Munich is the beer city of the world. The guide, Rudi Muschler, knows a great deal about the secrets of the popular drink, and what role it plays in the city.
Mr Muschler, when was your first encounter with Bavarian beer?
As a boy, I was often allowed to enjoy a small light beer from the ‘Gassenschänke’ (a part of a tavern or inn) with my father at the weekends. I set off with an empty stein and then had to balance it on the way home so that I did not spill it. As an eight-year-old, carrying the heavy glass up to our home on the fourth-floor was quite a challenge.
Excuse me, but what is a ‘Gassenschänke’?
Of course, you would not know these anymore (he laughs). The ‘Gassenschänke’ was usually connected to a normal tavern or inn and ceased to exist in the late 1960s. They usually had a small separate entrance and mainly beer was sold through a small window.
... and then?
Well, they were replaced by the beverage markets of today. However, in the post-war era, nobody carried a six-pack of beer home with them, for the simple reason that, for the normal citizen, it would have just been too expensive.
Did you try some beer as a boy?
Oh yes, of course! As a young boy, I tried the froth – it was delicious! Beer, my home country and Bavaria – for me, they belong together.
Beer and Munich – has it always been a successful pairing?
Not at the beginning of the city's history. In Munich, a lot of wine was drunk until the 16th century. In fact, Herzog (Duke) Wilhelm V even cultivated wine at Wilhelmsburg, one of the former four residences in Munich. The climate was a bit warmer, but the wine was really not very good. Apparently, it was said that: “Vinegar is produced cheaper elsewhere”.
When did beer’s hour strike?
At the time of the city’s foundation in the mid-12th century, beer was brewed in the private breweries for their own use – this was then taken over by monasteries and the successive Munich breweries. A challenging task, because the production of beer is much more difficult than that of wine, for example. One has to work very hygienically, otherwise the beer fails – in addition, one also works with fire which can be dangerous. At the beginning of the 15th century, becoming a master brewer was a skilled occupation for which training was required. There was a guild and therewith norms and rules which made brewing safer.
What else was dangerous other than a threatening conflagration?
In the past, people worked with all kinds of flavour enhancers, for example, henbane or belladonna (deadly nightshade). If too much was added, the intoxicating effect was enormous, and it could sometimes quickly become life-threatening.
“In the past, the brewer worked with all kinds of flavour enhancers, for example, henbane or belladonna (deadly nightshade). If too much was added, the intoxicating effect was enormous.”
Was this the reason for the adoption of the Purity Law?
Oh yes. The Munich Purity Law of 1487 was, if you like, the first food legislation in the world. In 1516, it was extended by Wilhelm IV to cover all of Bavaria. It banned all additives from beer and limited the ingredients to barley, hops and water. Those who did not respect this law were known to have been drowned in their own beer barrel!
Thank goodness times have changed!
This form of punishment only existed during the Renaissance. However, the Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law), which was a premise of Bavaria, was only extended to the whole of Germany with the founding of the Weimar Republic. Only in 1987 was it fundamentally relaxed following a decision by the European Court of Justice which made it possible for foreign producers, who did not brew in accordance with the German Purity Law, to sell their beer as such (with an appropriate notice) here in Germany.
Did people fear that Munich would be flooded by ‘impure beers’?
Yes, they did, but this fear was unfounded, as it quickly turned out. The consumption of beer not brewed under the Purity Law is still less than one percent.
Keyword beer consumption: Where in Munich is your personal favourite place for a good beer?
I love the beer garden on the Viktualienmarkt (food market). The chestnut trees, the splashing fountains, all the surrounding stands – it is so idyllic. It never gets boring either, as the beer which is served is always different.
“About 450 regular guests have their own locker for the individually-decorated steins – a real beer lover’s story.”
The Viktualienmarkt and its beer garden are leased by the municipal department of the state capital of Munich. Naturally, one did not want to favour or discriminate with this site and thus the beers of the six major Munich breweries are offered alternately. These are Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Spaten and, of course, the popular Augustiner – all breweries which are also represented at the Oktoberfest.
How is this done?
In the cellar below the beer garden are four large stainless steel tanks, each holding 10,000 litres – when they are empty, it is the next brewery’s turn. How long this takes varies, depending on the weather and the tourists’ thirst!
Bottom-fermented beer used to be brewed only in the winter and was then stored in the beer cellars. There were about 50 of these beer cellars, most of them on the high banks of the Isar in Haidhausen; these were proper tunnels or caves which were up to 15 metres underground. At some point, the breweries came up with the idea to sell their beer right there, and because beer makes you hungry, a meal was also offered and sold there at the same time.
“The tradition of bringing your own food from home to then eat in the beer garden still lives on.”
I imagine that the neighbouring inn-keepers will not have liked that.
You are right! The new beer gardens quickly became very popular, and to help balance out the situation, it was forbidden for them to sell food they had prepared in their own kitchens. Only food or bread which the guests brought with them was allowed. Although this no longer applies, the tradition of bringing your own food from home to then eat in the beer garden still lives on.
How much beer is actually consumed every day in the city’s largest beer hall, the world-famous Hofbräuhaus?
On really busy days, that is 200 hectolitres, i.e. about 20,000 litres! One could not manage that much on the Viktualienmarkt! (he laughs)
Tilmans, Giesinger, Richelbräu – craft beers are gaining ground in Munich. What do you think of this trend?
The new appreciation of artisan or craft beers has crossed the pond to us from the USA. The beers taste great and are a bit more expensive. I drink them more for enjoyment – it is a bit like with wine. To quench my thirst, I like to stay with the good, substantial and traditional beers of the old and new Munich breweries.
What types of guests actually book the tours? Are there any tendencies or trends?
I often act as a guide for clubs or groups of men from all over Germany. Again and again, I have locals who already know a lot about their city and yet still want to get to know more of the beer culture. In a sense, the icing on the cake in the history of the city.
“Again and again, I have locals who already know a lot about their city and yet still want to get to know more of the beer culture. In a sense, the icing on the cake in the history of the city.”
What are the stops which should not be missing from a beer tour?
Well, there is, of course, the Maßkrugtresore in the Hofbräuhaus. Here, about 450 regular guests have their own locker for the individually- decorated steins – a real beer lover’s story; then there is the Beer and Oktoberfest Museum, which is one of the oldest Stadthäuser (town houses) in Munich, it houses a small, old Weissbier (wheat beer) brewery as a museum piece. Here, the brewing process can be explained very clearly.
Is everyone drunk after the tours?
That really is not the idea (he laughs) – it is not intended as a pub crawl. Naturally, we also try different beers upon request, sometimes even accompanied by a beer sommelier. However, first and foremost, it is about Munich’s beer history – what the guests do after the two hours is, of course, entirely up to them (he laughs).
Also interesting: The Hofbräuhaus is probably the most famous pub in the world. Still, we have found seven things you may not have known.