Think of Oktoberfest in Munich. The scent of fresh pretzels and currywurst linger in the air. Everyone is dressed in lederhosen and dirndls. Helga (yes, your server’s name was indeed Helga) is delivering beers the size of your head to you and your new best friends. Only pictures and headaches as memories tomorrow. Wrap all of this up together — then subtract the overwhelming crowd, endless lines, the need to buy tickets far in advance, and overpriced hotels. Move the date from September to March. Change the beer taps from the traditional Oktoberfest marzen beer and replace it with a dark, strong beer. Welcome to the strong beer festival, Starkbierfest!
Munich has another beer festival?
You bet. This year, Starkbierfest takes place from March 13 – April 5, 2020, and here are 4 reasons why you need to book your flight to Munich ASAP:
The Strong Beer Festival’s history is super cool
Strong Beer Festival (known locally as Starkbierfest) is old. Really old. It dates back to the 1650s. The festival coincides with the Lenten season when monks were forced to fast between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The hungry men, the Paulaner monks, concocted themselves a liquid substitution. They brewed beer with a larger than normal amount of solids. Solids turned into liquids was not against the rules. Juicing kale and celery wasn’t in vogue back then. The result of dumping more solids into the brewing beer was starkbier, which has around 700 calories per liter. This meant the monks could survive the Lent fast on their “liquid bread” and water alone. The belief was a liquid diet would purify the body, spirit and mind in preparation for Easter. The holier the being for the Easter celebration, the better. The brewing process and ingredients meant not only higher calories, but a higher than average alcohol percentage. The Paulaner monks’ beer, Salvator, hangs out at 7.9% alcohol. Amen.
So if you’re feeling extra devoted to Lent this year, take part in the ultimate sacrifice and give up solid food. Follow along in the monk’s path and substitute chewing food with drinking the life-giving nectar of beer strong enough that you might not recall Lent of 2020.
Take the -ator tour
The starkbiers are easily identifiable by their “ator” suffix. And the beer Gods state the only true starkbiers are brewed in Munich. The original is Paulaner Salvator, what the monks survived on. But you should be trying all of the “ators” available by the Bavarian breweries. Lowenbrau brews Triumphator. Augustiner Keller is home to the Maximator. Hofbrauhaus brews Delicator. The Airbrau at the Munich Airport serves up the Aviator. The last is sure to make the flight home a little more enjoyable.
Each of these strong beers deserves a visit to their corresponding brewhaus to sample them all straight out of the tap, served in the standard ceramic beer stein a strong beer should be drunk out of. Alternatively, you can do what I did and book a hostel room with a balcony, gather five friends, and spend St. Patrick’s Day drinking seasonal German beer in Munich. It doesn’t get any more traditional than that. Like picked-at-perfection seasonal fresh fruit, most of the starkbiers will be available at the grocery store during Lent.
Lightweight in the beer handling department or just don’t partake in alcohol? Not to worry. Even though the name of the game is “drink your bread,” all of the beer halls at Strong Beer Festival will serve their lighter beers and radlers. If you don’t know what a radler is, I recommend you find out immediately upon landing in Munich. It’s a glorious mixture of a wheat beer and citrus juice – most often lemon or grapefruit. It’s the perfect partner for day drinking. Since it’s basically drinking half of a beer with some vitamins, you’ll be able to find your way home. Although you might have to lead your wolf-pack of starkbier-drinking friends home. They appreciate your help even if they don’t voice it.
Bask in the off-season
You’re probably not going to be sunning your buns at the Englischer Garten’s unconventional beach like many do in the summer months in Munich. But Strong Beer Festival falling in the tourist off-season offers many other advantages.
Your city/town/treehouse in the woods probably doesn’t host a Starkbierfest so getting to Munich is the first step. Flights from wherever you are to Munich are going to be cheaper in the early spring than say if you were going for that other Bavarian beer festival. And your travel will be extra cheap if you decide to travel via Europe’s famous interrail.
You’ll have a better selection of accommodations, and generally crowds will be thinner everywhere in Munich. You’ll be able to eat your way through the market stalls full of delicious pickles, cheeses, breads and salamis with zero elbows in your way. The Viktualienmarkt is one-stop shopping for all the best Bavarian foods you must try while in Munich. In the off-season, you’re sure to be able to find an empty table to enjoy your treats. The market stalls will also serve many of the “ator” beers so you can skip the expensive restaurants and dine al fresco in the market instead.
Make your game plan
Most of the beer halls at Strong Beer Festival take reservations online, but they probably aren’t necessary. Most will have open space. But if you’re an over planner, like me, you can rest easy by making a reservation.
Depending on where you’d like to drink, your “ator” tour could be done all on foot from the city center, so booking an accommodation near there would be wise. Otherwise public transportation is available as well as Uber so you can get there and back safely. Prost!