Friday, March 12, 2010
Starkbierfest in Munich
One thing that is better than coming to Munich to hang out and see the sites is coming to Munich right on time for the Starkbierfest. We had no idea before we arrived that we were rolling in at such a fortuitous time. A bigger event in Munich than Oktoberfest, the Starkbierfest is an annual celebration of strong beers - strong in taste, dark in colour, and high in alcohol content. All of the local breweries produce their own strong beer for this occasion, and this beer is only available at this exact time of year. Once our Couchsurfing host, Susi, let us in on the deal about Starkbierfest, Drew and I set out to fully partake in the merriment and we visited a number of breweries.
First stop, Hacker-Pschorr.
We stumbled upon this brewery in the middle of the Viktualsmarkt, when trying to find EXACTLY such an establishment, because Munich has been crazy cold for the past few days. We had been walking around the downtown area, and the main old square (which is gorgeous, btw), and were ready for some German gastronomy.
The Hacker-Pschorr starkbier is called The Animator. This name is a great description of this beer. 8.7% alcohol, in a 0.75L bottle, Drew and I walked in cold and sniffly, and walked out giddy and giggling. This was Drew's favourite of all that we tried. The beer is strong tasting, but nothing like strong beers I've had in the past. I would sharply contrast Animator from two popular strong beers from Quebec, la Fin du Monde and Maudite. These beers are spicy, bitter, and are bottled on lees. Animator was smooth, rich (but not creamy), with a slight aftertaste of molasses and cloves. The brewery itself is also beautiful inside. Everything is made of wood - the same wood, in a really nice blonde that manages to feel very warm and welcoming despite the huge interior space of the building.
The beer halls, we came to discover, were just as much a part of the experience of Germany as the beer we were drinking itself. They were huge and medieval-feeling - at least one hall actually being in a super old stone building that might have been a beer hall in the middle ages. The staff members all wore traditional German outfits - lederhosen and such! The men wore vests the colours of the brewery they worked for (blue for Lowenbrau, red at Hacker-Pschorr, green at Paulaner) and either normal work pants or leather short-pants with high socks. The women all wore dresses that were below the knees, the colour of the brewery, with a white frilly blouse underneath. I'm not sure what these get-ups would be like to work in, but the effect was great for the customer.
The second beer hall we visited was Paulaner.
Paulaner's starkbier was called Salvator and claimed to be the original starkbier of Munich. It was much like Hacker-Pschorr's, smoother if possible, with softer flavours of hops and spices and more of maple, and was served in steins as big as your head with alcohol content of 7.9%. We sat at the bar because the tables of the beer hall were packed, and people were laughing and talking and drinking and eating all around us. Drew and I were supposed to go with Susi and her boyfriend Marcus, but in the end they decided they were too tired to make it out, so the two of us hung out and did what we do best - laugh, talk and carry on. The table behind us must have liked us, because as they left they gave us 2/3 of a bottle of wine that they had paid for and not been able to finish. FTW!
Third brewery: Löwenbräu!
The Löwenbräu brewery is a block and half from Susi's house, and she didn't even seem to be aware of it's existence! Actually, that's not true. She knew it was there, but assumed that only old people went to it - she has lived in Munich all her life and apparently never gone to this place. She invited Drew and I to go with her and her friends to an IRISH PUB on this particular night. [Tangent: Irish pubs are everywhere. I thought of starting to take photographs of all the Irish pubs we came across in our travels, and in fact we saw at least one in every city we travelled through. They are, I've decided, the primary export of Ireland. Who goes to Germany to go to an Irish pub? Honestly, you can get Guiness anywhere, anytime. Starkbier comes but once a year.] We had intentions of being good guests and meeting Susi, but incidentally plans did not work out that way, and Drew and I were free to pursue our starkbier tasting plans.
The Löwenbräu beer was my favourite. It came in one-litre steins, which I could lift OK, but when it came to tilting the stein towards my mouth without it turning and dumping on my face I had some trouble. Two hands, two hands. This beer was of unknown alcohol content, smooth, rich, with a delicate aftertaste. It didn't have the hops flavour of the Hacker-Pschorr, but had the same clove-y aroma. You can see in the photo above that the beer had a nice clear maple-syrup colour, and all three shared that characteristic.
We decided to eat something at the Löwenbräu beer hall to go with our litres of intensely alcoholic beer, which was a great call, because we were drunk about 2/3 into the stein. We ate three kinds of sausages with sauerkraut that had chunks of ham in it, and something called 'young swine' which is a pig but not an old one and not so young as to be a piglet. Somewhere in between - say a teenager. In any case, it was ridiculously delicious and was served with a red-cabbage kraut of some kind but it was sweet-ish. Pork in Germany is amazing. And popular, I might add. When we walked past the Löwenbräu brewery today on our way home the carcass of a roasted pig was spinning in a case in front of the driveway. It was a little disturbing, and also an interesting presentation of German food culture.
Also, one of the funniest and greatest things about the Löwenbräu brewery is the motorized lion that stands outside:
He drinks his beer, rubs his tummy, roars, and then says in the deepest giant "me my mo mum" voice "LOOOOOOVVVENBRAAAAAAAEU"!