Germany is the global magnet for beer lovers, and Munich is the country’s self-proclaimed hub of all things beer and brewing. But change is in the wind.
Gone are the days when you could crawl the Oktoberfest or make the rounds of Munich’s cavernous beer halls and honestly say you’d unlocked the ultimate beer experience in Germany.
Imagine this scenario:
Hell-bent in search of German beer awesomeness, you touch down in Munich and make a beeline to the venerable Hofbraeuhaus beer hall, quaff a few pre-breakfast lagers, then lay in to another couple liters of blond at the Augustiner brewery. No biggie.
After that, you stumble over to the Paulaner beer garden for another couple rounds, finish the evening at the Spaten brewery and wind up for a marathon session the next day at the Oktoberfest.
You’re one of – count ‘em – 6.4 million driven party goers who let their hair down at this annual take-no-prisoners roundup, unmatched by any other beer gathering in the world.
You’re now 48 hours into your quest for beer nirvana. All manner of foam-fueled craziness lies behind you. You’ve Instagrammed every liter of beer and shot every pile of sausage, mound of pork and load of dumplings you devoured in the past two days.
Your memory card is full, your rented lederhosen are soaked in sweat and chafing your heinie, and your head aches. You’ve consumed torrents of frothy pale liquid in the last two days, but there were no standouts.
The first one tasted remarkably similar to the last one. Fun? Maybe.
It’s a scene hundreds of devoted beer pilgrims repeat every year.
And, admittedly, it’s going to confer enough bragging rights to make you a hero among your beer-geek buds back home. But, lieblings, there’s a lot more to German beer than this.
Meet the German nun who brews beer
50 shades of beer
Nothing against Munich’s beer halls or the Oktoberfest, but the city’s six megabreweries have spawned a beer monoculture. And apart from a few exceptions, their stock-in-trade consists of underwhelming blond brews – mostly lager (“helles”) or weissbier, the wheat beer Bavarians love.
But there are at least 50 shades of German beer – actually, tons more than that. And not all of them are pale, blond and one dimensional.
The beer and brewing paradigm is shifting in Germany as it has shifted in so many other countries.
The drinking public is becoming more sophisticated. Industrial beer isn’t getting the love it used to. Old brewing styles and regional beers are being rediscovered, and a new generation of inventive craft brewers is coming to the fore.
Regional copper brews and native kellerbier from the hinterlands, unfiltered rye beer, zoigl beer, edgy new top-fermented IPAs and other craft beer styles are proof that German beer is definitely worth traveling for.
Unfortunately, truly great beer is rarely found in the places recommended by many published online guides. C’mon. Would it kill them to give some play to Germany’s up-and-coming craft beers, micros and small, off-the-grid regional brewers? Or even to spotlight them?
Until the online experts acknowledge Germany’s growing alt-beer scene and expose travelers to real diversity, you’ll have to rely on word of mouth, local recommendations and firsthand trial and error in the search for beer awesomeness.
For those feeling adventurous, looking for something other than standard blond beer and want to venture off the grid, here are some gems to enjoy.
Impressive variety, including barrel-conditioned brews, ales and other top-fermented beers, porters, stouts and much more. A craft-beer island in a sea of blond industrial beer.
Tap House, Rosenheimer Strasse 108, Munich; +49 89 62231187
German and international craft beers, chops, ribs and veg burgers. A great place for laid-back imbibing where underdog beers are warmly appreciated.
RedHot, Amalienstrasse 89, Munich; +49 89 20 06 17 18
A hardworking, crowd-sourced garage brewhouse that morphed into regular brewery with its own tap. Unfiltered dark beer and rotating specials – all brewed within a few meters of where you’re sitting.
Giesinger-Braeu, Martin-Luther-Strasse 2, Munich; +49 89 65114911
A traditional family owned brewery that’s turning over a new leaf with some very un-German beers, such as Schneider’s memorable Aventinus, Nelson Sauvin, porter, wheat and eisbock beers.
Weisses Brauhaus, Tal 7, Munich; +49 89 2901380
Sour Black, Witbier and numerous other ales will be on offer when Crew Republic’s new brewery and tasting room opens in late 2015.
For now, its beers can be enjoyed at the Burrito Company (Augustenstrasse 74, Munich), Upper Eat Side, (Werinherstrasse 15, Munich), or Goldene Bar (Prinzregentenstrasse 1, Munich).
Crew Republic, Fraunhoferstrasse 9, Munich; +49 89 411471290
Brauerei im Eiswerk
The brown Josephs Spezial, the fruity Weizenbock Mandarin and a triple-fermented Bourbon Bock are worth trying at this brewpub located in an historic ice-making plant.
Brauerei im Eiswerk, Ohlmuellerstrasse 44, Munich; +49 89 39292 350 or 39292 351
Rest of Bavaria (outside Munich)
This hard-to-beat pub, beer garden and cafe spotlights up-and-coming craft brews, little-known jewels from Franconia’s small breweries, international craft beers and Bamberg’s own rauchbier (smoke beer).
Three-time winner of RateBeer’s best beer pub in Germany award. There are tons of other taps and breweries in Bamberg.
Cafe Abseits, Poedeldorfer Strasse 39, Bamberg; +49 951 303422
The strong, hops-forward Urstoeffla, unfiltered Kellerbier, Bock, IPAs and Lager Select, made with hops from the region, are all worth trying.
The sausage is made in house and Frau Kundmueller bakes the bread.
Brauerei-Gasthof Kundmueller, Weiher 13, Viereth-Trunstadt; +49 9503 4338
Two twenty-something sisters turn out award-winning beer at this brewery that has been operated by their family for 12 generations.
Drinkers can immerse themselves in the brewery tap across the street. Still thirsty? There are 165 more small and family-run breweries in the area.
Meinel Braeu, Alte Plauener Strasse 24, Hof; +49 9281 3514
IPAs, rotating single malt/single hop ales and Szechuan Saison, made with ambient yeast, coriander and other spices, are among the pours in this community-funded microbrewery in the Wedding neighborhood.
Vagabund Brauerei, Antwerpenerstr. 3, Berlin; no phone
A reddish rye Rotbier, Maple Walnut Stout and several types of ales are putting this upstart brewery on the map. The beers can be tried at the elegant Stue Bar (Drakestrasse 1, Berlin) or Le Croco Bleu at Bar auf Boetzow (Prenzlauer Allee 242, Berlin).
Bierfabrik, Beilsteiner Strasse 51 - 85, Berlin; +49 30 1512 3032491
Hops and Barley
Fruity wheats, a four-malt dark beer and rotating specials, including single-hopped Australian and American-style ales. Pils and wheat beer, too.
Hops and Barley, Wuehlischstrasse 22/23 Berlin; +49 30 29367534
Ya gotta love a bar that features obscure North Korean and Soviet-era films. This is Berlin’s fave anarchist watering hole, with lots of alt-culture happenings in addition to movies. Offerings include free foosball, cheap beer, neighborhood theater and art. Not exactly a craft-beer bastion, but an authentic slice of life in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district.
BAIZ, Schoenhauser Allee 26 A, Berlin; no phone
Great music and one-stop drinking for anyone with craft beer on their agenda. More than 80 pours from Berlin, the rest of Germany and around the world. Located in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood.
Monterey Bar, Danziger Strasse 61, Berlin; +49 175 3670536
High-caliber handmade sausage and high-caliber handmade beer. Sample craft beers from revisionist Berlin breweries, including Brewbaker, Schoeppebraeu, the Bierfabrik and Heidenpeter.
Das Meisterstueck, Hausvogteiplatz 3-4, Berlin; +49 30 558 725 62
Tom Conrad lives in Philadelphia and writes about taste and travel in Europe. His work has appeared in The Nation, The New York Times and other news sources. He leads small-group “Ted Tours,” focusing on hidden Europe, including beer, wine, food, history, decorative arts and other themes.