Greetings Beer & Travel Lovers!
In this article we’ll shed light on one of our favorite seasons on the German “Beer Calendar” - Starkbierfest season!
What is Lent Anyway?
For the uninitiated, Lent is the Christian world’s 40-day season of prayer, fasting and preparation leading up to Easter Sunday. It begins on Ash Wednesday (February 17th this year) and continues until Good Friday (the last Friday before Easter).
Years ago, practicing Christians – in particular monks and people of deep faith – would fast for the entire 40-day period of Lent, drinking only liquids. Since beer was considered essential at the time (the water was too polluted back then) the faithful were allowed to drink it year-round, including throughout Lent.
History of Starkbier (Strong Beer)
The oldest known evidence of brewing in Germany comes from near the town of Kulmbach (in northern Bavaria) and dates back to around 800 B.C. Sometime in the first millennium, monasteries took up brewing and at least as far back as the 1300s monks in Bavaria were brewing beer for their own consumption and to raise money for their monasteries.
The Paulaner monks, whose monastery was located just outside of Munich’s old city walls, began brewing beer sometime before 1634. By the middle of the same century, they came up with the idea of brewing an extra hearty beer to help sustain them during their fast for Lent. They named this beer Salvator from the Latin word for Savior.
Salvator (7.9% ABV) is a Doppelbock style beer (“double bock”) also referred to in Germany as a Starkbier. Doppelbocks are brewed with larger quantities of malted grain than regular beer and that extra grain provides additional nutrition – about 700 calories per liter versus about 400 calories for a “regular” beer. But more grain also produces larger amounts of fermentable sugars which results in a higher alcohol content, generally in the 7.00%-8.00% range. So not only did the monks get the extra sustenance they needed during Lent, Starkbier no doubt kept them in a “spiritual” state of mind!
If you ever find yourself in Bavaria during Lent, be sure to ask about which breweries are hosting Starkbierfest events. Most breweries have something going on and they’re a lot of fun!
Today, all Munich breweries have a Doppelbock in their line-up and most market it under a name that ends with “ator”. The short version of the story is that Paulaner Salvator became very popular with the public, so commercial Munich breweries started brewing their own Doppelbocks, which they also called Salvator. This was before trademark laws existed. But the monks at Paulaner got a law passed to prevent other breweries from using their name, so those breweries came up with their own “ator” names.
BIG 6 MUNICH BREWERIES
Below is a list of Doppelbocks from Munich’s “Big 6” breweries. It’s worth noting that all but two (Augustiner & Hofbräu) are large, multinational companies, some of which are part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev conglomerate. Of the Big 6, only Augustiner makes a Doppelbock that makes it on to our favorites list.
1. Augustiner Maximator (7.5% ABV) - Augustiner was founded in 1328 and is the oldest brewery in Munich proper and brewer of Maximator, one of our favorite Doppelbocks, regardless of brewery location. Maximator is available only during the Starkbierfest season (although you can find it here year-round). Augustiner has several locations in Munich but especially fun to visit are the Augustiner Bräustuben (the original brewery location) and the Augustiner-Keller (the 3rd largest beer garden in Bavaria).
2. Hacker-Pschorr Animator (8.1% ABV)
3. Hofbräu Delicator (8.0% ABV)
4. Löwenbräu Triumphator (7.6% ABV)
5. Paulaner Salvator (7.9% ABV)
6. Spaten Optimator (7.6% ABV)
BREWERIES OUTSIDE OF MUNICH
Below is a list of Doppelbocks from breweries located outside of Munich that are our favorites along with Augustiner Maximator mentioned above.
Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel (7.1% ABV) - The Andechs Monastery Brewery was founded in 1455 and is located about 40 minutes outside of Munich by S-Bahn. We highly recommend visiting Andechs if you’re in Munich because it’s an easy day trip and you can enjoy their line-up of beers on the veranda with relaxing views of the surrounding country-side. If you can’t make it out to Andechs, you can find their beers (and good food) at the Andescher am Dom in Munich’s old town center.
Ayinger Celebrator (6.7% ABV) - Located just outside of Munich in the town of Aying, the Ayinger brewery was founded in 1877. All of their beers are excellent but our favorite is their Celebrator Doppelbock. If you’re in Munich but don’t have time to go to Aying, you can find their beers (and good food) at the Ayinger am Platzl in Munich’s old town center.
Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche (8% ABV) - If you want to taste this smoked Doppelbock, you’ll have to visit the town of Bamberg which is about 2 hours north of Munich by train. But the trip is well worth it if you want to try a very unique beer from the Brauerei Heller-Trum, founded in 1678.
Most of our customers had never tried a German Rauchbier (smoked beer) before joining one of our tours and most either love it or hate it. But an old local saying goes that the first time you try Rauchbier you need to drink at least three of them, and if you do, you’ll be hooked for life!
When in Bamberg seek out the Schlenkerla tavern where the beer is always poured from a gravity keg. Summer evenings are especially fun at the tavern when people spill out into the street to enjoy their beers al fresco!
Schneider Weisse Mein Aventinus (8.2% ABV) - Aventinus is a wheat Doppelbock brewed by the Schneider Weisse Brewery in Kelheim (about an hour north of Munich). Schneider Weisse was founded in Munich in 1872 but is now brewed in Kelheim at a brewery built by Duke Maximilian I in 1607. We have yet to meet anyone - even if they don’t like wheat beers - who doesn’t fall in love with Aventinus after trying it for the first time. If you can’t make it to Kelheim, you can always visit the Schneider Bräuhaus in Munich’s old town center where you’ll find Aventinus, and the entire Schneider Weisse line-up, fresh on the tap.
Weihenstephan Korbinian (7.4% ABV) - Korbinian is one of many exceptional beers brewed by the Weihenstephan Brewery in Freising - “The World’s Oldest Brewery” - founded in the year 1040. The brewery is associated with the Weihenstephan Technical University which boasts one of the most prestigious brewing programs in the world, and with all this experience you can be assured that Korbinian is an exceptional Doppelbock. Freising is located about 30 minutes outside of Munich by S-Bahn making it a great excursion for lunch and a few beers in their beer garden.
Weltenburger Kloster Asam Bock (7.3% ABV) - Last but not least, we finish with Asam Bock from the Weltenburger Monastery Brewery in Kelheim (just up the Danube River from Schneider Weisse mentioned above). The monks at Weltenburger began brewing in the year 1050 making it “The Oldest Monastery Brewery in the World”. The monastery is situated on the banks of the Danube River and shouldn’t be missed if you’re ever in or near Kelheim.
Original Gravity Tours!
If you join one of our Munich & Bamberg Tours you’ll be able to try most of the Doppelbocks listed above because our tours include visits to Andechs, Schlenkerla, Schneider Weisse, Weihenstephan and Weltenburger!
We tour the oldest breweries in the world, meet local craft brewers, enjoy the finest beer gardens, explore the Franconian breweries trail, explore the 1,000-year-old cities of Munich & Bamberg, ferry the Danube River, and more!
For a virtual tour, pop open your favorite German beer and check out our Photos, Videos & Reviews page. It's also worth noting What Sets Us Apart from other German beer tour companies.
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Jack is a Certified Cicerone®, BJCP Beer Judge, and American Homebrewers Association Member Since 2012
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Jonathan has been an American Homebrewers Association Member Since 2017
"Best trip ever. Tasted 73 different German beers over the course of the trip, many of which could only be sampled on a trip like this...”
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Greetings! I'm a passionate beer and international travel lover. Other than craft beer, I mostly go for German & Belgian beers and if you share the same interests, you may enjoy my blog. Prost!