This Oberallgäu beer hike takes you to the far southwestern reaches of Bavaria – well to the south and west of Munich. The high mountains of the Alps stack up along the German-Austrian border here so the terrain and altitude drop from south to north. The Iller River is formed from mountain streams in this alpine region and forms a high valley – the Illertal, as it makes its way north from near Oberstdorf up through Sonthofen and Immenstadt. Steep side valleys and gorges cut into the mountains on either side of the valley. The terrain broadens and flattens a bit as the river continues north to the Danube.
A beer hike in this area is tranquil and scenic. Small farms dot the brilliant green alpine meadows. The high Alps are nearly always in view providing a majestic backdrop. Picturesque towns and villages, often centered around onion-domed churches are spread along the river and up the side valleys.
The southernmost district of Germany is known for many traditions, not the least of which is interesting beer culture. Like many places in Germany, consolidations and changing markets have greatly reduced the number of operating breweries in the Allgäu. This beer hike route starting at the train station then heading north to Rettenberg, then ending at the train station at Immenstadt passed three breweries. With more time and a bit of adjustment, a stop at an additional brewery near Rettenberg could be added as well as one near Blaichach. There are many potential variations of the route as the area has no shortage of pathways to explore.
Illertal Beer Hike
Sonthofen is a pleasant little town on the Iller that is famous for its cheese and other dairy products. It was a short ride north from where I was staying in Oberstdorf (more about Oberstdorf later) and I disembarked at the rail station into a light but steady rain.
Hirschbrau is a 360+ year-old brewery in the center of the town with a pleasant, traditional tavern. The rain had chased people in and the place was quite busy. Their offering included a wide range of traditional styles as well as a small range of what they refer to as “craft” beers. I wish I would have had the time and stamina to try those out as they sounded like interesting variations on traditional themes.
From Sonthofen to Rettenberg the beer hike route follows the base of Grünten, a massive mountain often referred to as the “guardian of the Allgäu”. The countryside here is dotted with farms, mountain pastures, and spots of forest. Rettenberg bills itself as a “brewery village” and I would never argue with them. There are two large breweries in the community that are the largest employers there. They also regularly crown a “Beer Queen” who I imagine it would be fun to have a beer with.
The Zötler family brewery is arguably the oldest family-owned brewery in the world and has been determined to be the 10th oldest family business of any kind in the world (continuously operated by the same family.) The business dates to 1447 so has been operated for more than 585 years by the same family – twenty-one generations. The brewery was closed on the day I came by so I sampled the beer at the Post Adler – the brewery’s tavern in the village center. Zötler impressed me as a progressive operation. In addition to a traditional range, they also offer a range of international style “craft” beers and they do a number of interesting events. One that caught my eye is a monthly full moon beer festival in the brewery featuring a limited release beer.
The second large brewery, Engelbräu is also located near the village center and has a tavern on the brewery grounds. I would encourage you to check out their totally cool promotional video that captures some of the essence of the beer hiking spirit. If you are hungry, be sure to try the ox cheeks in ginger beer.
A third brewery is located nearby although I couldn’t take the time on this trip to find it. The small brewery, Bernardi Bräu, is said to be located in a converted cable car station high up on the Grünten. Some say that this is the highest altitude brewery in Germany but if you have been reading Prime Passages, you will know that the highest is really located in an operating cable car shed at Enzianhutte, south of Oberstdorf (read A Hike to the Highest Brewery in Germany). I was told that Bernardi and Hirschbrau collaborate in some way — maybe a brewing collaboration or maybe a business collaboration.
From Rettenberg, the hike descends back down to the river at Immenstadt. There are plenty of places to stop for a beer there, or a bit more of a walk to the south is another brewery that I didn’t try – Klier Bier. I decided to end the walk at the train station where I caught the short ride back to Oberstdorf.
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Imagine a town where the cows live in barns in the center of town and take themselves to and from their pastures outside of the town all by themselves — that is Oberstdorf. As I rounded a corner a stream of cattle was coming quickly toward me. I tucked myself out of the way and watched for a herder as they passed. No herder ever showed. I guess these girls were just heading home after a long day on the alm.
Oberstdorf turned out to be a great place to base for my Oberallgauer adventures. It’s a beautiful small town at the end of a rail line with interesting buildings, parks, and architecture. It was lively when I was there owing to the start of the 2019 Trans-Alpine Run. This run starts in Germany and ends in Italy after eight stages covering more than 250 km and encompassing more than 16,000 m (52,000 feet) of cumulative altitude increase. I was glad to watch them run by as I sipped my coffee and milk. I’ll stick to beer hiking.
There is one small brewery in the village and a taproom operated by a large Kempten brewery. There are many taverns offering the chance to try beers from other breweries in the region.
Oberstdorf Dampfbrauerei is a comfortable brewpub near the train station that makes steam beer (“dampf” = steam). Steam beer is often made with the same barley malts used in lagers but is fermented using the same top-fermenting yeast used for weizen-style beers. I couldn’t pick up any pronounced difference in taste that I would attribute to the method.
Kempten brewery Allgauer Brauhaus has a taproom and restaurant outpost called zum Wilde Mannle in Oberstdorf. Allgäuer Brauhaus is a part of Radeberger Group, the largest brewery group in Germany. I noted that they offer a weiss wurst breakfast each morning but I never made it over for that.
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