Thursday, 8 October 2009

Munich (day three)

I'd had a good long sleep, but I still felt a bit weird. The day after the Oktoberfest. I'd stopped boozing at around 5 pm, too. I blame lack of food.

Breakfast didn't attract me a great deal. Despite my low food intake the day before. What was it I was feeling? Knackered? Hungover? Ill? Something somewhere inbetween all three.

When the eating was done, the other three all buggered off. Leaving me alone with my luggage and my strange feeling. But I wasn't lost. I had a plan for the day. And yes, it did include beer. Not that I felt much like one (I didn't look much like one, either). Grabbing some photos and dropping by a few pubs I'd not been in before. Basically to harvest material for my Munich Pub Guide.

I'd sort of worked out an itinerary. Wander down this way, then along here, down here and finally back to the hotel to pick up my bag. Simple. The exercise would soon liven me up, I was sure.

First on my list was Hackerhaus. Mostly because I'd never been there and it sounded like a cosy, old place. And it's pretty central. It wasn't hard to find. But I walked right on past. Why? I had lost one thing at the Oktoberfest. My pen. I needed a new one and fast. Now I was on my own there would be plenty of time for note-taking.

I found a pen. Something else, too. A book. I was just walking past a book shop and, as you do, dived in to check the beer section. Wonder of wonders - they had something I didn't already own. A book about brewing in Munich. With a proper bibliography and references. Brillafrickingriffic. I needed a good historical book about Munich. The day had begun well.

Hackerhaus is on the site of the original Hacker brewery. Not that's it's been there for a long while. It's a handsome 19th-century building with a good corner location. Except . . . the bit on the corner is now occupied by shops. The pub part is now an uneasy L-shape with little more than an entrance on the street.

Inside. How would I describe inside? Cosy? Old-fashioned? Stuffed full of old kack? Take your pick. It's all and more. It was all a bit much for me. Imagine having to dust all that stuff. It must be a nightmare. I decided to sit at one of the kerbside tables.

Despite being well before noon, there were already a few tables of drinkers outside. Don't you just love Bavaria? A dirndl-clad waitress soon trolled up. What would I loke to drink? Now there's a question. A Mild, that's what I'd like to drink. Luckily they did stock a Mild. Lager Mild, as I like to call it. Dunkles to everyone else. "A small Dunkles, please." "You do realise it's only 30 cl." the waitress warned me. I did realise, but it was nice of her to tell me.

Yes, I know I said I took notes. Do you really want to know what I thought of the Dunkles? Really? Brown colour, malty, nutty, sweetish tiny bit roasty. That do you?

As I sipped my Dunkles (yes, I really did sip it - you can tell I wasn't 100%) I browsed through my new book ["München und das Bier" by Astrid Assél and Christian Huber, Volk Verlag München, 2009]. It was good quality in every sense. Good quality paper, good quality illustrations, good quality research. Not only about brewers, either. There was stuff on pubs as well. One in particular caught my attention. A place that wasn't in my guide. What made me stop and consider was a photo of its bar. With a wooden barrel sitting atop it. Oh, oh. Things like this get me all excited. I'm just a kid at heart.

A quick check of the map revealed that Spockmeier (for that was the name of the pub) was right on my planned route. That was destination number two settled.

Zum Spöckmeier is an historic pub with a long history. Which stretched right up until the RAF urban-planned it to pieces one night. The ruins were replaced by a new pub around 1950. That didn't last long. In 1969 came the current shiny, but rather dull, building. The interior was totally renovated in 2009. Or re-oldated. Because it's been tarted up in a traditional* way.

If you've been to Germany, and especially Bavaria, you'll know the score. Red flagged floors, pine tables, waitresses in dirndls. They haven't done a bad job (especially with the waitresses). It's a bit like one of those oxymoronic 1960's chocolate adverts, where they claimed the product was both new and traditional and unchanged. The clean, almost Spartan, design make it obviously modern. I've seen much worse.

This wouldn't be Munich if Spöckmeier didn't stretch over a couple of storeys and several rooms. The beer garden in front of the pub has another 150 seats.

Unfortunately the spot where the barrel goes was empty. Maybe they just have gravity-served beer in the evenings. Quite a few other pubs do that. I hope so. I was just about to order a Dunkles when I noticed a sign: "Paulaner Oktoberfest". And they did quarter litres, too. Perfect.

I was a bit surpised when the beer turned up. It was the wrong colour: amber rather than golden. These stupid Germans. Can't they even get the colour of Oktoberfest right? Only having tried the Hacker version, I didn't have much to compare it with. Sweet and a bit milky. Like my Mum drank her tea. Not quite how I like my beer, though.

* "traditional" in this sense means "1850 to 1943".

Sendlinger Str. 14,
80331 München (Munich).
Tel. 089 - 2605026
Fax 089 - 2605027

Zum Spöckmeier
Rosenstraße 9,
80331 München.
Tel.: 089 - 268088
Fax: 089 - 2605509


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, all very informative, and I have another question: since the glasses mostly seem, especially at Oktobefest, to have large heads, does this mean one is (usually, always?) served less than the volume size of the glass? Or is there a line in the vessels above which the foam must rise?

What are the glass sizes, is it standardized everywhere? Also, what is a mass?


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, yes. You do get a short measure at Oktoberfest. But they glasses aren't brim measure, there's a line a couple of centimetres from the top.

In Munich the standard measure in pubs is a half litre. Though the Hofbräuhaus and some beer gardens only sell litres.

Nowadays a Mass = 1 litre. Though a proper Mass was a pre-metric measurement of volume used in Bavaria. It's very slightly different from a litre. To be precise, 1.06903 litres.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, thanks for that. In pictures from the 19th century, including in America up to the 1940's, so often you see photos of glasses sometimes half-filled with foam in this way. It was something intentional in other words that only survives today in Germany I think and here and there elsewhere in Europe.

This was done I think to promote digestibility of beer. I have no problem with it since that that is a good thing, as long as the effective price is felt acceptable, which it must be at Oktoberfest considering the huge crowds which attend as you so well described.

I would like to attend the German ones, maybe some day.

I have attended many beer festivals elsewhere over some 30 years, of different sizes and types but nothing close to the gargantuan fest you described.

I think my favourite by far was a (CAMRA) Pig's Ear festival in East London in the late 1980's. It was in Bethnal Green, in a community hall there. I will never forget it, apart from superb beers (also ciders, perries) - served puristically on stillage and many then from the wood - there were the many interesting conversations with English stalwarts of the real ale scene.

There is something unique and special about cask beer in London and that exemplified it to the t.


Barm said...

The litre line on a Mass is four centimetres or more below the brim, leaving room for a high head.

The Oktoberfest is notorious for giving short measure, so you get much more foam than that. You are generally very lucky to get 70% of the amount of beer you paid for. That and the high price of a litre are two of the things the people of Munich like to complain about the most.

Rod said...

"as long as the effective price is felt acceptable, which it must be at Oktoberfest"

Gary, as has been said, at the Oktoberfest you don't get a full litre in your Mass. It's nothing to do with digestibility, it's to do with the fact that a) bar staff are rushed off their feet and have to fill glasses very rapidly to keep up with demand, b) waitresses are paid according to the amount of beer they sell, and c) the breweries wish to maximise profit from a captive audience.
Bear in mind also that the beer is expensive to start with.
The Oktoberfest is a great occasion, with a wonderful atmosphere, and every beer lover should visit it once, but please, please don't go if the fact that you're going to get ripped off just slightly is going to spoil it. Because you are going to get ripped off just a little bit, and an argument with the waitress is going to get you precisely nowhere, trust me.

Gary Gillman said...

There is something about a pint of well-drawn English draught beer that makes it irresistible when brimful drawn off the stillage. It just doesn't taste as good if you start off below the very top, I don't know why. The slight sparkle and (often) dark fruit notes combined with English malt and hops makes for a unique experience, one hard to beat.

The lacy and cauliflower head of a beer engine pint can be good too but not as good in my opinion as the best stillage beer.

The English festival is one I like a lot and it is notable the more for being a recent phenomenon. I am quite sure nothing like the CAMRA festivals existed in Britain before the first ones some 30 years ago.

I haven't attended the big one in August as yet - I always was puzzled why August was selected, being the hottest month of the year. Perhaps since it is holidays time it was felt more people could get away to attend it.

Anyway I liked the small scale of the Pig's Ear festival. As I recall it, there was no music, little noise and food was available but off to the side and not obtrusive. The focus was very much on the beer, in other words. I wonder if CAMRA still does the Pig's Ear, good for them if they do.


Anonymous said...

"there was no music, little noise and food was available but off to the side and not obtrusive."

Given that the Pig's Ear in Bethnal Green and the Oktoberfest are both ostensibly the same thing, ie beer festivals, it is impossible to think of two less similar events. Which is rather wonderful when you think about it.......
As is -
"pre-metric measurement of volume used in Bavaria. It's very slightly different from a litre. To be precise, 1.06903 litres"
I mean, I knew that the original Mass (measure) was on old Bavarian unit of about a litre, but Ron knows that it's 1.06903.......

Gary Gillman said...

The Pig's Ear Beer Festival is alive and well! It is happening from December 1-5, 2009 in Mare St., Hackney:

(See the Facebook link given where the dates and location are mentioned).

I don't know if I can make it to this, but I intend to try.