The Baiuvarii were a fierce tribe. When the Roman Empire began to fade the Germanic tribes beat the soldiers south out of Regensburg. In the Gothic craze of the second millennium church building became a craze. Monasteries sprouted and began brewing beer.
Then they went Baroque and Rococco with the influence of papal Rome. Fierce independence and the beauty of Baroque are what makes Bavaria…that and Bavarian beer, of course.
Bavarian independence took a blow when outsiders Inbev bought Munich’s Spaten brewery and Heineken bought into Paulaner/Hacker-Pschorr and Kulmbacher. Business is tough for German breweries: consolidation is the order of the day and traditional beer is having a hard time holding the attention of the young drinkers. The Bavarians are looking to reestablish their presence in the burgeoning American specialty beer market, in the wake of its love affair with Belgian beers and flirtations with Czech pilseners. They’re also not happy with beer from other countries mascarading as Bavarian beer. They’ve figured they’ve been asleep at the wheel long enough and this was really the impetus behind the Bavarian Brewers Federation invitation to immerse a dozen or so American beer writers in Bavarian beer and culture for a week in early December.
The Christmas season is festive in Germany. Christmas markets are set up everywhere and the cold is kept at bay with Gluh Wein, spiced hot (mulled) wine, which can sometimes include beer. Munich was home base for the first couple of days with visits to Spaten, Paulaner/
Hacker Pschorr and Augustiner. These are three of the big six breweries that have dominated the Munich beer scene (and the Oktoberfest) for years, operating in the 1800s kind of like a cartel, fixing prices and carving up real estate. Augustiner may turn out to have the best chance for longevity as it still privately-held with no plans for expansion outside its immediate area and no shareholders to satisfy.
Lunch was served at the Bavaria Brau, a new "U.S.-styled" brewpub (a Hacker/Pschorr property) which holds 2,500 and is full to the gills when people flock to the Wiesn Fields for Oktoberfest across from which it sits. Our city tour took us past the brewers museum, the first of many on the trip and a taste of Gluh Wein and German Christmas cookies.
We made the obligatory stop at the Hofbrau house, a German institution, now owned by the state which claims to have invented Weisse beer. The breweries all make their own claims as the "original" something, and within the defined limits, they are accurate. A hearty dinner of roasted venison was on the menu. U.S. editions of the Hofbrau House have appeared in Las Vegas and Newport, KY, with reportedly more to follow.
On the road there was snow on the ground; the skies, overcast at first, cleared later in the week as we plied our way back and forth through hallertau hopfields and the rolling hills of Bavaria’s Franconia district. The breweries we visited gave us a patchwork quilt of contrasts; the hosts were generous and kept our bus well-stocked with beer and our bellies full of pork. One day, a visit to Ayinger, one of the most green and high eco-tech breweries in Germany was immediately contrasted with a visit to the ancient monastery of Andechs, something of a juxtaposition itself as a monastical tourist destination. That in turn, was contrasted with a visit to the cloisters of Weltenburg, less tourists but more merry monks.
Another day, the university atmosphere of Weihenstephan contrasted with the blue-color industrialness of Franconia’s St. Georgien brewery and its killer keller bier. In Bamberg, the small beechwood-fired maltings of Schlenkerla were contrasted with the giant, industrial revolution era, specialty maltings of Weyermann.
Further into Franconia it was the beer museums that offered a contrast — from the catacombs of Maisels in Bieruth to the state of the art displays at Kulmbach.
Built in 1999, this brewery is state of the art and has won awards for its eco-mindedness. Light streams in through its huge glass windows, while visitors stream in through the open doors. The brewery has a goal of welcoming 30,000 visitors per year. Lunch at the brewery-owned hotel in Aying was a welcome relief from the standard porcine fare — trout and chicken paired with Ayinger’s wonderful Weissebier, seasonal Winterbrau and the classic Celebrator Doublebock. Owner Franz Inselkammer and his wife Angela joined us in our private room where the walls were adorned with hunting scenes and deer skulls (Jackelopes? — yes, they have that tradition in Germany too). Ayinger’s latest award was the Golden Beer Idea presented by brewers and hoteliers associations in recognition of its presentation of Bavarian beer specialties within the "Aying general concept," which includes not only the modern brewery, but also the hotel and other historical buildings in Aying.