Though Germany was at the forefront of crafting beers, it is a relative latecomer to the craft beer scene that seems to finally be sweeping the country. Well, maybe more taking root in the larger cities is a better way of putting it. Why this is the case could probably be explained by the fact that there has always been good beer in the country and it has largely stayed fairly regional. Whereas America became the realm of gigantic brewing conglomerates early on, Germans have tended to drink the local drop. That’s not to say they’ve remained totally traditional but overall, more so. Oddly enough, just when the craft beer scene is part of the German beer scene, many of the larger breweries have started to streamline their product line. Sadly, some of the very best beers have ceased being brewed due to what has been seen as lack of interest. While it’s true a large percentage of Germans tend to drink only Helles or Weißbier, there are some stragglers who are perhaps being lost in the shuffle. Hopefully, the craft beer trend will rekindle interest in some of these lost beers. There’s certainly no reason that some of these once great brews wouldn’t be appreciated by the new breed of beer connoisseur growing amongst the ranks of German beer drinkers.
Braukunst is a showcase for some of the craft beer coming out of not only Germany but also from other European countries and even a few from further afield. Held in Munich’s Transportation Museum each winter, it’s a chance to sample a large variety of beers in an unintimidating setting. Oddly enough, I came across this annual festival from a student in one of my English classes a few years ago. I often talk about beer in class, using it as an example in grammar and vocabulary exercises. The average German, at least back then, thought American beer was pretty awful stuff and on telling them about the burgeoning craft beer scene back in the States, they’d generally scoffed at the idea that it might someday come to Germany. One student was particularly ardent about this but ironically enough, he was the one who not only told me about Braukunst but also attended it before I did! He was super impressed by the variety of beers and is to this day quite into it. He still doesn’t give me much credit for foreseeing it but that’s okay, I made one convert.
I went two years ago and thought it was pretty good though I wasn’t overly impressed by how it was run. I also found it a bit pricey for something that was just taking hold. Now, in the States it’s not much better but it was inexpensive when it first started back in the mid-80s. It’s only been in the last ten years that it’s become more wine-like in its pricing. As with all things, demand is what drives prices. That said, I did get to try some great beers at my first Braukunst. Oddly enough, my favorite brewery there was Brew Fist from Italy. I also brought some friends new to the craft beer scene there and enjoyed a great evening out with them, converting yet a few more to the cause.
who could resist a beer named Elvis Juice?
I returned again this year after a one-year hiatus despite Brew Fist not being on the list of breweries attending. My converted friends had gone the previous year and said it was better so I figured it was time for me to re-evaluate Braukunst. We arrived late afternoon and found no line to get in but on entering, it was certainly busy enough. We paid our €20 entrance fee as well as a €5 deposit for an elegant tasting glass. For this price the first year, we had received five tasting vouchers for .1 liter pours. There had been some confusion as to what you could actually get for these vouchers and that was part of my giving the festival low marks the first time around. This year we got only two vouchers and one was for a non-alcoholic beverage. It wasn’t starting off well but we headed to the Brew Dog booth and had a very tasty Elvis Juice, a grapefruity IPA from the Scottish brewery. This is a pricey craft brewer and for 1€, we got to try a very good beer. One I might not be willing to pay full price for without knowing how good it was.
Eiswerk was busy this year
It was time to get to some German breweries and off to use our one voucher at Munich’s Hofbräu we went. Their Hallodri was a rich Märzen brewed with American hops so a bit of a hybrid brew that held up surprisingly well after the hoppy Brew Dog beer. My wife was ready for another Munich local, Eiswerk but the line was moving slowly…
best of show for us: Braufactum Progusta
….so we wound up at BraufactuM, out of Frankfurt. We’d had a bad experience with them the first year and almost didn’t go back. They had been part of the vouchers given out that year but you could only have certain beers. Needless to say, they didn’t leave a good impression on us but this time around, with no free beer on the horizon, we sampled what we wanted and found their Progusta, a 6.8% Double IPA best of show.
Other notables were Schwarzbräu’s Ex & Hop and Schneeböckchen, Zombräu’s Motor Oil and Munich Brew Mafia’s Don Limone. I couldn’t find this year’s big Italian entry and forgot to look for the lone brewery to come down from my favorite beery destination, Franconia. The new find was Polish brewery Brower Gzub, who had three winners: a Saison, a White APA (American Pale Ale) and a intriguing Oatmeal Stout infused with caramel and sea salt.
Tyrolean Ham plate is great value
One nice part of the festival is the food options. I wouldn’t say you are overwhelmed with choices but there are some nice ones. There is a cheese stand where you can order by weight and our favorite both years we’ve gone has been the Tyrolean booth where you can get a sizeable plate of very good quality hams from this marvelous region for 10€. It comes with some bread, crackers and is garnished with freshly grated horseradish.
Certainly a good time is had by all
Even with six hours, we ran out of time before beers to try. We didn’t get to favorite Crew Republic until the end but did chat with some of their staff at the Zombräu booth. That’s one of the best parts of the festival, brewery staff are as interested in trying different beers as you are, and are happy to share favorites and listen to what you have to say. We also didn’t get to any of the more traditional German breweries aside from Hofbräu. Part of the problem is a lack of time but also, the beers are so different that you’d have to go two days and stick to them on one of them. Generally, they are not as robust and the nuances in them would likely be lost after drinking a few of the “big” beers like Double IPAs. That said, local brewing legend Schneider makes some marvelous specialty beers now and have been at the forefront of the craft beer scene in Munich.
So, would I go again? Sure. Will I go next year? Maybe. It didn’t blow me away but there was enough to keep me interested. American beer festivals tend to be all-you-can-drink affairs after what has become a fairly hefty entrance fee. I’m not entirely sure that’s a better system, either. I’d prefer it to be run like the 24 Hours of Beer in Antwerp, where you got in for free but paid a deposit for the glass. You bought tokens for a Euro and different beers cost up to 3€. The pours were a little bigger but not so much that you were drinking a lot of any one thing. Without the payment of the entry fee, people tended to go in and try some beers and maybe returned later in the day or even the next day (it ran for two 12 hour sessions!).
Another problem with going every year is there are so many beery events in Bavaria, you have to pick and choose a bit. Starkbierzeit (the Strong Beer Season) is coming up soon, the Fränkisches Bierfest in Nürnberg is a great one in June and Munich’s smaller Lange Nacht der Brauereien (the Long Night of the Breweries) is the month after that. So many beers, so little time indeed.