Sunday, 26 February 2017

In search of the unusual in Munich

As anyone who has been to Munich will testify, the products of the city’s six large breweries are widely available throughout the town. For the record, Munich’s major breweries are Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten, and these six concerns have sole rights to supply the world-famous Oktoberfest with beer.

All is not quite as it seems with these companies as, like in the UK, mergers and takeovers have affected the German brewing industry. We now have a situation where Hacker-Pschorr beers are produced by Paulaner, whilst Spaten beers are brewed by Löwenbräu. Fortunately Augustiner remains privately owned and Hofbräu is owned by the state of Bavaria, and it perhaps no coincidence that beers from the latter two companies are regarded more highly than those from the others.

When I first visited Munich, just under twelve years ago, the chances of finding beers from other breweries were pretty slim; certainly within the city centre, but over the years I have noticed a slow, but steady creeping in of products from the surrounding regions. For example there are now several outlets in the city centre serving beers from, amongst others, Ayinger Bräu, Herzogliches Bräustüberl Tegernsee and Kloster Andechs.

Bräustüberl Tegernsee
On some of our latter visits to Munich, my son and I have enjoyed beers from these three breweries, and have travelled out to the village of Aying, reached by taking the S7 suburban rail line in a south-easterly direction from the city centre; the Alpine town of Tegernsee, with its setting overlooking the lake of the same name, and reached by means of the BOB (Bayerische Oberlandbahn) train from central Munich, and the picturesque setting of Kloster Andechs, on the Holy Mountain, overlooking the Amersee lake. At all three locations we have been able to enjoy Ayinger, Tegernsee or Andechs beers brewed at source; and in picturesque locations as well. An early evening return trip to Aying is quite feasible, but visits to both Tegernsee and Kloster Andechs are really all day affairs, and with time at a premium on our most recent trip, we weren’t able to do any of these trips. I was however, able to track down Ayinger Bräu’s excellent beer, in a couple of unexpected locations.

BMW Head Quarters
On a wet and windy Tuesday, we visited BMW Welt (World); as Matt’s friend Will is not only a car geek, but a BMW fanatic. We enquired about a tour around the factory, and after opting for the only one available – which began at 4 pm, had a bit of time to kill. There are only so many shiny new, ultra-expensive cars you can look out without feeling slightly overwhelmed; although Will would beg to differ, but in the end, even the two boys became restless, so with lunchtime approaching, the two youngsters decided to take the U-Bahn, and head back into central Munich.

Olympia Park
I, on the other hand, decided to stay local and to go for a walk around the nearby Olympia Park. I had read about Olympia-Alm; a small kiosk which originally opened at the time of the 1972 Munich Olympics. Today Olympia-Alm has been transformed into a small beer garden, and at 564 metres above sea level, it is the highest beer garden in Munich. I set off to find it, battling the elements as I walked through the rather windswept landscape of the Olympia Park. After walking the wrong way around the Olympia Stadion, I ended up approaching the artificial hill, where Olympia-Alm is situated, from the rear. Small matter as I was glad of the exercise, and with only dog walkers, plus the occasional runner for company, I was quite happy with my own company.

A wet and windswept Olympia Alm
I eventually found what I was looking for, and discovered that whilst the kiosk was open, there was no indoor shelter and no food available. There was beer though, and it was Ayinger Bräu as well! I already knew this, but good as the beer was, I was glad I hadn’t brought two exercise-averse, twenty some-things with me, or I would never have heard the end of how I made them climb half way up a mountain, just for a beer! The benches and tables looked wet and windswept, but there was a small amount of shelter underneath the awning in front of the kiosk. I shared this space with one intrepid hiker, plus a couple with their two dogs. The latter were drinking coffee, laced with “Bailey’s”, whilst the walker was enjoying a glass of Ayiner Weisse Bier. I went for the Helles, which was an excellent tasting beer with malt very much to the fore.

I only stayed for the one though, as I wanted something more solid inside me. I asked the man in the kiosk, for the quickest route back down to BMW Welt. He pointed me in the right direction and said it was only a 10 minute walk; rather annoying, seeing that it had taken me the best part of an hour to arrive! As I began to descend the artificial hill, I was rewarded with views across the Olympia Park and also across to the complex of buildings which make up BMW’s head office and motor works.

A warming and welcoming lunch
Before meeting back up with Matt and Will, I treated myself to a spot of lunch back at BMW World. A warming bowl of potato, vegetable and sausage soup was just what I needed after my exertions, and by the time I’d finished there wasn’t too long to wait before the factory tour commenced. The € 9.00 price was well worth it for a tour which lasted two hours, and which took in every part of the production process. This included the pressing, welding, painting and engine assembly workshops, followed by final assembly and testing. It also involved a fair amount of walking; 3.5 kilometres as our guide informed us, before we set off. I must have already walked that sort of distance around the Olympia Park before hand!

Hofbräuhaus in full swing
We did attempt to sample some more Ayinger Bräu beer later that evening. Ayinger am Platzl Speisen und Trank, opposite Munich’s world famous Hofbräuhaus, seemed a good bet. Matt and I had enjoyed a few beers there on a previous visit to Munich, but when we arrive the place was heaving. Instead we did the tourist thing and managed to find space for the three of us in the Hofbräuhaus, where the meal was actually very good, and quite reasonably priced, as were the two Maß Krugs of Hofbräu Helles I enjoyed. (The boys foolishly had three each, and were rather silly on the way back to the hotel, but you’re only young once, and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to learn the hard way!).

Wirtshaus Rechthaler hof
I had sort of given up on being able to sample any more Ayinger Bräu, until we spotted the Wirtshaus Rechthaler hof on our final afternoon in the city. I noticed the Ayinger Bräu signs on the yellow-painted walls of this establishment, opposite the Hauptbahnhof in Arnulf Straße, when we got off the bus; so after a spot of last minute shopping, we decided to pop in for a couple of final beers, before taking the coach to the airport. We were glad that we did, as the place was spotlessly clean and welcoming, with an interior decorated in a traditional Bavarian-style, with wooden barrel ends mounted on the wall, animal trophies and historical pictures. We chose one of the high tables close to the window, so we could sit and watch the world go by, whilst enjoying our beers. I sampled the Helles, plus the Altbairisch Dunkles; both were good, with the former being probably the best beer of the trip. Judging by the newness of the décor, I was wondering whether Ayiner Bräu have only recently taken over here. Given the central location of Wirtshaus Rechthaler hof, and the excellent quality of its beer, I would definitely recommend a visit.

If our last afternoon in Munich enabled us to enjoy an old favourite, our first afternoon afforded the opportunity to track down and enjoy a few beers from one of the city’s new breweries. Giesinger Bräu began production, on a small scale, back in 2007, and gradually increased production. We paid the brewery a visit in 2014, when we were last in the city, but this was only to pick up a few bottles. A few years ago, the company stepped up several notches, with a move to a new location and the opening of a new brewery, with a much increased capacity. The latter is combined with a restaurant or Bräustüberl, where it is possible to sample the beers, and have a bite to eat.

The wonder of "Woolies"
We took the U2 U Bahn line south of Munich, to Silberhorn Straße, from where it is a short walk to the Bräustüberl. I needed to withdraw some cash first, and opposite the bank we noticed a Woolworth’s store. Out of curiosity we popped in for a look, surprised to see that this once iconic brand is still trading in Germany. There wasn’t much of interest and, if anything, the range of mainly stationery, household items and cheap clothes, was even more “bargain basement” than I remember the company’s UK stores as being. It was worth a visit though, from a pure nostalgic point of view.

It didn’t take us long to find the Giesinger Bräu complex, which occupies two levels of a building, overlooking a yard, virtually opposite the impressive brick-built church which acts as the brewery logo. We sat in the bright and modern upstairs restaurant, even though we had decided not to eat, due to the fact we would be meeting up for a meal with Will later in the evening. The food looked good though, and because of this, and the excellent beer, it didn’t take long for the place to start filling up.

Beer list - Giesinger Bräu
There were around a dozen beers advertised on the board behind us, although as we discovered, not all of them were available; including unfortunately the Smoky Fox. I started with that rarest of German beer styles, a Märzen which was amber in colour and malt-driven. Matt went for the Feines Pilschen; an unfiltered Pilsner. I went for the Dunkles next, and had it been later in the day, I would probably have tried the bottled Baltic Rye Porter as well. We had a quick look at the brewery on the way out. This is housed on the ground floor, where there is also a facility for the sale of brewery merchandise, and beer for home consumption.

Brewing kit - Giesinger Bräu
That really sums up the interesting, quirky, or out of town beers available in Munich, although with effort it is possible to find others such as Brauerei Erharting, Maisaicherbräu, König Ludwig Schlossbrauerei Kaltenberg and Weihenstephan. If American-style craft- beers, or indeed American imports, are your thing, then a visit to Tap-House Munich, at Rosenheimer Str. 108, should be on your itinerary. I will have to leave my own visit to this establishment for a future trip; one which is more leisurely and one where I have more time.


Dave said...

Have you ever visited Forschungsbrauerei? I know on closed in the city center, but you seem to have visited much of Munich. I am curious on your opinion of it. I have not made it there myself.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Dave. I have visited Forschungsbrauerei, on three previous trips to Munich, and can thoroughly recommend it. Just before posting this latest article I was conscious that I’d left Forschungs off the list of different or rare beers to try in the city; so apologies for this omission.

My son and I first visited the place in 2009, when it was still owned by the founding Jakob family. We made the mistake of arriving after 4pm, when the beer was only served by the Maß Krug. Litres of the strong 7.5% St Jakobus Blonder Bock, are not to be recommended. The normal (5.2%) Pilsissimus Export is also a fine beer.

New owners took over the business in August 2011 and made several improvements. The pub is now open all year-round, 7 days a week, and the beer range has been revamped. Long-time brewery mainstay Pilsissimus Export is available all year, as is a new Dunkles (dark) beer. The excellent flagship brew St. Jakobus Blonder Bock (7.5% alcohol), is now only available some of the time, (not at the time of our last visit, unfortunately). In addition, a new, slightly weaker summer Helles is available from May to October.

Finally, there is a special Weizenbock (strong wheat) and Christmas edition dark lager available in limited batches during the Christmas season. All beers are now available in half-litres as well as traditional litre mugs. The pub is a short, 15 minute walk from Perlach S- Bahn station.

Dave said...

Thanks for adding this information. I have been curious about the place for a while, but rarely read much about it. Next time!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Paul. As ever, it's the detail I enjoy, including the Woolies ! Some good ideas there for when I make a return trip, my first visit was a bit underwhelming, but I was dragging round people who wanted to be on their mobile phones rather than walking.

Paul Bailey said...

I’m sure you’re aware Martin that Woolies aren’t the only “retro” chain doing OK on the continent. C&A are very much alive and kicking in Europe, and just over a year ago I bought a very nice body-warmer at their store in Salzburg.

On our recent trip to Germany, my son’s friend Will bought a coat at their Munich branch, for the bargain price of € 7.25; reduced from € 29.95, which itself was a good price.