Monday, April 09, 2018

Drinking in the Culture: A checklist for Beer Gardens in Europe. (Beer Blogging Friday)

The Session: Beer Blogging Friday is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, begun in March of 2007 by Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer and Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin. On the first Friday of every month, a pre-determined beer blogger hosts The Session, choosing a specific, beer-related topic, inviting all bloggers to write on it, and posting a roundup of all the responses received.

For The Session #134, Friday, 6 April 2018, I was that pre-determined host and my topic was ... Beer Gardens.

Beer writers/raconteurs/travellers/tickers Bob and Ellie Tupper sent in a checklist for European beer gardens — a checklist that could be referenced universally (or, for now, globally). I've posted it here, today —Monday, 9 April— because, in the beer world and especially in a beer garden, it's always Friday in spirit. Allons-y, Alonzo!


Drinking in the Culture

The calendar, if not the thermometer, says it’s springtime, so it’s time to leave the romantic tasting rooms with crackling fires and start searching for places to drink beer in the great outdoors. The explosion of farm breweries may soon make beer gardens more numerous and exciting in the U.S. than in the Old Country, but, for now, we still look forward to returning to our favorites in Germany and Austria.

When we wrote Drinking In the Culture: Tuppers’ Guide to Exploring Great Beers in Europe [in 2015], we tried to identify the six best places in each of the twenty-four featured cities to experience the local beer culture. We succeeded in over twenty cities, but failed miserably in Munich: there were just too many. We finally compromised on the six best establishments in each of four different categories, only one of which was "beer garden." It came down to six criteria that lifted those six winners to the top of a crowded Munich field.

Here are those criteria, with a favorite or two in Germany and Austria for each of them.
  • Accessibility
    We only included places accessible by public transportation. German DUI laws are even stricter than in the U.S. We found a lovely, historic beer garden near Freising last year, but the round-trip cab ride came to over $70. The Augustiner Keller in Munich is two blocks from a tram stop and the S Bahn subway.

  • Prices
    The price of a German Mass (short-filled liter) can vary from 6 to 9 Euros. In general, the closer to the center of the city, the more you’ll pay. The price of a liter at the Kloster Mülln garden in Salzburg is still just above the 6 Euro level.

  • Size
    Intimate gardens can be attractive, but we love a really enormous one. The clanking of steins and rumble of 200-liter barrels, overlaid with hundreds of conversations, could be cacophonic, but to us, it’s a symphony. On a beautiful weekend night, the Munich Hirschgarten comes close to filling their 8,000 seats, and the hum is like a contented beehive you can hear for blocks.

  • Setting
    Traditional German beer gardens evolved in the 19th century as brewers discovered that if you spread white gravel on the hilltop above the underground cellars where you kept the beer, then further shaded the white stone with leafy chestnut trees, it kept the cellars cooler. An unintended benefit was that this shady hilltop was a perfect place to drink that lovely beer. Some gardens have particularly good vistas: you can spot an Alp from Kloster Mülln, gaze at the massive Dom across the Danube from the Spital Brauerei garden in Regensburg, or feed the deer that mooch along the fence next to your table at the Hirschgarten.

  • Food
    Almost every garden will have roast chicken and bratwurst, but the biggest and best of them go much farther. Fresh fish roasted over live coals, spare ribs, enormous spiral-sliced white radishes, massive roasted pork knuckles, and a wide array of salads and sweets almost always taste as good as they look. Food vendors indoors and out in the garden at Kloster Mülln offer a variety that gives this one an edge over the others. Or copy the locals and bring in your own picnic; almost all gardens allow it as long as you’re drinking their beer.

  • Beer
    As important as this criterion would seem, it probably influences us the least. Almost every brewery with a good garden brews a fine helles lager. But, as Orwell noted, some are more equal than others. Munich’s Augustiner is sweet, but achingly clean, and somehow leaves you with no ache at all the next morning. Salzburg’s Augustiner brewery looms above the Kloster Mülln garden; being able to sit within meters of where the beer is born seems to make it taste even better.

  • Gemütlichkeit
    Gemütlichkeit, or friendliness, is hard to judge on a limited number of visits. You’ll almost always sit at communal tables, so conversation is optional but usually available. On almost every one of our dozen visits to Kloster Mülln, spanning decades, we’ve made new best friends, only some of whom could speak more than a few words of English.

— "We're Bob and Ellie Tupper, “DC’s original beer geeks” (Washington City Paper). We spent 35 years seeking beers all over Europe, amassing a database with over 32,000 entries, before writing Drinking In the Culture. In it, we describe the best places in Europe to visit in order to “drink in” the rich connections between beers and the societies that brew them.

We're currently working on
Brews & Snooze, a guide to breweries and B&Bs of the Mid-Atlantic region, featuring places where you can visit a brewery and walk, not drive, back to where you're spending the night. In some cases, the journey back to your room involves only walking up a couple of flights of stairs. We hope to have the book in print by the end of the year."

The Tuppers maintain their own website and blog, called, punningly enough, CultureAle. The essay above —but illustrated with photographs— they'll be posting there soon. Until then, of course, you could read their book.

Bob & Ellie Tupper: "Drinking in the Culture" (01)


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