Friday, March 11, 2011
Can you say Starkbierzeit? It's German for "strong beer festival", an event held every March in Munich. For two weeks, breweries bring out their most potent beverages, and beer halls throw noisy parties with a host of Bavarian entertainment and food. It's Oktoberfest without the tourists.
The festival's roots go back to the Paulaner monks who, according to legend, began making an extra strength beer to sustain themselves during their Lenten fast. The beer, first brewed in the 17th century, gained a "word of mouth" following. The townspeople called it Salvator.
Salvator is classified as a doppelbock, which means an "extra strength" version of the Bock style. "Bock", in Bavaria, is a generic term meaning strong beer--pale as well as dark. Just how strong are doppelbocks? They start at 7.5 percent alcohol by volume. Anbd because their strength is masked by a strong malty flavor, they can sneak up on the most experienced of beer drinkers.
The site of Zackeri's beer hall is still the gathering place for Starkbierzeit--especially on March 19th, St. Joseph's Day. Today, it's called the Paulaner Keller. This sprawling complex can hold 5,000 revelers, and there's room for thousands more outside. It has everything you'd expect in a traditional beer hall: sturdy beermaids; brass bands blaring out drinking songs; and plenty of malty, amber colored Salvator Doppelbock.
It didn't take long for Munich's other breweries to follow Paulaner's lead and come out with their own doppelbocks. But as a tribute to the original Salvator, they've all given their beers names ending in "-ator".
Paulaner's biggest competitor is Lowenbrau, which brings out its sweetish--and lethal--Triumphator in March. You can find it all over town, but if you want to join the party, the place to go is the brewery's enormous Lowenbraukeller. Show up on the right evening, and the entertainment will include boulder-lifting competitions and other feats of strength.