What began as a mere desire to visit Oktoberfest in Munich blossomed into a week long tour of Bavaria, the southernmost German state. The travel plan was originally hatched with a college buddy, but when he could no longer commit to the trip, I remained steadfast in my desire to go to Oktoberfest. Fortunately I have a girlfriend who also loves traveling and was interested in a Germany trip. When we found out two of her friends were already going to Oktoberfest, our commitment was cemented, and we began making plans for our trip.
No trip can begin without at least a little boozing. Our early morning flight did not stop us from grabbing a Bloody Mary in New Orleans and then a very-good-for-an-airplane-beer Lagunitas 12th of Never Ale on the first leg to DC. The flight across the pond to Germany featured a couple beers, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to begin Oktoberfest festivities with an American flare. Sam Adams Oktoberfest is pretty representative of the style, boasting a hearty malt body with a bit of caramel flavor. Sleeping on a plane is never easy, but I managed to get a little bit before our early morning arrival.
We landed in Frankfurt, the initial German destination chosen because I’m a cheap bastard and that was the cheapest option. While it would have been cool to check out the city, we read that it does not offer a whole lot in terms of tourist attractions or entertainment. It’s more of a financial and banking city. Wanting to check out some of the smaller cities in Bavaria, we had booked a train to Wurzburg. If you have never rode a European train before, you must know that it is a thing of glory. They are fast, convenient, and most importantly usually offer a dining and refreshment car (or you can BYO). We snacked on the ride, foregoing the booze in hopes of beating jet lag and not passing out before noon. A rainy day in Wurzburg did not dampen our spirits. Once we had checked into our Airbnb, we quickly set out on a self-guided walking tour of the city. Our main goal was a tour of the Residence, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking up to the imposing palace was like stepping back into history, admiring the opulence that prevailed amongst the rich and powerful of years past.
Guided English tours were being offered, so we joined one in the afternoon. Of all the palace and castle tours we went on, this was the most informative and complete. Most of the rooms were finished and fully furnished, and our tour guide was very knowledgeable and took time to answer people’s questions. It was definitely the jet lag and not a lack of interest that caused me to nearly fall asleep standing up while touring the Residence. After our tour, we needed some refreshments, so we went to Martinsklaus, a historic bierkeller and beer garden. I had my first beer since landing, a crisp Schlappeseppel Pils. I also met my first new love of the trip: jagerschnitzel. Put simply, it is lightly battered pork cutlets covered in a delicious creamy mushroom sauce. It was served with another love at first taste item, spatzel, which is basically a delicious creamy egg pasta. As with most German food, it was very heavy and rich, but it was truly a dish to behold. It wouldn’t be the last time I enjoyed this staple during our trip.
Because I can’t go to a new city without checking out a brewery, it was a great time to make our way to Max Mundus, a gypsy brewery selling their wares in a cool bar in the city. Their focus is on German style beers with an American flare. Not wanting to alienate the highly traditional and conservative Bavarian beer market, they mostly stick to German styles, but they add a healthy amount of dry hopping to their beers to give them a little something extra. Take Rotwild for example. An amber lager is not a typical style that excites me in any way, BUT Max Mundus managed to give it great character. While it possessed the distinct prototypical German cleanness, it had a pleasant hop character not typically found in amber lagers. Max Mundus is doing some cool things in a restrictive brewing environment, and their employees were extremely friendly. I couldn’t escape the bar without a couple free bottles to bring home and some stickers to spread throughout the States. Be on the lookout for their logo at a random bar near you. The bar also featured a nice selection of bottles from other German microbreweries. Danielle and I split two different IPAs. orca brau Road Sip was a wholly unexpected and delicious citrusy IPA brewed in Nuremberg. I did not know that Bavarians could or would brew a worthy American IPA, and Road Sip quickly made a fool of me. CREW REPUBLIC 7:45 Escalation was another hoppy offering stemming from a Munich brewery. It had a very strong grassy smell and was enjoyable in a land that lacks bold flavors.
Our Airbnb host had made dinner reservations for us, and we had a couple minutes to kill before heading there. We strolled around town and fortuitously came across Alte Mainbrücke, the old bridge in the city spanning the Main River. At the bridge we discovered people hanging out and drinking beverages. Intrigued by the gathering, we quickly found our way to a window where we could buy wine and enjoy the river views. I believe this was the only full glass of wine I consumed on the trip, and it was in an ideal picturesque setting. As the sun set, we soaked in the beautiful view while also soaking our livers in booze.
On our walk to dinner, we realized there were still a few minutes before our reservation, so we popped into Biergarten Alter Kranen for a quick brew. My choice of establishment rewarded me with an elderflower hefeweizen which was one of the best beers of the trip. No one makes hefes like the Germans do, and the Holunder-Weizen was great. Dinner time had finally arrived, and we made the short walk to Il Felice, an Italian restaurant recommended by our affable host. We were in the mood for something other than German food, and this spot perfectly filled our needs. Danielle had a delicious pasta dish, and of course I had pizza. I drank an unremarkable dunkelweizen from Herbsthäuser Brauerei with my meal, and our awesome waitress hooked us up with limoncello shots for dessert. By the time we finished our meal, jet lag was starting to set in hard, and we made it back to our place to crash for the night.
After a lovely night’s rest, we headed to the train station to make the trip to Munich. Before boarding, we stocked up on goods, namely sandwiches and beer. For our journey, we had quite the spread.
None of the beers were very special, but it is still damn cool that you can take aboard and drink beer on a train while travelling between cities (or even countries!). We arrived in Munich in the early afternoon and checked into our Airbnb. After dropping our bags off, a little city exploration was in order. Even though Munich is a big city (1.5 million people), it is very walkable. We meandered through the old streets and markets of the historic city center, and we eventually decided we would ascend to get a holistic view of the city. The bell tower of St. Peter’s Church provided excellent panoramic views, and I made sure to take tons of pictures.
We had hoped to see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel animated clock at Marienplatz Square, but it only chimes and plays at 11 AM and 5 PM. All that walking around and climbing stairs had built up a thirst, and I knew just the way to solve that problem. The brewery I was most excited about visiting in Munich was Schneider Weisse. All of their beers I had previously drank were phenomenal representations of traditional German brewing, and I was looking forward to possibly trying some new styles. Before I dive into Schneider, a quick note on visiting German “breweries”. They’re not set up like American tap rooms where you have a bar and get to see the brewing equipment. They’re mostly just restaurants that feature traditional German fare and offer that brewery’s beer on draft and potentially in bottles as well. I started off with Meine Festweisse, a hefeweizen I had never seen before. It was very refreshing, offering a light body and citrus notes to go along with the smooth and peppery hefeweizen character. We ordered some sausage, and you can see Danielle’s amusement with that below. She drank the Aventinus, and I had to steal some sips. This might be my favorite traditional German beer. Take all the delicate balance and citrus banana flavors from a hefeweizen, add some caramel and a slightly thicker body, and you have this incredible weizenbock. Very drinkable yet also 8.2%, you can easily get into trouble with Aventinus. The last beer I had would get you into trouble in a not so subtle manner. Aventinus Eisbock is a 12% heavy hitter rife with plum and unabashedly present with booze. It would be foolish to drink more than one, so we set out on our merry way after indulging.
More walking was in order. We strolled towards the English Garden, a huge urban park starting in the city center of Munich. Full of ponds and meandering paths, it was a great place to get lost in while just steps away from the urban center. Naturally we came upon a massive outdoor beer garden at Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower). The beer garden seats 7,000 people and is the second largest in Munich. It was very festive due to the impending start of Oktoberfest, and there was a massive crowd. Being good tourists of Germany, we had to order some beer and pretzels. I went with a Hofbrau Urbock, a nice bock beer to switch things up. Danielle had a classic Hoffbrau Hefeweizen to help her wash down the monstrous pretzel. It was seriously bigger than her face!
On our walk back towards the city center, we stopped by Alter Simpl which I heard had a good beer selection. I chose a Franziskaner Royal mostly because I had never heard of this hefeweizen of theirs. Unsurprisingly it was a very good German hefe. During our walk, I came across the beaut below. Danielle practically had to pry me away from the showroom window.
To close out our evening, we had to make the pilgrimage to the most famous beer hall in Munich, Hofbrauhaus. The beer hall dates back to 1589 when the building was originally built and began operating. The communal atmosphere is a lot of fun, and the Oktoberfest tents certainly take their vibe from these types of centuries old beer halls. To drink, I went with a stein of their Dunkelweizen. While not the best beer, it’s hard to not to enjoy the suds in a fun and friendly atmosphere. Considering our early start the next morning, we headed back to our Airbnb to get some needed rest.
Thus ends the first half of our Bavarian adventure. Stay tuned for the rest coming at you next week…