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July 2004

Cheer Leader

A toast to the Hofbräuhaus

The Hofbräuhaus: few admit it, but most of us love to visit this Munich institution every now and again. In summer the beer garden is an excellent destination. In winter it’s a good wild card for a fun night. And the rest of the year it’s an Oktoberfest substitute for those who just can’t live without those chaotic festival vibes. The Hofbräuhaus also has an interesting history and is, to all intents and purposes, the center of Munich’s beer history and culture, whether you are an Augustiner fan (as the author of this text is) or not.

The Hofbräuhaus was founded in 1589 by William V, Duke of Bavaria. At the time he was dissatisfied with the quality of the beer being brewed in Munich (he obviously never noticed Augustiner, producing beer down the street since 1328) and felt forced to import the stuff from Einbeck, a city in Lower Saxony. In the end, his frustrating dependence on imported beer led him to find a local solution and, on September 27, 1589, a few business-minded courtiers suggested founding a royal brewery. On the very same day William recruited Heimeran Pongraz (a brew master he plucked from the Geisenfeld Monastery) as planner, building contractor and, of course, brew master. Soon beer and money were flowing like water in the Isar.

William V’s son, Maximilian I, a man of different tastes and a more savvy, if ruthless, flare for finances and product marketing, was not much of a fan of the “brown” beer common in those times. So in 1602 he commissioned the brew master to create a lighter, finer beer to suit his fickle palette and Hofbräu was soon producing the first ever Weissbier (wheat beer). Maximilian immediately forbade all other breweries to make this type of beer and thus began what could be called the first beer monopoly in Germany. Not only did they cash in on the popularity of the drink, they also gained 400 years of experience in Weissbier brewing methods, which have certainly paid off—Hofbräu Weissbier is quite a nice bevvy.

By 1607 they couldn’t keep up with the demand for their exclusive brew and were forced to move the Hofbräuhaus (where the beer actually used to be brewed—the brewery is now in Riem) from the Alter Hof to its present location “am Platzl.” In retrospect it must be said that these boys were brewing copious quantities of beer for the time: in 1605 the brewery was already producing 1,444 hectoliters (144,400 liters) of suds a year. In 2003 16,000 hectoliters (1.6 million liters) were sold.

In 1610 Maximilian made yet another key move to secure Hofbräu’s dominant role in Munich’s beer market: he allowed their tasty brew to be sold at officially approved establishments, and not only in courtly taverns but, most importantly, in the working-man’s watering holes. Soon enough, however, the royals began to gripe about the good old days when the Starkbier (strong beer) from Einbeck was the beverage of choice and the new brew master was forced to develop something similar. In 1614 he did: Maibock. And very successful it was—a gift of 344 barrels of the tasty elixir apparently persuaded the Swedes, who had occupied Munich during the Thirty Years’ War, to abandon plans to plunder the city.

The next momentous occasion in the history of the brewery came in 1810, when Ludwig I married Theresa of Saxony-Hildburghausen on what was subsequently named the Theresienwiese (present site of the Oktoberfest). The court had requested an altogether different beverage for the event and the incumbent brew master once again came through in the clutch, this time creating what is commonly known today as Oktoberfest beer—the golden-colored, tastier beer with higher alcohol content (as most of us have noticed out there in the trenches) that is still served at the festival. In 1828 Ludwig, being a renowned “friend of the common man,” opened the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl to the public and in 1844 he even lowered the price of a Mass from 6.50 Kreuzers to 5 to make beer more affordable for soldiers and working-class folk.

In 1896 the Hofbräuhaus had to be completely rebuilt to accommodate the influx of tourists to the city, which invariably included a visit to this already internationally famous saloon. The new building opened its doors only a year later and since then it has been thriving on the unquenchable thirst of locals and tourists alike. Recently the Hofbräuhaus, in partnership with a few clever entrepreneurs, opened a Hofbräuhaus in Las Vegas, which is identical to the original here in Munich. So if you happen to find yourself in Vegas and are sick of bad American beer, now you’ll know of at least one place where you can find a good brew, even if you’re an Augustiner fan.

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