaded my way through the crowd and asked a few folks where the opening ceremony would take place. By 11:00 am I had found my way to the Spaten Schottenhamel Festhalle beer tent.

Anticipation grew as the clock approached noon. Screens around the edge of the tent flashed images of the horse-drawn wagons decked out for the occasion and laden with this year’s beer. The procession drew nearer. And then the grand entrance! A marching band, the Münchener Kindl, symbol of the city dressed in traditional brown and yellow-gold, the Bavarian state premier, and the mayor of Munich. The crowd surged forward as the entourage made its way to where the ceremonial wooden kegs had been set up.

Even if you don’t know much German beyond lager and bier, chances are you’ve heard or read the phrase that marks the official beginning of Oktoberfest.img_0244 After the mayor exchanged a few words with the MC, it was game on. Two, maybe three blows with the wooden mallet, and the words everyone had been waiting for: O’ zapft is!

And so, I raise my stein: Ein Prosit, not only to Gemütlichkeit, but also to another place in my beer geography that has gotten that much less mythical, even if Oktoberfest itself remains legendary.

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From now until the end of Oktoberfest, I’ll be posting a series of short pieces that paints a picture of the history and culture of Oktoberfest. Some questions I’ll seek to answer for you include:

  • How did an annual horse race that first took place in 1810 become the largest beer festival in the world? And why the heck is Oktoberfest celebrated mainly in September?
  • When did all the huge beer tents appear, and what did they replace? (Hint: beer castles!)
  • When did the annual tradition of tapping the keg begin? Where did all the Märzen go?
  • How does Oktoberfest fit into Munich’s rich calendar of beer festivals? How many people show up in any given year, and just how much Festbier do they drink?

Related Tempest Articles

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant

Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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