Beer, Monasteries and Wine

Written by Giles MacDonogh

Beer, Monasteries and Wine

Written by Giles macDonogh

Posted: 18th August 2022

Bavaria had its own version of the Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, it occurred in 1803. Church lands were sold and many ancient buildings were destroyed, just as they had been in England. Being Bavaria, however, a good deal of Church land was acquired by brewers and some of these ‘monastic’ beers have acquired a considerable reputation over the past two hundred years.

It can be safely assumed that outside wine lands, all monasteries brewed beer, not just for monks, but also for pilgrims and visitors; so in many cases the men who acquired the buildings were simply stepping into the monks’ shoes. An incomplete list of surviving Bavarian monastic breweries includes Tegernsee, Irsee, Ursberg, Ettal, Andechs, Reutberg, Weihenstephan, Scheyern, Welternberg, Aldersbach, Speinshart and Kemnath, Weissenohe, Kreuzberg and Vierzehnheiligen. Monasteries required wine too for sacerdotal reasons. As Bavaria was not good for growing grapes, the wine had to be made elsewhere. Up in the Alps near Garmisch, Tegernsee imported its wine from the excellent Tegernseerhof in the Austrian Wachau.

Locally brewed beer is therefore a counterpoint to any tour of Bavarian monasteries, and not just monasteries. The locus classicus here would be the Augustinerbräu Stammhaus in Munich, which is more or less opposite the site of the old Augustinian Friary which evicted its occupants in 1803. With its grottos, groin vaults and antlers, is just about the most atmospheric beer hall in the city. They are not all like that: in July we had a good, beery meal at the Schillerbräu micro-brewery in the Schiller Strasse that was arranged in a more modern idiom.

The next day we drove towards the mountains and stopped at Andechs on the Holy Mountain above Starnberg Lake, which has a well-deserved reputation for its monastic beers. The yardstick for judging a Bavarian brewery is the bottom-fermented ‘Helles’, although a dark, ‘Dunkel’ version is always available too. Bottom-fermented beers are called ‘lagers’ in Britain, which traditionally prefers top-fermented ‘ales’. Andechs with is honey-scented Helles was no disappointment: a Bavarian Helles is generally slightly sweet and not nearly as hoppy as a pilsner. Most if not all Bavarian breweries make wheat beers (Weizen or Weissbier) and extra-strong seasonal Bockbiers. Andechs makes Bock all the year round. It was hot in Bavaria in July and Helles or Weizen suited the temperature better.

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Giles MacDonogh

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