Oktoberfest is one of Germany's most popular festivals, attracting revellers from all over the world to come to Munich to enjoy a stein or two. Part of the reason the festival is so enduringly popular is down to the sheer passion felt by Germans for this golden beverage. The last time I was at Oktoberfest, I got to wondering just how far back this love affair goes, and where else in Germany you can head to for a decent ale.
Oktoberfest in Munich
A little bit of history
Beer is one of the oldest prepared beverages in existence, and can be dated back as far as the Neolithic era, at around 9500 BC. As far as its link to Germany goes, that can be traced back to about 3000 BC, with its spread through Europe by Germanic tribes. These early examples of beer would have been quite different from what you find in the pub nowadays, and would have included all sorts of ingredients such as fruits, honey and herbs, but most importantly, they weren't brewed with hops.
Hops didn't make it into beer production until around perhaps the eighth or ninth centuries, with official records clearly mentioning them in 1067, by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen in Germany. Beer was largely produced on a small, domestic scale for personal consumption, and would have resembled something much closer to ales than the clear, sparkling lagers for which Germany has become renowned. It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century that large-scale production really took off, and by the end of the 19th century, domestic manufacture had all but ceased.
Today, the beer industry is a truly global business, with billions of litres consumed around the world each year. In Germany, there are over 1,200 breweries located around the country, producing 40 different types of beer for almost 5,000 beer brands. It's interesting to know that a law brought in by William IV, Duke of Bavaria in 1516, is still in place, outlining that the only three ingredients to be used in the production of beer are water, hops and barley-malt. So, with such a vast array of choice brewed to impeccably high, age-old standards, you must now be wondering where you can best enjoy some of Germany's finest examples of beer.
Munich isn't the only place is Bavaria that knows how to brew a good beer. In fact, around half of all Germany's breweries can be found in the region, giving you plenty of scope for extending your tour further afield. A particularly worthwhile pit stop, in my opinion, is the town of Bamberg. If you head to their tourist office, you can pick up tickets for a self-guided brewery tour of the Franconian Brewery Museum, which you can enjoy in your own time. Plus, you'll also get beer tokens and a stein glass thrown in for the cost of your ticket!
The scenic town of Bamberg
For a day out in the autumn sun, make your way over to the nearby National Park Hohe Tauern, there you can wander past trickling streams and admire the epic scenery, plus you can even bring along your dog.
For food, or a place to sleep, head over to the small town of Grosskircheim; a lovely place for an evening meal is the cosy Hotel Castle Host, which offers delicious cuisine with a south Tyrolean twist.
Although Bavaria really is the heart of the beer country, there are a couple of notable examples of breweries to be found elsewhere. Perhaps one of the most recognisable brands you will see is that of Becks up in northern Germany. Tours of this world-famous brewery last about three hours, and include a mini draught course as well as a delicious tasting session with pretzel sticks, known as Laugenstangen - delicious.
Inside the Becks brewery, Bremen
Driving to Germany with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle
One of the most convenient ways to enjoy a beer tour of Germany is by car. It gives you the freedom to go where you want, and also to pick up as many souvenirs along the way as you wish - especially as there are no baggage restrictions with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle! It takes just 35 minutes to cross the Channel from the UK to Calais, and then a little over three hours' drive to cross the German border. Before you know it, you'll be in the heart of Bavaria, clinking steins with the locals - Prost!
Beer sampler © Quinn Dombrowski
Oktoberfest in Munich © Polybert49
Bamberg Altes Rathaus © Qole Pejorian
Inside the Becks brewery, Bremen © Marta Red