Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Munich (day 1)

That's the appetiser polished off. Now time for the main course, pudding, cheese, port, brandy and cigar. Munich.

After a leisurely and relatively late breakfast, we left Oberammergau. Destination Munich. Years had passed since my last visit. I was dead excited. We picked up the motorway, Andy put his foot down and the summer-green fields blurred around us. "Munich here we come", I thought, for no particular reason.

As we threaded our way through central Munich we soon spotted them. People headed for the Wies'n. Queueing at cash machines in lederhosen or dirdls. Wearing funny hats. All headed in one direction.

Our hotel was in a great spot. At the Isar end of the town centre, just around the back if Tal. Handy for Weisses Brauhaus, Augustiner am Platzl and Hofbräuhaus. We were barely out of the van when a group of Americans approached Andy. "Do you know the way to the Hofbräuhaus?" Did the Pope study theology? Of course he knew where it was: just down there, first left then first right.

After a couple of brief exchanges it became clear this wasn't just a random bunch of Americans. They were part of the group we were supposed to be meeting later in . . . . Hofbräuhaus. Which is where we headed after dumping our bags.

One thing became clear on our arrival at Hofbräuhaus. It was a shit place to arrange to meet. Especially on a day like that. We weren't allowed in the main entrance because of overcrowding. Instead, we entered at the side we made a tour of the whole building to get where we wanted to be. Then toured it again looking for four empty seats. Which we eventually found in the Schwemme.

The noise. That struck me. Though close to the band, we could barely hear them over the noise. The noise of human voices. A few speaking, but most shouting. Electric. That's how you usually describe such at atmosphere. Don't know if it really was electric, but it was certainly more than gas. And candles couldn't hold a candle to it.

Foaming litres soon adorned our table. Mine dark, the others pale. Looked great and didn't taste too bad, either. I've had a few pretty duff Hofbräu beers in the past, but this was good. Slightly sweet, nuttily malty as only a Munich Dunkles can be. A litre didn't seem excessive at all.

As we sipped then slurped, Andy went in search. Of the Americans. And his mate Steve. Rather him than me. I'd had enough of forcing my way through the corridors of drinkers. He returned alone. And returned to his beer, from which he took a few slugs.

If you've never been to the Hofbräuhaus it's hard to imagine its scale. Rooms and halls, each containing hundreds, if not thousands of drinkers, stacked upon each other right to the rafters of the the roof. It's a bit like a pub version of the London Underground. At rush hour. More people than you ever want to see, all crammed together.

A second sortie brought Andy more luck. He'd founs the American group. And there was room at their table. Andy guided our little expedition, in single file, through the ravines of drinkers. I brought up the rear. I'd just been observing a particularly good dirndl when I realised I was a lone. Cast adrift in a sea of pissheads. Where the hell were they all?

I stood around for a while, paralysed by confusion. I checked the beer garden. No joy. The corridor. Still no luck. The funny little room next to the beer garden full of teenagers. Not there, either. Where could they have gone? They couldn't be on the outside balcony, could they? As I approached the steps I heard a frantic banging on the window. It was Andy.

They were sitting right next to the kitchen. That provided entertainment in itself. A conveyor belt brought a never-ending succession of plates to the pickup-point, where waiters queued. A ceaseless flow of Schweinehaxe and Weisswurst was loaded onto long trays and whisked away. Cooking on a truly industrial scale.

They must have said something to the waiter. The Americans. Something he didn't like. Because he didn't intend serving us any more beer. Bugger. My glass was empty. And our seats cramped. Andy decided we should progress onwards and upwards. Literally. To the ballroom where Steve had seats. The service surely couldn't be any worse. Could it?

As it turned out, yes it could. Much, much worse. The Long Wait. That's what I called it. The trauma will stay with me forever, clinging like an overenthusiastic fart.

We got our order in quickly enough. Three Helles one Dunkles. Our waitress brought the three Helles then buggered off. The Dunkles was for me.

We reminded her about the missing Dunkles after 10 minutes. And 20. And 30. And 40. Even after 50 minutes. When an hour had passed, Andy went to the bar, found another waitress and came back with two litres of Dunkles. I grabbed both. Lots of catching up to do.

We did persuade our waitress to bring us some food. After about 90 minutes. I had a pair of Weisswurst. Though I wasn't quite in the mood to relish them as much as I should have. After all the effing waiting.

The original plan had been to walk to the Englischer Garten and have a beer in a garden there. But no-one could be arsed, so we went to the Hofgarten instead. It was very pelasant there. Sunlight dappling through the trees. A wooden barrel glugging out glasses of beer. And it would have been a great place to relax and wind down, away from the hordes of the Hofbräuhaus. If anyone had effing served us. We gave up after 15 minutes.

Augustiner Großgastätte is, despite its tongue-twisting name, a favourite of mine. Didn't take much persuading to drop by there with Andy and Steve. If only every high street had a pub as good.

Finally, the beers came quickly and kept coming. Out of the wood. I'd show you a picture of the barrel. But two in a row is just too much. Even of something as beautiful as a wooden barrel. Or the Edelstoff that issued from it. Mmmm. Got to love that Augustiner.

It was time to move on. Andy suggested Der Pschorr on Viktualienmarkt. Sounded like a good idea. Especially as he said they had gravity-served beer. Last time I was in Munich, only Augustiner of the local breweries still delivered beer in oak barrels. Not any more.

Most anywhere else in the world Der Pschorr would count as enormous. In Munich, it's just big. It looks like they're taken over what used to be a covered market as a cavernous extension to the main pub premises. Themselves substantial enough. A giant TV screen was showing a Bayern München game. We passed on that and sat in the main bar. In sight of the barrel. As that was dispensing Helles, Helles it was.

Don't expect any tasting notes. It was far too late in the day for any of that bollocks. Now we had service, it was time for a few carefree pints. And carefree they were, as the next was never far behind. The 50-litre wooden barrels didn't last long. Every twenty minutes it was replaced by a fresh one. And the beautiful noise of a tap being hammered home reverberated around the room. Happy times.

But we weren't ausgedrunken. We considered the Paulaner tent amongst the stalls of the outdoor market, until we saw the ashtrays. Seems the smoking ban doesn't apply to tents in Germany. As it was on our way home, Weisses Brauhaus seemed like a good idea. So that's where we went. There was a queue outside. One out, one in was the door policy. No Hofbräuhaus-style crowds inside here. But there was a decent churn, so we were soon seated.

Weisses Brauhaus seems to employ exclusively grannies as waitresses. It's very homely and reassuring. Soon our granny had brought me an Eisbock and the world was looking a better place. After a second, it was becoming positively heavenly.

Back at the hotel, I realised I'd forgotten to have any tea. I asked the lady at the desk if they had any food. I thought I'd asked for a sandwich. What I got was a dry roll. It did the job. At least until breakfast.

And so ended my first day in Munich. Next was the main event: Oktoberfest. Would my throat get as parched as in Hofbräuhaus? Would I remember to eat? Find out tomorrow in the next installment.

Am Platzl 9,
80331 München.
Tel. 089 - 290 1360
Fax: 089 - 227 586
E-mail: webmaster@hofbraeuhaus.de

Augustiner Großgaststätte
Neuhauserstr 27,
80331 München
Tel. 089 - 231 83257
Fax: 089 - 260 5379
Website: http://www.augustiner-restaurant.com/

Der Pschorr
Viktualienmarkt 15,
80331 München.
Tel. +49 (0)89 / 5 18 18 500
Fax: +49 (0)89 / 5 18 18 545
E-Mail: info@der-pschorr.de

Weisses Bräuhaus
Tal 7,
80331 München.
Tel. 089 - 299 875
Fax: 089 - 290 13815


Anonymous said...

It's reports like this which confirms my resolution to find other times of the year to visit Munich!

Ron Pattinson said...

Knut, it was only really the Hofbräuhaus where the service was terrible.

I found it quite nice being in town when everyone was dressed up.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, an absorbing account (no pun intended), thanks.

I am curious, when you engage with locals there, do they comment on the quality of beer and show any knowledge of the type an English or American beer fan would have? Or do they just take for granted the range of beers available? There must be local preferences, not just amongst breweries but brands and types. (E.g., I wonder who locally would order that Eisbock you mentioned, is it just because it is strong, or is it considered more a "connoisseur" beer the way it would here?).

Is there a level of beer appreciation in other words in connoisseur terms (for lack of a better word)? Or is the luxury of choice that still exists (for those who know how to find it, at any rate) in a sense an historical accident?


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, Germans tend to drink beer rather than discuss it. They take their beer very much for granted.

I'm not sure if any locals drink the Eisbock. I assume they stock it just because they stock all Schneider's regular products. And because they'll get a fair few foreigners drop by.

Most Germans give beer very little thought. Their approach is very different to the North American one. Beer is just part of everyday life, like bread or sausage.

As for choice, there's also a different concept in Germany. The pubs in Munich don't duplicate styles. So you won't see two different versions of Helles, or several different Pils in a single bar. You get one of each type. I'm very comfortable with this approach. I'd rather a pub loook after one Helles, one Pils, one Dunkles and one Weizen properly, rather than sell a dozen indifferent versions of each style.

Kristen England said...

I love the weiss brauhaus menu. You can order bottles of Eisbock to go, edelbrand, playing cards and for 10,000 euro, an authentic maipole. :)


Suprised you missed Ayinger directly across the street from the HB. They serve beer by gravity all the time. Great place to watch the pissheads get chucked out of the HB for trying to steal the MaB.

Gary Gillman said...

That is very interesting, thanks. It shows I think that the luxury of choice still existing is not really something intentional, and sustained consciously, but rather is the present state of a long-term historical process.

I.e., at one time, there were many thousands of breweries, making innumerable types of beer. This happened due to isolation and primitive technology.

In the 1800's, industrialization started the long-term decline in the number of breweries. It also "improved" beer: the lager revolution, notably, did this (at least from a certain standpoint). So an association developed between capital investment and quality - tending ever farther from artisan notions in other words...

So today, while there are still 2000 breweries or more there, this represents a historical survival, is how I read it, more than anything consciously intended to maintain high quality and choice. This is not to say the brewers do not take great pride in what they make, I am sure they do. I am speaking at the consumer level.

I would think in other words consumers are drinking the beers - fortunately still available are superb - that happen to be available at this stage of this long-term process, rather than "driving" the choice to any significant degree. This is different to what has happened in England and North America in the last 30 years.

(I suppose one could make the case that a level of "connoisseurship" exists but is not articulated in the way familiar to craft beer fans in England and the U.S. - that is a possibility I think, but in any case its effects seem limited).


Gary Gillman said...

There was a word missing in a paragraph of my previous comment, and the sense got blunted. Here is the sentence as I intended it:

"I would think in other words consumers are drinking the beers - fortunately many are superb - that happen to be available at this stage of this long-term process, rather than "driving" the choice to any significant degree".


I have visited a couple of times the HB outpost in Las Vegas, Nevada, I understand it is owned by the Munich house. I enjoyed it, and the food was excellent. The beers, all imported I was told from HB in Germany, were good but not really special in my view. I'll have to try the original HB at some point and will judge then.


Andrew Elliott said...

Enthralling account as always, Ron. The way you build up for the next installment leaves me longing for tomorrow. I particularly enjoy your erudite way of putting things: The trauma will stay with me forever, clinging like an overenthusiastic fart.


Mike said...

Gary, I think you are over-analysing a bit. There is, in my experience, a very large gap between how people in the US/UK (and perhaps some Canadians) look at beer and the way it is seen locally in Europe. For one thing, there seems to compulsive classification by the English-speakers, but little to none by Dutch and German speakers.

Blogging is also a good measure. There are hundreds, thousands (?) of beer blogs in the US and some in Canada and the UK, that discuss beer as if it were an enzyme or genetic DNA. Here, there are far fewer blogs, but they look at beer as something to enjoy, not to study. Here is one example: http://blog.seniorennet.be/bierblog/
and here's another one: http://trappistbier.wordpress.com/

There are some things that should be enjoyed without an instruction book. Beer is one of those things.

Gary Gillman said...

Mike, I was trying simply to draw out the implications of what Ron stated in response to my question. I am not judging any traditions or saying one is better than another, just trying to understand them.

I do believe though that on a long-term basis, without sustained pressure from consumers and interest groups to maintain quality and (especially) diversity, a beer culture worthy of the name may suffer over time. This happened both in the U.S. and Canada but consumer-driven developments partly reversed it.

Also, the viewpoint of analysis is not inconsistent with enjoyment.


Ron Pattinson said...

Kristen, they didn't use to have gravity-served beer at the Ayinger pub. I would have dropped by if I'd known that.

Mike said...

Gary, I stick by my earlier observation that beer is seen differently on either side of the Atlantic.

In Europe, beer is a sensual experience much like eating a meal or listening to nice music. I have been in many, many pubs over the years and have never once heard anyone attempting to analyse a beer (other than the occasional foreign tourist, perhaps). Frankly, I don't see how analysis and enjoyment can be compatible, but perhaps that's just me.

On your other point, it seems to me that there are two kinds of breweries: those that focus on marketing and those that focus on producing a well-crafted product. If a region has mostly market-oriented brewers, I agree that consumer pressure is necessary. However, if the majority of brewers are of the artisanal kind, such as in parts of Germany, Czech Republic and, to a lesser extent, in Belgium and the Netherlands, then consumer pressure is not necessary.