Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Starkbierzeit in Munich

We’re just back from Munich, where Starkbierzeit kicked off last weekend, running through March 8 of this year. A few notes about the festival whose name means “strong beer time.”

1. With 7.5% alcohol by volume, the beers really are quite strong.

2. The use of the Maß, a 1-liter serving vessel, makes it very easy to underestimate your intake. (When it comes to Starkbier, “I’ve just had two beers” can be parsed as “I’ve just had four half-liters” and in amount of alcohol is equivalent to saying “I just drank six premium lagers.”)

3. If you want to check out people wearing traditional Bavarian costumes — young codgers as well as old — the best spot is outside in the Paulaner beer garden at Nockherberg.

4. Starkbier mostly seems to be a time of year, not a set style, at least not beyond the high original gravity of 18° or more. Some breweries produce an amber strong beer, some golden; some serve crystal-clear beers, some cloudy Naturtrüb versions.

5. The Forschungsbrauerei is one of the smallest breweries around and is a must-see for their St. Jakobus Blonder Bock, an outstanding golden Starkbier brewed at 19.5°, though still finishing with 7.5% ABV. It has more hop notes (with 100% Hallertau, mostly in the form of whole cones) in the finish than most brews in this part of Bavaria. Take the S6 train to the Perlach station and either carry a GPS, use Google maps, or bring a copy of the map on the website.

6. Second-favorite Starkbier: the unfiltered Naturtrüb Unimator at Unions-Bräu. (Nice Helles, too.)

7. Third-favorite Starkbier (and one of the best among the town’s high-volume producers): the malty, deep amber Maximator at Augustiner-Keller, which also had some of the most agreeable atmosphere.

8. Munich is about four hours from Prague by car and just over six hours by train. If you’re here, Bavaria is an easy getaway for a weekend. If you’re there, consider coming here. (Once again, beer travel between Prague, Pilsen, Munich and Bamberg is quite doable.)

I’ll be writing a longer piece about Starkbier for the American drinks and culture magazine Imbibe, but that’s the gist of what I can remember. The well-kept local traditions in Munich are truly impressive, so much so that after a while you feel odd because you’re not wearing Lederhosen. Furthermore, the wonderfully social aspect of a European beer garden is something that I’ve never quite found in America — people can actually get together, make friends with their neighbors, meet up with old acquaintances and celebrate (the end of winter in this case) by raising a mug or two without burning down the neighborhood or shooting anyone, even after knocking back some truly strong stuff. There’s a lesson in this for sure.


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  1. SteveH

    Evan, good to see Forschungsbrauerei get some good press — even closer to home is better than none at all.

    Of note is that their St. Jakobus is available year-round, not just at Starkbierzeit.

  2. pivnizub

    Evan, I’m glad that You liked this unique place too. Please note, that this nice place is closed from October to March…..! The “normal” Pilsissimus, also brewed by the use of umbels, is IMO also worth a journey. A better “Pilsener” You’ll hardly find in this part of Bavaria.

  3. SteveH

    Evan — something struck me today, March 19th – St. Joseph’s Day, I thought this was the traditional start of Starkbierzeit? Are we, on the other side of the oceans, getting the wrong story?

  4. The story is sort of right, in that Starkbierzeit often falls close to March 19. But in fact, Starkbierzeit is timed in connection with Lent, which isn’t set to a fixed date in the calendar. This year, Starkbierzeit began much earlier, as we had an earlier Faschingsdienstag (Shrove Tuesday). In general, Starkbierzeit starts a day or a week after that, though some breweries may start serving their Starkbier even sooner. (For example, I drank Ambräusianum’s Ambräusiator in Bamberg on Feb. 2 this year.)

    In Munich this year, most breweries were observing Starkbierzeit (in other words, serving Starkbier) from February 22 to March 9. (However, Löwenbräu ran its Starkbierzeit only from February 8-10.) The celebrity roast that is thought to kick off Starkbierzeit took place on Thursday, February 21. But in general, everything ended by March 9.

    Or at least that’s how I understand it…

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