To the Bavarians it is ‘liquid bread’, and to visitors it means brewery visits, brewery hotels, and even breweries with churches.
Breweries are highly prized in Bavaria; there are around 700 of them, or around half the total for the whole of Germany. This is, after all, the state whose biggest festival is based around beer (the Oktoberfest). It is also the original home of the German beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot, which stipulates that only water, barley and hops may be used in beer production. And this is also the state which insisted on the nationwide adoption of that law as a precondition of becoming a part of German unification, back in 1871.
The Bavarians, therefore, are capable of organizing more than just a piss up in a brewery. They turn their breweries into destinations, even into shrines, and in some places (ie monasteries such as Ettal and Andechs) the brewery and the church are side by side, and both are run by monks. A particularly fine example is at Weltenburg Abbey near Kelheim on the banks of the Danube, where the monastic brewery has been running since 1050, and its speciality dark and strong beer is served in the cobbled abbey courtyard under spreading chestnut trees, right outside the church.
Many breweries offer accommodation, with 60 brewery-hotels in the Bavarian state of Franconia alone. Here, in Bamberg, a handsome essentially-medieval town which has no fewer than nine breweries, you can stay in guest rooms in the truly echt Fässla brewery, which has been around since 1649, and is still family run. The Fässla’s half enclosed courtyard is full of tables and acts as a public bar for the working men of Bamberg, with the 26 guest rooms just a stumble away upstairs.
Strong enough to knock you off your chair
Amongst tourists, the most celebrated of Bavaria’s breweries has to be the 400-year-old Hofbräuhaus, right on the Platzl in Munich’s city centre, where every cliché of southern Germany – Lederhosen, oompah bands etc – is infallibly on display.
Bavarians themselves, though, prefer something more refined, such as the brewery out at Aying, a pretty village half an hour to the south-east of the Bavarian capital, where beer culture is very much still alive. Here you can take a tour of one of Germany’s most advanced beer palaces and then settle in at the 600-year-old elegant brewery hotel to sample the 12 different varieties that Aying produces. There’s everything from the classic Altbayrisch Dunkel (‘old-Bavarian dark’), the darkish lager that emerged in the 16th century after the passage of the purity law, to the modern Pils, the hoppy German interpretation of the original Czech blond lager that was first brewed in the Bohemian city of Pilsen in 1842. Perhaps the brewery’s most asked-for brew is its Celebrator, a classic dark Bavarian winter lager, which is strong enough at 6.7 percent to knock you off your chair.
Oh yes, and the hotel has a gym and a sauna, if ever you feel you need to work off what you’ve just consumed.
List of Franconian breweries with accommodation.