WHERE BEER IS KING
Munich is surely the world capital of beer. A celebration of the brew is seldom off the city’s calendar.
The year’s round begins with “Fastbock”, brewed more or less at the time of the Oktoberfest. Then comes the opening of the “strong beer” season in March – and very strong it is, served in brandy snifters. Following the strong beer, bock beer returns again as “May Bock”. Then there’s the summer-long beer garden season during which approximately 30 beer gardens serve the traditional one litre “mass” of beer under the cooling shade of chestnut trees.
This brings us back to the Oktoberfest, terminating on Sunday of the first weekend in October, but beginning, curiously enough, 16 days earlier, in the middle of September. During these weeks, millions of visitors converge on Munich to drink millions of litres of beer in a city exuberant with the fun of the fair.
Munich has always taken beer seriously. The Munich Beer Regulations of 1487 are the oldest written food laws in the world. The laws stipulated that beer can only be brewed using barley, hops and water. Munich’s hard water is credited for giving local beer its distinctive taste
.On Brewer’s Day, in a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, Munich brewers still solemnly swear an oath to uphold the purity requirements. Brewers Day is observed in even numbered years along with the Town Foundation Festival in mid-June and is celebrated with costumed pageants, brass bands and a parade of horse-drawn brewery coaches.
At the beginning of the 20th century, 25 breweries remained in Munich. The exigencies of two world wars and market-driven mergers have since whittled the number of world-famous brands to six: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrauhaus, Lowenbrau, Paulaner and Spaten-Franziskaner.
Some smaller Munich breweries still survive and have their loyal customers. One of them is the tiny Unionsbrauerei, where the brew master, Herr Frank, offers visitors a free tour as interesting as it short. It takes about 15 minutes but you should prolong the experience with a glass of Unionsbrau and a “brotzeit” – a snack, usually of bread with ham or cheese – to go with it.
The brewery is in the cellar of an old, plain-faced house at Einsteinstrasse 42. A shiny copper vat dominates the basement drinking room in which long, bare wooden tables stretch from one end to the other.
Next to the big-bellied vat is a glass-fronted storeroom where bags of barley slouch until needed. As for the hops, Herr Frank goes to Lake Constance yearly to select them ensuring they are in perfect condition for his brew.
Garlands of hops decorate the archways leading into small side rooms in one of which are stored the oak barrels full of beer. About 75% of this beer will be served in the cellar, with the rest of the casks delivered upstairs to the restaurant or, in season, to the beer garden out back. There is no provision for selling Unionsbrau elsewhere.The brewing process takes from seven to eight hours to complete and at the Unionsbrauerei it is all done to the brew master’s own taste. No computer tells him how much of each ingredient to use or when to turn off the machinery. It’s a noisy, delicate process undertaken twice weekly, producing 1,000 litres of Unionsbrau each time.
Behind the little counter in the cellar are shelves holding glass beer mugs with pewter lids, each with a name engraved on it. These are the drinking mugs of the regular customers. You can buy your own glass tankard if you like, complete with the Unionsbrau logo, but without a lid, for about €4. The logo is of a fresh-faced young woman in a Bavarian costume. Her features are ‘modernised’ from time to time; the current model for the logo is a daughter of one of the directors.
Give the brewery two days notice of your intended visit.www.unionsbraeu.de
Tel: +49(0) 894 77 677 or Fax: +49(0) 894 705 848. Free Admission.
For a tour of one of Munich’s large breweries,
try Spaten-Franziskaner at Marsstrasse 46-48.
Tel: +49(0) 895 1220 or Fax: +49(0) 895 122 25 20.
It conducts tours in German, English, French, Spanish and Italian.