Munich's Secret Spring Beer Festival – Starkbierzeit
Everyone (beer drinker or not) has heard of Oktoberfest, but Munich has another huge beer festival that is not so well publicised. At the Starkbierzeit ask for “ein Doppelbock bitte” and you’ll be served with a very potent double strength beer! “Bock” stands for strong beer and “doppel” means double so the beers have an alcohol volume of no less than 7.5%.
Munich’s Starkbierzeit spring festival usually begins during Lent after the end of Fasching (carnivale) and lasts for about four weeks. The modern-day version of this festival is meant for people to forget the harshness of winter and celebrate the arrival of the spring season, although I must say that after weeks of drinking this potent beer, there might not be much that people will remember.
This year, the official opening is on March 12th 2009, where the first barrel of the new season’s Salvator Doppelbock is tapped at the Paulaner Wirtshaus restaurant on the Nockherberg, with many prominent guests in attendance. Celebrations can also be found in other beer halls and cellars like the Löwenbräu Keller, Unions-Bräu and the Augustiner Keller, where blaring oompah bands, singing, dancing and comic performances are part of the events. Of course there’s plenty of malty, amber-colored Doppelbock on tap and sausages and pretzels.
Munich owes its “spring health cure” festival to the Paulaner monks who set up shop in Munich in 1627. In preparation for Lent, the monks brewed a very strong, malty beer according to medieval Benedictine recipe so as to give them strength during the period of fasting. During Lent, only liquids could be consumed and the double strength stout provided the replacement sustenance. The stronger the brew, the more it helped the monks to not break their fast. The friars called their brew Sankt-Vater-Bier (Holy Father Beer) and the a name later evolved into Salvator which is Latin for saviour.
Today, most Bavarian breweries make their own version of a Doppelbock and they usually label their brew with a name that ends in ‘ator’ such as Maximator, Optimator, Unimator, or Triumphator, in deference to the Salvator brew that started it all. But for the people of Munich, the Salvator, the oldest Doppelbock, still takes prime honour in the Strong Beer Season festivities.
So why have we not heard as much of this festival as we have Oktoberfest? I suppose the good people of Munich want to keep this festival for themselves and it might not be appropriate to tell too many people that this is what they do at Lent. If you’re in the vicinity of Munich, why not head for one of the beer halls and enjoy a Doppelbock or two. Prost!