Germany is, without question, one of the most famous countries for beer. When I told my dad we were spending some time in Germany, he instructed me to have a few pints for him. He said he remembered the beer being exceptional when he was stationed there “back in the day.”
In Munich we found a brochure for a “Beer and Brewery tour” at one of the tourist information booths. It claimed to be recommended by both Frommer’s and Rick Steves. Very high praise indeed. Or, at least I read it as “Rick Steves”. But upon closer inspection the brochure actually says “Rich Steves”. I’m going with “misspelling” on that one.
The company offering the tour was Munich Walk Tours. They also offer Christmas market tours, Bavarian food tasting, and so on. We found we had a heck of a time figuring out when and where to join the beer and brewery tour, though.
According to the information on the brochure we had, the tour had two meeting points: one was to meet up at Central Station/Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) at 5:45pm, and the other at Marienplatz at 6:15. We purchased our tickets at the Central Station tourist booth for the 5:45 tour. Or so we thought.
Alas, we arrived at the supposed meet-up point and waited. And waited. And waited. No one came around looking like they were offering tours, so I went back into the information office and asked.
The desk clerk said they had received an email saying the tour would start from Hbf at 6:15. So we waited. And waited. When I went back into the information office, I spoke to a different desk clerk, who said the tour had been at 5 pm! Then he looked through his information and said no, it was actually supposed to be leaving at 6:15. When I told him there was no one there at 6:15 (it was now 6:45), he asked if I was sure we had really been looking for the tour guide at the right time. We quickly realized we weren’t going to be getting any beer/brewery tour that day. The clerk told us to come back on Friday, when the next tour was being offered, and our tickets would still be valid.
On Friday we did what we should have done before, and looked at the Munich Walk Tours website. There was no mention of the beer tours meeting up at the Hbf location, only at Marienplatz. So we took our chances and walked there early in case we had to make a beeline for the Hbf information booth location. We waited for about ten minutes, before we saw a fellow show up carrying a yellow sign; a sign full of hope and hoppy, foamy promise:
About 20 people were on the tour which is a nice number, not too crowded. We started out the evening at the Ratskeller. This was a restaurant/bar, situated in the basement of the New Town Hall just a few steps from our meeting point. We didn’t go in, but our guide used the convenience of its location to talk about the history of the building. The New Town Hall was built between 1867 and 1874, and the Ratskeller restaurant has occupied the basement since 1874. This makes it Munich’s oldest wine cellar. I loved the artwork over the door:
We then made our way over to Augustiner am Dom, about a three-minute walk from the New Town Hall. This was where we ordered our first beers of the night:
Augustiner am Dom serves up pretty standard Bavarian/German fare: schnitzel, pork knuckle, and goulash. But we were here solely to drink some beer:
The Augustiner brewery has been in operation since 1328 and is Munich’s oldest independent brewery! Their most popular brew is Helles, a pale lager. We opted for the Edelstoff, described as sweeter, stronger, and more “sparkly” then Helles. It was a nice, inoffensive easy sipper. Palatable, but not completely memorable, either.
This was where our guide taught us about the Reinheitsgebot, also known as the German Beer Purity Law, dating from 1516. This was a set of regulations restricting the ingredients of German beer to only three: water, barley and hops. Yeast was only added as the fourth ingredient later, once people realized its importance in the role of fermentation. The rule was partly put into effect to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye.
We only had time for one beer at Augustiner am Dom, though. For our next stop, we had to catch the subway! Even underground, it was clear that beer is an important part of life in Munich:
Where were we headed, you may wonder? Our guide took us to the Paulaner Brauhaus:
Paulaner has been brewing beer since 1634; or at least the earliest documented evidence of the Paulaner Brewery dates to 1634, so it may be even older. The brewery began with the Munich monastery Neudeck ob der Au. It was quite common for monks to brew beer or make wine. Any beer that the monks didn’t need for themselves was given to the poor or sold in the monastery taverns. When the monastery was dissolved in 1799, the brewery was briefly leased to the state.
This part of the tour was a little different: instead of just drinking beer and talking about it, we actually got to tour the inner workings of the brewery. This included seeing some of the ingredients that go into the final product:
For some reason, I love touring breweries, wineries and distilleries. Even though the description of the process is always the same, there’s something about dark cellars, aged oak barrels and copper vats that just thrills me to pieces:
After touring the facility it was time to try the final products:
The weissbier was my favourite, but I generally like weissbier anyway.
Once we drained our drinks, it was time to get back on the subway to hit our last drinking establishment of the night. And it was a biggie: Hofbrauhaus.
Why was this one such a big deal, you might wonder? The story begins in 1589. Wilhelm V., Duke of Bavaria, didn’t like the beer made in Munich and initially had it imported from Lower Saxony. A few chamberlains and council members suggested starting up their own brewery. The brewery opened to the general public in 1828. Also of note, in 1919 the Communist government set up headquarters in the beer hall, and a year later Adolf Hitler himself, along with the National Socialists held their first meeting in the Festival Room, located on the third floor.
We got to peek at the coveted beer stein cubbies, built in 1970 and reserved for the regular customers of Hofbrauhaus:
We were told there is a waiting list to snag one of these coveted beer stein safes!
Hofbrauhaus is huge, with several rooms filled with long communal tables, plus balcony seating outside. And, no proper beer tour in Germany is complete without listening to a live oompa band:
The tour quickly dissolved at this point, with some people heading back to their hotels and others remaining, but finding separate seating. We grabbed a seat within eyeshot of the oompa band. It just seemed like an appropriate way to end the night.
We really kind of loved this place. Yes, it was hard to find a seat. Yes, it was loud. But the party atmosphere was second to none. People were happy to be here, and it showed. Plus, the food was really good. Mark ordered the roast pork with crackling, with a potato dumpling on the side. I opted for the apple strudel with whipped cream:
It’s simple fare, but delicious and hardy. And you can’t really leave Munich without having a proper pretzel. At first we were wary of ordering one because they are HUGE. But, as we discovered, they are also surprisingly light, not as dense as one would expect:
So all in all, the tour was quite enjoyable, but I advise that if you plan on doing it, contact the tour company directly to verify the times and location for pick-up. You definitely don’t want to miss out on this experience.