Perhaps you’ve heard me remark that Starkbierfest is my favorite of all the trips I do. Again in 2015, I would have to say it is still true. That’s not to take anything away from Oktoberfest, Frühlingsfest, the Wasen, or even Christmas Markets. But, I’ll tell you why Starkbierfest ekes out the others for a special place in my heart. "Wenn der Berg ruft," then it's time for the “Fifth Season” – Munich’s strong beer season, at Nockherberg. It follows an ancient tradition, is loads of fun and we enjoy the Doppelbock Lenten beer with an original gravity of at least 18% - around 7.5% alcohol.
I suppose it comes down to three main reasons – weather, crowds, and the festival at Löwenbräukeller.
Starkbierfest happens in the springtime, but the exact timing depends on when Lent falls on the calendar. We have had many a day where we’ve seen cold temperatures and even snow! More often than not, however, we have also seen several days of sunny, warm weather. After a long winter, the first beer garden session is psychologically very important!
The lack of huge crowds makes moving around the city and doing things spontaneously with my group much easier. The locations where the events are held are always jam packed, but it’s a smaller crowd and significantly fewer foreigners.
Lastly the party at the Löwenbräukeller is epic. In my opinion, Löwenbräu’s party far outdoes the one at Paulaner am Nockherberg. The hall is beautiful and a warm up band keeps things moving as we get our first beer and order some food. Next comes the “Miss Triumphator” contest when about 20 beautiful women get on stage and ask you to vote for them. After that, around 10 guys come up and try to dead lift a 550 pound rock. The contest is to see who can score the highest vertical lift of the rock. This year, there was a professional strongman there and he ran away with it. The contestants are pre-tested to be sure they have a chance, but one American who joined in didn’t budge it one millimeter – just goes to prove how difficult it is.
There is also a little bit of traditional dancing and even some Schuplattlern, just to remind you that this is a Bavarian party. Then, the first band exits the stage and the party band comes on. They play to the crowd and it becomes a giant sing-a-long. Everyone knows the words to all the songs. Just so the few foreigners don’t feel left out, there is also some songs in Italian, Spanish and English – Sweet Home Alabama, Sweet Caroline and Country Roads are commonly heard.
There are many people who give up beer for Lent, but these poor folks have it absolutely backwards. The legend is that the monks honor the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert by not eating anything during Lent. However, they were allowed to drink and that’s why the Paulaner Monks brewed this nourishing drink. That account makes for a great story but is highly fictionalized!
The Paulaner order came from Italy to Munch in 1627 where they lived a modest life and brewed beer for their own consumption. To supplement their revenues, they occasional sold their tasty beer. They several advantages over the other monastic communities: The Paulaner mug was bigger, their beer was cheaper, and their brewing volume far exceeded their own needs which allowed them to sell to the public.
One of the Order’s biggest festivals took place in April to honor their founder, Franz von Paula. For the festivals, the monks brewed an especially strong, dark Lenten beer which they names “Saint-Father-Beer,” or, more famously, “Salvator.” Nobles, patricians, and other dignitaries came for the festival and showered praise on the Paulaner brewmaster, Father Valentin Stephan Still, who was known to all as .” “Brother Barnabas.” Unfortunately this tradition ended in 1799 which led into the phase of “desecularization” under Napoleon. In 1806, the brewing operations were privatized and purchased by Franz Xaver Zacherl . Starkbierf reappeared finally on March 25, 1837 when he received special permission to brew the strong beer and charge a higher price for it.
Not everyone can handle the strong beer and caution must be taken. In 1844, for example, over 4,000 people were caught up in a riot in which the police had to call in the Bavarian Calvary to quell. It took them the entire night to calm things down. Nowadays, Bavarians are much more civilized and it’s unlikely you’ll see any kind of violence. However, you will definitely see more than one person who has one too many!
And, another great tradition has developed over the years: On the first night of Starkbierfest, prominent politicians descend on Nockherberg. Top comedians are employed and they spend the evening “roasting” the politicians of all parties. It’s great fun and the proceedings are televised all over Germany!
If you want to join in the merry making, our 20156 Starkbierfest trip will run March 3 – 13, 2016. In addition to visiting the amazing venues of Paulaner am Nockherberg and Löwenbräukeller, we’ll also visit Bamberg, Regensburg and Kloster Andechs Have a look on our website for more information: http://www.bayerntrips.com/tours-of-bavaria/show/starkbierfest-2016.html
In the 2015 trip, we had some very memorable moments:
On the first day of the trip, we added a visit to the Agustiner Keller where Cagey Strings put on an amazing show in the Festhalle. After a little walking tour, we went to Paulaner am Nockherberg and had excellent seats just a few rows from the band. On Sunday morning, we enjoyed excellent seats by the traditional band at the Weisses Brauhaus and held a beer tasting of the various Weissbiers produced by Schneider Weisse. Later that day, we took the ICE to Bamberg and stayed at one of the small breweries there. On Monday, we toured the Weyermann Malt Factory, enjoyed their new visitor center, did a tasting in their experimental brewery and the spent the balance of the day touring Nuremberg. Tuesday was excellent weather and we enjoye dthe many breweries of Bamberg and especially the beer garden, Spezial Keller, with its excellent outlook over Bamberg. On Wednesday we traveled to Regensburg, toured the city, and had a long lunch at the Spital Beer Garden along the Danube - absolutely gorgeous! Thursday was also amazing weather and we took a boat ride through the Danube Gorge to Kloster Weltenburg where we enjoyed their famous dark beer. Friday was Kloster Andechs and Saturday was full of history at Dachau followed by the festival at Löwenbräukeller. On Sunday, most of our guests departed, but we took one couple to the castles in Füssen and then on to Salzburg.