“In Bavaria we say beer is also food,” my hostel bartender told me when I first arrived in Munich in July, at an odd time when there wasn’t any food being served in restaurants. It worked out well for me, as over the next few days, I found my appetite disappearing and I mostly just drank litres of classic Bavarian beer.
Munich is well-known as home of the Oktoberfest, the biggest beer festival in the world, attended by millions of people every year. Only breweries based in Munich can sell beer at Oktoberfest, and most of these breweries are centuries old. The primary reason why beer is brewed so well and has a long history in Bavaria is the Bavarian Purity Law, the Reinheitsgebot. Drafted in 1516, the law allows for only three ingredients for the production of beer: water, barley and hops. As wheat beer gained popularity, it received an exemption under the purity law, and later yeast was added as one of the ingredients that was allowed. While adhering to the law, there are still more than 4,000 different beer brands in Bavaria alone. It’s appropriate for a place where you can literally study a masters in brewing beer, at the Technical University of Munich.
A visit to Bavaria in the months preceding the Oktoberfest will be equally fulfilling for beer lovers, and much lighter on the pocket. Consider this: even in a city as notoriously expensive as Munich, a half-litre mug of Munich’s premium beer from the tap, at a popular bar, would cost an average of €5/Rs400, while a 330 ml bottle of Erdinger at a bar in Delhi is easily upwards €7/Rs600, due to high import duties.
In Bavaria, beer is also food, and Munich is studded with lively restaurants and local breweries sampling the ale. Photo by: Jorg Greuel/ Photolibrary / Getty Images Plus/ Getty Images
When we talk of beer in Bavaria, it mostly refers to: Helles, a light, pale lager; Dunkel, a darker beer with a maltier taste; Weissbier or the wheat beer, which is half fermented with wheat along with barley; Pilsener, a hoppy, pale lager invented in the Czech city of Pils by a Bavarian; Märzen, the official Oktoberfest beer that comes in different varieties; and the Doppelbock, a very strong, dark beer traditionally consumed in the winter months.
Beer is most commonly served in a half litre, German mug, stein, and many of these mugs depict scenes of traditional Bavarian life or celebration. (Think of the most clichéd image of the enthusiastic German holding a big beer mug.) It is a bit shameful to ask for a half pint, and you might invite some harsh looks. On the plus side, even a super lightweight like me could drink a lot without a hangover the next day; hard to say if it was the beer or the weather, which was actually quite scorching (over 30°C!) for Germany.
I started with a Steiner Marzen from the tap, available at my hostel for a €2.5/Rs200, which was a light beer, smooth and pleasant, and had a nice aftertaste. Most bars and restaurants are tied to a specific brewery so mostly the only choice you will have to make would be what kind of beer, rather than the brand- so for example, if I am eating at an Italian restaurant and ask for a Weissbier, I will be served whichever brand they serve. The Ayinger Helles was my least favourite, although it’s a typical, Bavarian everyday beer, and is also used a lot in their cooking. In my opinion, it was a bit too hoppy for a beer that light.
I really couldn’t get enough of the Weissbier though. Wheat beers generally foam a lot, and so are poured after swirling the glass in cold water, and then holding it in a specific angle (45 degrees). The Paulaner Weissbier is a Bavarian beloved and one of the most delicious you can have: it’s very refreshing, and just a little bit fruity and tangy, with a thick foamy layer at the top, with which I always like to make a thin moustache. Another nice wheat beer was the Allgäuer Fürstabt Hefeweizen, which was a bit sour and citrusy but still felt quite potent.
The clear winner, however, was the Augustiner Weiss. I heard about it two years ago from a Bavarain in Berlin who spoke passionately of it, I heard it now from my Bavarian friends. It’s a bit more on the expensive side (€6.5/Rs500) but definitely worth it. To define how the Augustiner tastes, I have to be a bit poetic: Augustiner will taste like your best kiss—soft, smooth, delicious, over before you know it, and yet the taste of it will linger forever.
At Oktoberfest, only the breweires that brew their beer within the city limits are allowed to participate in the annual event that draws millions of visitors. Photo by: Alexander Hassenstein/ Staff /Getty Images News/ Getty Images
I also had the Alto-Dunkel, a dark lager brewed by Maierbräu, a small, family owned brewery, which surprisingly I liked a lot. It’s sweet and bitter at the same time, with a roasted, caramel taste, and encouraged me to try more dark beers. For those who don’t like the taste of beer, there is always Radler—invented in Bavaria but very common in all of central Europe—a light beer mixed with lemonade, half and half. It dissipates the overbearing taste of beer, and still remains a beer-based, refreshing summer drink.
Now that all the basics are in place, there’s one last thing. There is no point of drinking any beer if you don’t look into the eyes of the person you’re drinking with: it’s supposed to curse you with seven years of bad sex. You must be ready to say prost (cheers) in traditional Bavarian style by raising your mug and clinking it together while maintaining eye contact, or if you want to be cheeky, you can say this, but only at informal occasions: zur mitte, zur titte, zum sack, zack zack (to the middle, to the tits, to the balls, cheers)!
Each restaurant or pub stocks different brands of beer (Steiner, Paulaner, Maierbräu, and so on)—and you can try the various brews ranging from light to dark of each. There are also biergartens (beer gardens) of each brand in Munich, where you can try the freshest beer and enjoy tastings. Beer prices start from €4.5/Rs350 for a stein, and can vary depending on the brand, and where you’re drinking it.
is a student of Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh, and is currently working as an editor with Juggernaut Books. Her debut fiction novel will be published by Penguin Random House in 2019, and finds it too late for her to change her mind about being a writer- its the only thing she knows.
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