Munich Bier Obskura is the story of my explorations searching out obscure beers of Munich. There are a bunch. These certainly are not obscure beers and places for the people who know them well and love them, but I think they are not well known to the typical beer tourist visiting Munich.
For visitors to Munich, the beers of the “big six” Munich breweries are hard to miss — and I have no particular interest in missing any of them. The big six of Paulaner – Hacker-Pschorr (largely Heineken owned), Lowenbrau–Spaten (AB InBev owned), Augustiner (privately-owned), and Hofbrau (Bavarian State-owned) are everywhere in beer halls, pubs, restaurants, and beer gardens. Typically, establishments feature a single one of these brands sometimes supplemented by a predominantly wheat beer brand like Franziskaner (a Spaten brand). A few other regional breweries like Ayinger, Andechser, and Schneider Weisse have a smaller but strong presence in the city that makes it hard to classify them as obscure. The big breweries exercise a lot of control over what is offered in biergartens – I am not sure if this is through regulatory means, ownership of the properties, or some other means. However, it seemed to me that there must be spin-offs in Munich from the big breweries and entrepreneurial types out there wanting to do their own thing and I set out to find some as I walked about the city.
The Least Obscure of the Obscure
Giesinger Brau is the least obscure of the breweries mentioned here but I include it because I don’t think it is well-known to the average beer lover outside of Munich. This brewery impresses me as a real juggernaut – they started as a garage shop in 2008 producing about 170 Bbl/year and expanded into an industrial facility with a taproom/pub in Giesing producing 4200 bbl/year by 2013. In 2019 they opened WERK2, a production brewery in the north of Munich that increased their capacity by another 17,000 bbl/year. Giesinger has employed crowdfunding to raise a significant portion of their expansion financing and I read that they now have thousands of investors as a result. They are the second-largest private brewery in Munich after Augustiner (1.35 million bbl) to give a sense of scale compared to the big local breweries.
The Giesinger journey seems to be leading toward cracking the ranks of the big six, not in terms of size, but in terms of their product being considered as “Münchner Bier” that qualifies to be present at Munich festivals including Oktoberfest. My impression is that the association of the big six brewers controls the criteria defining “Munich Beer” in a way that places steep barriers in front of any brewery that aspires to “join the club”. The criteria used are things like location, water source, alcohol content, and IBU and reportedly, Giesinger is the first new brewery in more than 300 years to have met them.
Will you ever be able to buy a Giesinger Münchner Hell at Oktoberfest or a beer garden? Who knows? However, you can enjoy their beers at their taproom/pub in Giesing, at their Stehausschank taproom in the old city center near the Viktualienmarkt, and at an increasing number of pubs and restaurants around the city. With the new production facility concentrated on higher volume traditional beers, my understanding is that the smaller brewery in Giesing is where they now produce artisanal beers – some traditional, some from other cultures. Tours are operated at WERK2 as Covid restrictions allow.
Smaller Breweries and Brew Pubs
Smaller breweries and brewpubs operate under the radar and I didn’t find any recommendable guide. The best sources of information I found were visits to beer shops in Munich that cater to beer geeks. Biervana in the Schwabing district is a small shop packed with shelves of interesting beers from all over the world. There is no particular specialty in Munich beers — I think they see their place as a craft beer bottle shop. This is not a place to drink beer but rather is a place to learn about beers and to carry some away. The shopkeeper, Matthias was very knowledgeable and helped me to build a list of obscure Munich breweries and where I might find their beers on tap.
Die Bierothek is a shop with a similar focus in the Gärtnerplatz district. I was able to review the list I gathered at Biervana, further develop my intel, and add additional places to check out. Die Bierothek is operated by the Munich Brew Mafia, a small Munich brewer, so is a good place to buy MBM beers. Die Bierothek has franchised shops in many of Germany’s larger cities. They organize and offer tastings and other events, including an annual Craft Bier Fest Munich (suspended during Covid crisis). The owner, Dario told me that they have been doing virtual events and there is some hope of putting a live event together in summer 2022.
Munich Brew Mafia brews an eclectic range including a whole bunch of IPA variations (a QIPA is a new one on me – Q for Quad) as well as their own take on more traditional styles. Smaller batch brewing takes place west of Munich in Holzhausen while their bigger volume beers get brewed east of Munich at a private brewery in Forsting. At Holzhausen they use open fermentation vats and have their own dedicated conditioning tanks. The approach of hiring or contracting with compatible brewing facilities – many refer to it as “gypsy brewing” – is not uncommon among the smaller Munich breweries.
Meisterstück is a combination bottle shop and beer bar in Haidhausen that has a smaller selection but is set up so you can drink beers and buy food from a simple menu that also features artisanal products. They have a small selection of draft beers and a larger selection of bottled beers. It was a pleasant place to enjoy lunch and sit out in the sun in their “schanigarten” enjoying a beer or two. Schanigartens are everywhere in Munich now owing to covid. The local government has allowed bars and restaurants to build small terraces on the public sidewalks in front of their businesses to provide more outdoor sales opportunities.
Small Munich Brewers in the Age of Covid
Dario told me that the COVID environment has introduced all kinds of challenges into the business of Munich’s small breweries. Munich Brew Mafia’s business shifted drastically away from frequent craft beer festivals. Dario and his partners took second jobs to pay the bills. At the same time, MBM started brewing a wider variety in smaller batches. They launched an online shop and built a home delivery capability. They weren’t in many restaurants and bars (due to the significant lock held on that business by Big Six breweries) so they didn’t lose much due to closures. Dario said they ended up selling more beer than ever during the lockdown. Things got tougher last summer though when the lockdown ended and people went back to the beer gardens and left on their holidays. Sales and production by small brewers is down since then. “I think the hardest times are not over yet. It’s complicated to understand the market now. Prices for paper, cans, bottles, logistics, raw materials are exploding. Craft festivals are not back, gastronomy is restricted and people are unsettled about the future” says Dario.
HopDog is a taproom in the Dreimühlenviertel district within walking distance of multiple other Munich Bier Obskura venues. This unassuming place specializes in making draft beers from Franconia available to drink in Munich, as well as featuring some local Munich beers amongst their twelve taps. A variety of gourmet hot dog offerings make up the food menu.
Among the masses, Franconian beer seems to be little known in Munich. I’ve had a number of conversations where my mention of my hiking trips to explore the Franconian beerscape has drawn blank expressions from Muncheners. The proprietor, Greg told me that he takes frequent multi-day swings north into Franconia where he collects up kegs from a variety of small breweries to feature at HopDog.
Greg proudly served me his West Coast IPA called Hopmonkey that he collaborated on with the Bamberg brewery Blech Brut Greg, better known to some as Gregor Einar Fransson, is a Beer Sommelier and International Beer Judge who is a strong advocate for Franconian beer. Another night, I stopped by for a new release event featuring a beer from Munich brewer Higgins Ale Works. Greg calls this part of the city the “Beermuda Triangle” for the small brewers and interesting beer venues within walking distance.
Frisches Bier is a cozy taproom a few blocks away featuring Tilman’s Biere, as well as a variety of other obscure Munich beers on tap. The place is owned and operated by Tilman’s. The Tilman’s tagline – “Classic Beer Styles Reinterpreted” describes their approach well. They brew both lagers and ales. There are about fourteen beers on tap at Frisches Bier at any given time with the majority being guest taps. It is not uncommon to find Tilman’s in craft beer venues as you travel around town if you keep an eye out for it. Tilman’s also gets my nod as the most distinctively labeled beer in Munich — you can spot a Tilman’s from a long distance.
True Brew Brewing Co. is another cozy taproom located just around the corner from HopDog. They feature an eclectic range of ales and lagers — many named after American styles like New England IPA, Double, and Triple IPA. My beer was drawn from a big serving tank although I understand that the actual brewing is done at Brauhaus Floß in the Oberpfalz.
Himburgs Braukunstkeller is a small brewery that as far as I observed only sells its beer in bottles through retail outlets. I did not find a taproom or pub for draft beer if there is one.
BROY is a small brewery that seemed to be in transition when I was visiting. Their concept of beer Tankstellen” (filling stations) in pubs in the Glockenbach and Schwabing districts caught my attention as something unique, but there was no trace of it when I visited and the place seemed to be undergoing remodeling. A Helles, a wit, a pale ale, and a juicy lager was the range offered.
Paulaner Brauhaus Munich and Paulaner am Nockerberg are taverns under the umbrella of the Heineken-owned brewery that each have their own micro-brewery on-site. They brew and offer a variety of artisanal “haus biers” that are only available in these taverns. These are big, ritzy places with lots of old-school Bavarian character – very different from most of the other places mentioned in this story. However, the haus beers appear to be small batch recipes not found elsewhere. As I understand it, Paulaner is franchising this concept around the world much as Hofbrau has done in the USA and elsewhere.
Tap-House is a taproom with a long bar located in Haidhausen near the Ost-Bahnhof. It is franchised by a brewery called Camba Bavaria in Waltenberg – east of Munich near the north shore of the Chiemsee. Camba is an interesting story – a fairly new brewery and beer business that originated from a brewery equipment manufacturer. Camba is seeking to franchise more Tap-House locations and there is already another one in Frankfurt. Tap-House Munich offers forty taps and a big list of canned and bottled beers. When I visited, 16 taps were Camba lagers and ales and the remainder was a mix of obscure Bavarian beers – no big six taps here. Pub grub is served.
Schiller Braeu is a cozy brewpub that doubles as the lobby of a value hotel near the main train station. The hotel is part of a small chain based near Landshut that features breweries as part of several of its properties. The brew kit is on display in the pub and a range of traditional beers are on offer. Their beer styles are typically four year-round beers on tap supplemented by seasonals.
Higgins Ale Works is a small brewery owned and operated by American ex-pats Paul and Jan Higgins. It is located near the main train station and the Augustiner Garden. Higgins specializes in American-style craft ales like pale ales, IPA’s, and cream ales. I ran across their beers on tap at HopDog and Frisches Bier.
Wunderbraeu / Wolfscraft turned out to be obscure enough that I only encountered their beers in my neighborhood market. They work in a niche that I’ll call “Bio-Beer.” There is a significant interest in Germany (as in many places) for living sustainably, embracing the benefits of organic sustenance, and supporting local raw material sources. Wunderbraeu uses the tagline, “Climate Protection in a Bottle” to communicate their focus. Wolfscraft is a brand produced by Wonderbraeu that is bio beer aimed at producing modern interpretations of classic styles.
Haderner Bräu is another bio-beer outfit that was the first certified organic brewery in Munich. They emphasize procuring their ingredients close to home from organic producers. They brew both traditional Bavarian styles as well as venture into the world of the IPA. The small, family-owned & operated brewery is located near the Großhadern subway stop and can be visited for tour and tasting by appointment.
Forschungsbrauerei was founded in 1930 by Gottfried Jakob. As the story goes, Jakob had a longtime brewing career behind him by then and had an interest in making better beers. “Fórschung” translates to “research” and his idea for the brewery was to research ideas for novel beers and new methods for making beer. The bräustüberl at the brewery was his “testing station.” One of the conclusions from his research is said to be that good beer is in the eyes and tastebuds of the beholder.
“The finished product must be used by the consumer, i. H. be judged by the beer drinker; his judgment alone is authoritative. We only brew to give all fellow human beings a refreshment for physical and mental strengthening in beer.”
– Gottfried Jakob, May 27, 1938
Nowadays, their haus beers served at the Bräustüberl are made for them by the Unertl Brewery in Haag — east of Munich.
Recently, Hopfenhacker moved their brewing activity to the Forschung Brauerei property from their prior location in a backyard near Meisterstuck. Hopfenhacker started as the work of two partner brewers – one German and one American. Their idea was to bring together the experience of a German traditional brewer with that of an American craft brewer to see what would result. The beer range includes a hand hopped lager, a Weisse, a Wit, an IPA, a “West Coast Ale”, a Marzen, a Pils, a Smoky Schwarzbier, a Barleywine, a New England IPA, and a non-alcoholic beer. The distinctive Hopfenhacker labels rate a close second to Tilman’s.
Isar Bier seems to be tilted toward the bio-beer niche, but their marketing wasn’t as clear about that as the other breweries mentioned previously. I didn’t find much information about them beyond their website. Their distribution seems to be largely in Munich area natural food markets although I tried one of their beers in draft form at a restaurant. Isar’s website mentions working with a notable bio-beer brewery in Riedenburg (north of Munich in the Altmühltal region) so maybe that is where they brew. Their range is small with just a couple of different Helles options and a Radler.
Hopfmeister Braumanufaktur is a gypsy brewer utilizing the Schlossbrauerei Hohenthann to make its beers. The range includes an unfiltered Helles, Weißbier, Pale Ale, English-style IPA, Chocolate Stout, and a non-alcoholic Helles. Hopfmeister also brews a bunch of seasonals and specials.
Rammlerbrau has a pretty unique origin story. It started with a volleyball team that was searching for a brewery to sponsor them but couldn’t talk any brewery into it. So what was their solution? Partnering with an experienced brewer, they started their own brewery and the Rammlerbrau logo (a rabbit head – presumably a male) is now on their volleyball jerseys. Rammlerbrau is brewed at Wildbrau in nearby Grafing. Their range includes three beers – a Festbier, a Helles, and a Hefeweizen — all unfiltered. As I plugged their tagline “Des bummst di richtig” into Google Translate a pretty randy interpretation started to come back, but I settled on “you’re banging it right” instead. As I understand it, the idea of the slogan is good strong beers with no frills.
Isar Kindl is technically a Freising company I guess, but they seem to have a real focus on the Munich market and many beer tourists will get to Freising to visit Weihenstephan. Isar Kindl’s pub, Sammamera is right at the foot of the hike up to Weihenstephan. Sammamera is a pizza place that carries a variety of beers, both obscure and famous. The Isar Kindl range features a Helles, Marzen, Weißbier, Radler and they offer a seasonal lager brewed with wild hops gathered locally.
Haus Freunde is another brewer that uses another brewery’s facilities – I think I read that they brew at Camba Bavaria in the Chiemgau. Four friends, one a master brewer are the core of this enterprise. Their range includes a pair of Helles, a German Pale Ale, an IPA, an Imperial Stout, and a Weizendoppelbock. They have a number of seasonal and collaborative projects as well.
Isartaler Brauhaus now occupies the historic Großhesseloher train station which closed in 1970. The building was renovated into a brewpub called Isarbrau in the late 1980’s until new ownership arrived in 2013. Isartaler Brauhaus opened soon after. The pub is an attractive place with a pleasant terrace located right at an S-bahn stop. The flagship beer there is their “Stationsweizen” although they brew seasonals as well.
CREW Republic is arguably the least obscure of Munich’s craft brewers. That may be related to their relationships over time with big beer companies. They started as homebrewers in an apartment near the “Beermuda Triangle” and built enough of a following to attract investment and distribution help from AB InBev. CREW built a brewery/taproom/terrace and relocated in 2015 to Unterschleißheim (a suburb on the S-Bahn line to Freising and the airport). The relationship with AB Inbev has been recently replaced by a similar partnership with Bitburger Brewing Group, a huge, family-owned German beer business.
The CREW range consists of a variety of ales – many IPA’s, a Pale Ale, a Session Ale, an Imperial Stout, and a Barleywine.
The CREW tagline, “craft bier is not a crime” seems to be a commentary on the thought that the 1516 Reinheitsgebot regulating beer purity and ingredients is a barrier. Some have argued that this law hampers the creativity of craft brewers in Germany by limiting the ingredients that can be used to malt, hops, water, and yeast. This has been confusing to me, because I don’t perceive any lack of creativity on the part of German brewers. They seem to brew whatever they want using whatever ingredients they want. The only catch seems to be that if they use additional ingredients beyond what the Reinheitsgebot specifies, they can’t legally label it as beer. However, it can be labeled and referred to by the name of the style without any issue – think IPA, Pale Ale, Porter, Stout, NEIPA, Tripel, etc.
I think that everyone realizes that these are varieties of beer without their being explicitly labeled as such. I am not sure if the inability to label some craft brews as “beer” affects business issues like taxation, export, etc., but I see no particular effect on brewer creativity. What does seem to limit the commercial viability of craft beer in Germany is consumer taste and preferences. Culturally, beer has a place more like an inexpensive, enjoyable foodstuff commodity than as an expensive, geeky connoisseur experience.
Getränke Oase, Baader 66 Wein & Sein, and Kiosk Reichenbachbrücke are additional places to look for carry-away obscure beers. Finally Der verrückte Eismacher – im Wunderland is not a beer place, but it offers an obscure beery treat great for ending a day of beer exploration (and for ending this story). This ice cream shop makes and sells beer-flavored ice creams (in addition to more typical flavors). I have tried both the Augustiner and the Franzikaner blends and both have a nice, malty character about them.
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