Craft Beer in Germany?

Oddly enough craft beer is a new term on the German brewing scene. I find it odd as Germans have generally had a long history of hand crafting beer and though there is more than enough mass production of mediocre beer going on, there are still tons of relatively large breweries producing beers much as they did centuries ago. Of course, the other odd thing is the term “craft beer” is an entirely English expression. Even “Bier” is spelled in the English fashion and not capitalized as it would be in German. If I tell a German that craft beer is nothing new to their country, they say it is and go on about small batches and better ingredients, the same spiel you’d hear back in the States. I do know that if a brewer in the US tries to make a smoke beer, they’re more than happy to get the special malt from Bamberg and I’ve never had one better than that served at the classic old Schlenkerla pub in the old town center of the medieval wonder. It doesn’t matter. There are centuries old breweries making craft beer and new fab ones brewing them, too. In this case, the more the merrier and there are often some differences.
To illustrate, I went on a little excursion outside Munich the other day. The initial impetus was to visit the new Crew Republic Brewpub in Unterschleißheim, only about 20 minutes from where I live by S-Bahn. Munich’s public transportation is great and good value, especially if you buy day tickets. I figured I’d need an XXL day ticket and since the pub didn’t open until 2:00 in the afternoon and the weather was absolutely stunning, I took a look at where else I could go with the ticket within the same XXL designation and was happy to see Aying well within its range. I’ve been to the Ayinger brewery quite a few times but hadn’t made it in autumn when their Kirtabier is out, a reputedly amazing Märzen.

The cute little town of Aying & their local brewery’s flagship 

The ride out to Aying is about 40 minutes and in the entirely opposite direction as Crew Republic but I’m a sucker for getting my money’s worth out of a ticket, even if it will cost me more in beer and food. It’s a stunning trip anyway, heading into the mountains and though they’re in the distance, on a clear day like it was, they looked close enough to touch. Aying itself doesn’t offer any real sights but it’s a cute and quiet little hamlet that I always say to myself would be a nice place to live. The Ayinger Bräustüberl looked quite idyllic on arrival, with the leaves changing and only a couple people sitting in the quite warm for mid-October Biergarten. I took a seat in the sun and was quite pleased when my waitress said their Kirtabier was still on tap. Kirta is dialect Kirchweih. This refers to the day a church is dedicated, often tied to a patron saint. There are yearly festivals celebrating it and if there’s a brewery in the town, they generally brew a special beer.

The Ayinger Biergarten in autumn

It came out looking very autumnal with a deep amber hue and frothy head. It was rich and malty with some fair hops in the relatively dry finish, something missing in most German Märzens I’ve had of late. This was a far cry from the truly mass-produced version put out by Hacker-Pschorr so even though it’s certainly not a small batch brew, it’s still hand-crafted in my book. Ayinger has four seasonals and I’ve found all of them quite good. Their flagship brews are well-made, as well. Oh, and the food’s quite good to boot. After a plate of Fleischpfanzerl (patties made of veal and pork) with potato salad and another Kirta, it was time to go. I had made arrangements to meet a friend at the Crew and the next train back to town would get me there just around opening time.

Ayinger’s Kirtabier & their tasty Fleishpfanzerl

Not to knock Unterschleißheim but it’s not as charming as Aying and the new Crew Republic brewpub is also quite a departure from the very traditional Ayinger Bräustuberl. That’s not to say it isn’t nice, it very much is so but if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought I had been transported across the pond and I was down in Miami drinking….well, craft beer. The gleaming kettles behind the glass window are not so new to more modern brewpubs in Germany but these had an even newer age feel to them. The bar was also modern and the chalkboard heralding a double digit selection of their own beers on draft was certainly a welcomed thing to see compared to the slim pickings for choice one usually finds. A couple of hipster bartenders who happily spoke English and a pair of cornhole boards on the lawn rounded out the picture. The barmen knew their stuff and were happy to share suggestions. The guys playing cornhole didn’t which kept reminding me that I wasn’t back in Miami, after all.

The new Crew Republic brewpub in Untershleißheim

I had specifically come for their Smoked Porter, a new specialty beer. It was excellent as I’ve found most of the Crew Republic brews. I also enjoyed the Imperial Red, which clocked in at 7.6% and was a well-balanced and tasty sipper. Unfortunately, they do not serve food but despite being told you could not bring food a few weeks ago, I saw quite a few people with their own nibbles. Admittedly, it was warm and everyone was sitting outside. Another unfortunate thing is it’s only open on Fridays from 2-6 in the afternoon compared to Ayinger, which is open from 9 to 11 seven days a week with hot food for all but the first and last hour. Well, I guess the old traditional places still take a few prisoners but the new upstarts take their share with whoppers like the Imperial Red. Let’s hope the Crew expands their hours and maybe adds some food to their fine establishment and that old stalwarts like Ayinger keep brewing their big well-made portfolio too. I know I’ll be happy to patronize both of them and if you like craft beer, you should too.

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