Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beer education

Ask any German person, or anyone around Germany for that matter, and they will tell you that Bavarians are a strange lot. In ‘Bayern’, as it’s called in Germany, they have their own way of life that is different to every other part of Germany. They are extremely proud of this and their traditions and Bavarians actually consider themselves Bavarian first and German second.

They have their own unique customs and traditions (the most famous that you are probably aware of is the lederhosen and durndl dress) and they even have their own words that are used in Bavaria only (Just like how down south they call a popper a ‘fruit box’ and how Kiwis call an esky a ‘chilly-bin). They have a love for the outdoors unlike any other part of Germany and have some laws (that I will mention later) that are very unique to this part of the world.
The one thing that Bavaria is most famous for and also gives it some very interesting traditions is... if you haven’t guessed it yet... BEER. Yes, Bavarians LOVE beer. The state of Bavaria is the world’s 3rd biggest consumer of beer and in Bavaria alone, they drink twice as much beer as the rest of Germany. In fact, over 30% of Europe’s breweries are within 3hrs of Munich with a total of almost 900 breweries in Bavaria. Why do I know these numbers? Well, last night, we decided to get ‘educated’ and took a brewery tour.

So where does this love of beer stem from? Well, it turns out that you can thank the Catholic Monks for all the beer in Bavaria. During the season of lent, when the monks would fast for 40 days, they were only permitted to drink what was then called ‘liquid bread’. This was a concoction of water, hops and barley that the monks brewed in their cellars. Little did they know that yeast fungus growing on the walls and ceiling would make its way into the mixture causing it to ferment and turn into beer. On average, the ‘liquid bread’ would be around 12% alcohol!

The Pope wanted to know what the monks were drinking so a barrel of beer was sent to the Pope in Rome. This trip took a few weeks and by the time the barrel reached Rome, the beer had gone off. The Pope took one sip and said it was the worst thing he had ever tasted and if the Monks wanted to drink it, they could. But they were only permitted to drink a maximum of 5L per day! Soon, monasteries popped up everywhere, each producing its own beer and this is how the love of beer was born.

Beer in Bavaria has been brewed the same way since 1487 and is also the basis for the world’s oldest food law called the Munchner Reinheitsgebot or Bavarian beer purity law. This law was established in 1516 and states that beer must be brewed in a certain way with only 3 ingredients; Water, hops and barley. In 1906, the Royal family gave permission to use wheat and the discovery of yeast meant that beer could now have up to 5 ingredients. Back home in Australia, you can buy a beer that has an expiry date that is almost 2yrs away, but the Bavarian beer purity law prevents the use of preservatives and this ‘real’ beer only lasts up to 6 months. Fortunately, most brews are consumed within a week!

The most well-known celebration of beer in Bavarian and the entire world, is a festival in September called Oktoberfest. It marks the celebration of Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese in October 1810. It was originally a 2 week celebration that ended in an exciting horse race. Ludwig decided that this celebration should occur every year and after 50 years, the horse race disappeared and the festival became more about beer. The celebrations were moved to September to take advantage of the warmer weather and today it is the biggest festival in the world. At Ludwig’s wedding, 35000 people attended and last year, over 6.4million people came with 1.3million litres of beer consumed in the first 2 days!

If you are planning on going to Oktoberfest, don’t expect to sample beers from all over the region. Only the top 6 beers in Bavaria are served at Oktoberfest with the most popular being Augustinerbrau which makes up 72% of all beer consumed in Bavaria. Unfortunately, you can’t just brew your own beer in your back yard and sell it at Oktoberfest. To become a ‘brewmaster’ in Bavaria is a 5 year course with the most renowned school being just outside of Munich.

Our beer tour ended at the famous Hofbrauhaus, the Royal family’s beer house that was opened to the public in 1828. Today, it is the 2nd most visited place in Germany to drink beer with 3400 seats and serving over 12000L of beer per day! The best part is, they only serve beer by the litre!  

When it first opened to the public, people came so often that they decided to install lockers to leave your stein or mug in. Today, there are 650 of these lockers and it only costs around 3 Euro per year to have one. Problem is, the only way to get one, is to have it handed down through your family for the last 200 years! In fact, even to become a ‘regular’ takes 15 years and only after that can you reserve a table!

So that is a crash course in beer in Bavaria. I will leave you with my most favourite law... it is legislated that you are allowed to consume 1L of beer per day at work. Generally, if you drink any more than this, they say just don’t let it affect your job. In fact, at the BMW factory, they have beer vending machines in the hallways!

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