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.
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.
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?
Related Tempest articles:
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.