“Beer garden” is a term that we toss around pretty freely in the United States. We usually associate a beer garden as some small patio area where people are allowed to drink outside a venue or restaurant. We’re sorry, but your puny patio does not do justice to a real German beer garden.
Some hundred years ago, beer gardens in America actually mirrored those in Germany (as German immigrants set up a few beer gardens to stay in touch with their old heritage in the new world). However, after the Prohibition, America never got back on track with how to set up a proper beer garden. Here at Oktoberfesthaus, we want to pay homage to those German immigrants who graced our country with such a brilliant idea. Read on to find out more about the history of beer gardens, what you can find in today’s versions, and some of our favorite gardens of Munich.
Beer Garden History Beer gardens originated in early 19th century Germany. The original purpose of a beer garden was to be an extension of a brewery. Because of the fire hazards caused by the overheating brewing equipment, a ban was placed upon breweries so they could not brew in the summer. Breweries responded by digging cellars aside the Isar River bank to store beer and keep it cool in summer during the fermentation process. The brewers would cover the ground with gravel and plant trees in order to keep the beer shaded.
Eventually, Bavarian King Ludwig granted brewers the right to sell beer right from their brewing spots. The cellars then became a place where beer was not only fermented, but also served. The breweries would set up tables and benches right by the cellar and designate it as the brewery’s “beer garden.” At the time, it was illegal for the breweries to sell food, so patrons had to bring their own. This ban would also be lifted and beer gardens became a hybrid of beer-serving areas and restaurants.
What You Can Find in Today’s German Beer Gardens
Today, beer gardens are still in full force throughout Germany and other surrounding areas. Although their trees were originally planted to protect the beer from the sun, they now shade the customers who come to enjoy a cool beer by the river. You can also expect to find all sorts of local German foods and brews when you visit a German beer garden. Here are a few examples:
5 Popular Foods at a German Beer Garden
“Schnitzel” - Image Courtesy of Chris Zielecki on Flickr
Bratwurst: Grilled pork sausage traditionally served with mustard. Order one. You know what to do.
Pretzels: Germany is the birthplace of pretzels. Enjoy the original German recipes used to make the most authentic pretzels in the world.
Schnitzel: Boneless meat that is breaded and fried. Although “wiener schnitzel” might also be the name of a franchised American hotdog joint, it’s actually just a veal cutlet in Germany. Weren’t expecting that, were you?
Spittle: Egg-noodles tossed in butter, usually served as a side dish or snack.
Obatzda: Bavarian cheese spread made to accompany beer (the way French cheese is made to accompany wine). It’s served with rye bread or Bavarian soft pretzels, but you should really have it with a beer.
5 Popular Beers at a German Beer Garden Hefeweizen:
Wheat beer originated from Bavaria. It’s sweet, cloudy, holds average alcohol content, and some yeast sediment. Hefeweizen is usually flavored with fruit, coriander, or orange peel.
Pilsner: Lager beer that’s golden, bitter, and has a light citrus flavor. Pilsner is also hoppy and therefore has a thick, coarse taste.
Kusch: Clear pale ale with noticeably less bitterness than the pilsner. Originated from Cologne where it is still typically brewed, Kusch has a light body, medium alcohol content, and grape malt flavor.
Dunkel: Dark amber lager native to Munich. Dunkel is malty, but smooth without heaviness. Dunkel is from Munich and therefore a popular brew during Oktoberfest.
Märzen: Dark lager with medium alcohol content and full body. Märzenbier literally translates to “March beer”, as this was a beer typically brewed in March so it could be kept in cool storage during summer fermentation.
5 Popular Beer Gardens in Germany
“Hirschgarten” – Image Courtesy of Tom Maier on Flickr
Augustiner Keller: Augustiner Keller is the oldest beer garden in Munich. Established in 1812, it is run by the Augustiner Bräu brewery. In the garden’s early days, it was known for owning a bull that would bring beer up from the cellar. Today, this remains one of the most famous beer gardens in the world.
Hirschgarten: The Hirschgarten is the biggest beer garden in the world, able to seat up to 8,000 people. “Hirschgarten” literally translates to “deer garden”, as it is located directly next to a deer enclosure.
Hofbräuhaus: Though technically not an outdoor beer garden, the Hofbräuhaus is a historical precursor for the beer garden structure. In the late 16th century, the Duke of Bavaria ordered a brewery to be built near his royal household. This would become the Hofbräuhaus, the private drinking yard for the duke. Today, this is a popular public drinking hall that can fit over 1,000 people.
Aumeister: In the early 19th century, this area of Hirschau Park (located in the English Garden) was used as a waterhole for the duke’s royal hunting company. Today, it has been transformed into a gigantic beer garden.
Chinesischer Turm: Just outside of the 82-foot Chinese Tower is the second largest beer garden in Munich. It can hold up to 7,000 people and also offers self-service for quicker and less-expensive options.
These five names are enormously popular, but they don’t begin to brush the surface when it comes to all the beer gardens available in Munich and Germany. While Oktoberfest may occur for two weeks per year, these gardens are available for your enjoyment while the weather is still good (usually from May to October). Be sure to pop by one of these gardens during your Munich visit.