Munich is the city of beers: Beyond the Munich classics, a lively, creative and amicable craft beer scene is thriving. We explored five outlets and talked to the passionate brewers who run them.
In Munich, beer is sheer pleasure: a wheat beer after a hike or a Helles lager beer with a hearty snack in the beer garden. This summer, we decided to do a Munich craft beer tasting. Joining me as the author were my buddy Steffi, Peter, a colleague and beer aficionado, and Frank, our photographer – all sharing in the joy in this subject!
We explored the following craft beer pubs – feel free to savour each article on its own:
As Peter, Frank and I taste a first round of his ales in the tap room of his brewery in Maxvorstadt district, Paul Higgens tells us that he taught himself the craft of brewing. The pub is petite and original. Striking detail: A sign at the counter commemorating the one-man regulars' table of a certain Simon, whose tireless efforts helped the pub open in the spring of 2022.
The walls are adorned with artwork made by a friend from vintage hiking maps. His two passions are also combined in the Higgins Ale Works logo: Hops blossoming in the profile of a hiking boot's footprint.
His profession as an engineer, the brewery and the pub leave him little free time, yet he recently managed to once again embark on a beautiful tour from Lenggries to the Seekarspitze peak and over the Ochsenkamp summit.
Paul started brewing 30 years ago in his home country. Hailing from New Jersey, USA, he can definitely tell the story of how craft beers came to be: In 1966, Mississippi became the last state to abolish prohibition, the ban on alcohol, after almost 50 years. Actually, this would be reason for a cheerful toast to brighter days – had it not been for the abysmal quality of the mass-produced beers.
„Munich beer is very good and, most importantly, budget-friendly, but I truly missed the variety.“
In protest, more and more Americans began brewing their own beer in the garage. This marked the birth of a movement that Paul joined in the early 1990s with his first brewing experiments. Craft beer has been a norm in the U.S. for some time now. You can order it in any pub or restaurant, no matter how small.
In Munich, it's a completely different story. When Paul and his wife Jen came to the Bavarian capital for professional reasons in 2003, they discovered a relatively small beer scene. “Munich beer is very good and, most importantly, budget-friendly”, Paul says, “but I truly missed the variety.”
After they decided to settle down in Munich, he first brewed his ales at home and from 2015, he moved his operation to the basement of a former bakery in Maxvorstadt district. Paul laughs as he recalls how his wife nudged him toward a rental offer, to put an end to the brewing in the kitchen.
What started as a hobby turned into a thriving business that gained momentum, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, they expect to brew 8,000 litres to serve in their own tap room and to supply the pubs in Munich (exclusively) with their “Ale Works,“ produced according to the Bavarian Purity Law.
„Craft Beer is at least as intricate as a fine wine. Pour it into an elegant glass, savour it slowly, and allow ample time to enjoy and explore its diverse aromas and flavours.“
Because of the special hop varieties and rising prices in this market, you have to dig a little deeper into your pocket for his creations like the Pioneer Cream Ale (light, with French hops), his Glory Daze Grisette Saison (citrusy summer beer with Belgian hops, spelt malt and a touch of Amarillo and Centennial hops) or the Secret Idahoe (slightly bitter, with balanced acidity).
Great taste comes at a price. As beer connoisseur Peter professionally lets the beer grace his palate, he picks up a hint of cardamom. That's pretty close to the mark – smoky, with a subtle clove undertone would be another way to characterise this style.
Paul believes that craft beer is more than just a thirst-quencher; it's at least as intricate as a fine wine and should be treated as such. “Pour it into an elegant glass, savour it slowly, and allow ample time to enjoy and explore its diverse aromas and flavours,“ he advises.
Résumé: The tap room captivates with its fantastic location nestled in the shadow of the huge Spaten Brewery. Employees from Google and Apple enjoy meeting here for an after-work beer as much as students or touring philharmonic musicians. Tourists drop by especially during Oktoberfest time. Tip: In autumn, Paul will again harvest the grapes next to the tap room and craft his delightful “grape and grain style“ drink, a unique fusion of wine and beer. Pink in colour and bubbly like champagne.
Higgins Ale Works, Karlstrasse 122
Another great spot: Tap-House, Rosenheimerstrasse 108
No. Becoming a brewmaster was not Annalena Ebner's childhood dream. However, when it came to choosing her career path later on, she had a distinct vision. She wanted to enter the food industry and focus on a product that does not contain inferior ingredients and can be packaged sustainably. That's how she ended up brewing beer at Paulaner Bräuhaus in Munich's central Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt district.
In addition to its large brewery, Paulaner maintains brew pubs around the world modelled after the Bräuhaus at Kapuzinerplatz (place) in Munich. Alongside the regular beers, they also offer a selection of special craft beers – in line with the Bavarian purity law, of course.
„Certainly, yeast and malt also contribute significantly to a well-balanced taste. But as soon as it gets exotic, it's definitely due to the hops.“
She briefly explains the brewing process to me. It takes about six weeks from the initial brew, which she concocts in the copper-coloured kettles in the guest room of the Paulaner Bräuhaus, before it is ready for serving. While the fermented beer consists of only four ingredients, it offers limitless possibilities for altering the beer's flavour and create new varieties.
In addition to a naturally cloudy pale beer (called Zwickl in the brewery) and a wheat beer, Annalena crafts a third type of “craft beer“ according to her own recipes. During the summer months, her “Vitali” craft is served, a wheat beer infused with a citrus note from Citra hops and 6.5 percent alcohol.
Annalena tells us that craft beer breweries tend to play with hops. She says that there is an abundance of brews with almost astonishing flavours, ranging from mango and passion fruit to citrus and pepper to notes reminiscent of liquorice and glacier candy. Certainly, yeast and malt also contribute significantly to a well-balanced taste. “But as soon as it gets exotic,“ says Annalena, “it's definitely due to the hops“.
It might sometimes be too exotic for some guests, who have only ever ordered the usual options and are sceptical about a beer with a scent of grapefruit and passion fruit. In the ambiance of a traditional Bavarian pub, craft beer is just not a guaranteed choice. There is still plenty of room for persuasion for her on this topic. With her special beers, she makes a beeline for the regulars' tables and has already made many a stubborn guest rethink.
Résumé: For me, Vitali has a great taste. I would even dare to call it one of my newly discovered favourite craft beers. The tiny brewery is really worth a visit, so I recommend a tour of Annalena's empire at Paulaner Bräuhaus.
Paulaner Bräuhaus at Kapuzinerplatz, Kapuzinerplatz 5
Another great spot: Paulaner am Nockherberg, Hochstrasse 77
Upon entering the snug bar on Dreimühlenstrasse in the Schlachthofviertel district, you hear “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop – one of my favourite party tracks that always gets me grooving. This immediately wins me over to the place. Before my visit, I had read on the website that “True Brew is built on the love for excellent beer, friendship and adventure”. So, my first question was about the interplay of these three elements.
Andi, Luis and Lucas have been friends since early childhood. They grew up together in Middle Franconia and their bond has remained unbroken over the years. According to Andi, they always had a passion for the great outdoors. During a snowboarding weekend together, they came to the realisation that they were each “pretty content“ with their lives but still felt they hadn't quite reached their desired destinations.
The snowboard and surfboard now adorn the walls. I wonder if they still get to do any sports.
So, they put all their eggs in one basket and founded True Brew in the Schlachthofviertel district in 2019. Luis is the brewer, Andi studied business administration and Lucas trained as a chef and hotel manager. The snowboard and surfboard now adorn the walls. I wonder if they still get to do any sports.
For reasons of space constraints, the beer is not brewed on site but in neighbouring breweries. However, they manage everything themselves, from procuring the raw materials to bottling. Around 1000 hectolitres are produced per year. The beer flows from decorative copper kettles and is also delivered to selected craft beer pubs, including in Berlin and Hamburg, as well as to various other European countries.
In the meantime, they have opened a second pub in Munich, Andi reports. The new Lagerhaus is more traditionally oriented and offers lager beer and Bavarian cuisine, while True Brew specialises in “craftier options“ and serves homemade pizza.
„The Joyride is packed with hops, but still goes down well. Due to its low alcohol content, you can easily enjoy this beer for a whole evening.“
The beers on tap are classics of the American style with hop-accentuated, aromatic beers such as India Pale Ale. A distinction is made between the West Coast Style, which is rather dry and quite bitter and New England Style, which focuses on tropical, fruity aromas.
Joyride has been a top seller right from the start and the guests love it. It's packed with hops, but still goes down well. Andi mentions that due to its low alcohol content, you can easily enjoy this beer for a whole evening. In Germany, it received the “Ale Beer of the Year 2022“ award at the prestigious Meininger's International Craft Beer Awards. Andi only brings this up in response to my curiosity about the numerous framed certificates next to the bar. Pretty modest of him.
By the way, for takeaway and shipping, they only pack their beers in cans. This helps preserve the beer's freshness and aroma. In Andi's point of view, the eco-balance is also right, especially when you consider the time-intensive production and cleaning of the bottles. I encountered this argument several times on my tour of the scene. And their cans here are really exceptionally beautiful: My Joyride features a camper van against a seaside sunset.
Résumé: If you live in the Dreimühlenstrasse neighbourhood, True Brew is probably your first stop after returning from holiday. But many tourists also come here, especially during the Oktoberfest, because the craft beer scene in Munich is still very informal and small. Just before we leave, a friend enters and jests, “Are you guys busy sharing tips for the best spots in my district again?“ Yes, indeed, we are.
True Brew, Dreimühlenstrasse 25
Another great spot: Frisches Bier, Thalkirchner Strasse 53
The tomato plants outside the window overlook a backyard in a tranquil side street in Munich's Au district. Inside, there are oak floors, dark green panelled walls and rustic brewery-style furniture. Shortly after 5 pm, almost all tables are occupied. The guests are a mixture of people with and without tattoos, some in hard rock T-shirts, others in checked tops. All together, they make a tremendous soundscape. Behind the bar, there are a dozen taps from which the in-house beer specialities flow. In the entrance area, next to the brewing kettle, we spot a pair of rubber boots and a Bobby car, presumably the future brewer’s vehicle.
„Everyone enjoys beer, whether they're wearing a suit or have a mohawk, or whether they've just turned 16 and can finally partake in beer drinking.“
Today, my friend Steffi and I have an appointment here with BewsLi, aka Ben Saller. I think he has the most distinctive name of all craft beer pubs in town. When I first read it (Bruce Lee, ha-ha) it made me burst with laughter. A painting of Ben graces the beer coasters, depicting him seated in front of his brewing kettle, wearing the authentic Vietnamese rice hat from back home.
But that's it for the advertising. There is no shop. No vibrant labels. No bottles. The beer is served exclusively from the keg. “I fill beer connoisseurs, not bottles”, Ben asserts with his characteristic seriousness. For him, enjoying beer on site is the most natural and sustainable way to savour the brew. He does not particularly like the term “craft beer” and primarily sees himself as a local supplier of hand-crafted quality beers and thus as the antithesis to the mega-breweries.
„I fill beer connoisseurs, not bottles.“
Franconian breweries are his role model. After completing his training as a master brewer, he embarked on the project of opening his own brewery pub in Munich. Target group: From those who may just start drinking beer to those who can't drink beer any more. Initially, this seemed a bit vague to the banker, but eventually Ben was able to persuade him of his business plan. “Everyone enjoys beer,“ Benjamin explains, “whether they're wearing a suit or have a mohawk, or whether they've just turned 16 and can finally partake in beer drinking.“
In the BrewsLi, drinks referred to as beer adhere to the Reinheitsgebot – the German Purity Law. Ben serves his interpretations of classic beer styles, such as Helles, Weissbier and Pilsners on tap. When it comes to craft beers, guests benefit from the youthful host's love of experimentation and curiosity. His declared goal is to have brewed and served all existing beer styles at some point. After all, he says, beer is a millennia-old beverage that has developed in many different directions worldwide. His motto is: “Life is simply too good to always brew the same beer.“
Among his specialities are a wood-aged beer, or, occasionally, a sour drink with fruit (which, naturally, isn't called beer). You can sample a selection of his specialities on a tasting tray. He recommends his Rhode Island Iced Tea, which, as the name suggests, is far from the taste of conventional beers. We take a deep sniff into the glass, trying to discern its unique aroma. It might take some getting used to, but we appreciate the beer, even Steffi, who usually prefers wine. Or maybe it's just because of that.
Résumé: BrewLi is a down-to-earth, completely unpretentious place with the potential to become a regular pub. But one shouldn't jump to conclusions: There are some people in the Munich craft beer scene who claim that BrewsLi makes the quirkiest beers of all!
BrewsLi, Taubenstrasse 2
Another great spot: HopDog, Auenstrasse 100
Our last stop is Giesinger Bräu, located in the immediate vicinity of the Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche (church) in the Giesing district. The brewery has its roots in the haze of the old parish church in the neighbourhood where everything took place – from the first batch of raspberry beer brewed in a garage back in 2005 to the opening of the present-day brewery with an annual output of 35,000 hectolitres. In 2019, the brewery expanded to include Plant 2 in the north of Munich. To infuse a sense of home, they put up Giesing signs at the new plant site.
„We are the smallest brewery among the big ones, but the biggest among the small ones.“
Meanwhile, the brewery restaurant at the Giesing site alone has room for 200 guests inside and another 140 or so on the terrace. The so-called “Schänke“ regularly hosts concerts and events. We are lucky enough to get a cool spot right within the brewhouse with a view of the beer kettles. Here we meet Martin Jäger, whose responsibilities include purchasing and events at Giesinger Bräu. Giesinger Bräu focuses on upscale Bavarian pub culture. Martin buys fish, meat, vegetables, and eggs directly from local producers with a strong focus on regional and sustainable sourcing.
We order the highly recommended Obatzta (garnished cream cheese) and salmon served with green tagliatelle pasta and chanterelles The waiter suggests a Märzen beer to go with it, which he personally recommends as his favourite beer. Martin himself enjoys half a litre of the brand-new non-alcoholic beer from their range. The Giesingers offer between 10 and 14 types of beer, continually adding new ones. They maintain their passion for experimentation with a small, high-quality craft beer selection while a traditional festival beer is also slowly maturing in the kettles.
They maintain their passion for experimentation with a small, high-quality craft beer selection while a traditional festival beer is also slowly maturing in the kettles.
Martin has just finished setting up the “Long Night of Breweries“ in the new Plant 2. For one weekend, several breweries from Munich and the surrounding area have invited guests to sample their beers with good music and food. “We are the smallest brewery among the big ones, but the biggest among the small ones,“ Martin declares.
Having started small themselves, they are now reaching out to fellow microbreweries, returning a bit of the solidarity they once received during times of financial constraints. Because there is one thing you have to know: Giesinger Bräu holds the record for the most money raised via crowdfunding in the food industry in Germany.
Résumé: Those who visit Giesinger Bräu tend to go for the traditional: Classic Münchener Helles, Weissbier, Märzen or Dunkel. But craft beers like Lemondrops (a triple beer, heavily hopped with Lemondrop hops) or Sternhagel (a bock beer with quite a high alcohol content), as well as noble beers aged in cognac or whiskey barrels (which took some getting used to for Steffi and me, while Frank was thrilled) also have a large following. Giesinger beer is also available at a stand-up counter at the Viktualienmarkt (market) in the heart of the old town, with plans to expand to Sendling and Maxvorstadt districts shortly.
Giesinger Bräu, Martin-Luther-Strasse 2
Another great spot: Lagerhaus, Humboldtstrasse 20