More to Ok­to­ber­fest

> Mu­nich is not the only place to seek out Bavaria’s finest brews in a once-in-a-life­time beer pil­grim­age


IT WAS one of those heaven-sent mo­ments: on a holy moun­tain sit­ting un­der the horse-ch­est­nut trees; in front of me rolling, forested hills veiled in a thin, ethe­real mist, and be­yond them the frieze of dis­tant Alps.

Be­side me was a half-litre of ‘liq­uid bread’, made all the more spir­i­tu­ally in­tox­i­cat­ing for hav­ing been brewed by my hosts – the monks.

And yes, sit­ting there on the ter­race of the monastery gasthof, I’d al­ready had a beer or two.

But by drink­ing beer and wait­ing for my roast pork and dumplings, I was merely a modern man­i­fes­ta­tion of a long tra­di­tion.

Pil­grims to the monastery of An­dechs, south of Mu­nich, have been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the heaven-sent plea­sure of re-vit­tling here for hun­dreds of years.

And they con­tinue to do so, although the true pil­grims (those who had set out on foot from Mu­nich on the first stage of a jour­ney to Spain’s San­ti­ago de Com­postela) were hard to pick out among the large, in­ter­na­tional crowd on the holy hillock that evening.

As far as I could see, the rest of us were only here for the beer.

This year is the 500th birth­day of the Rein­heits­ge­bot, the Ger­man beer pu­rity law, which re­mains the old­est nutri­tion law still in use in the world. It in­sists that beer should only be made from the sim­ple in­gre­di­ents of bar­ley, hops and water, and is the rea­son why Ger­man brews are still so lips­mack­ingly good.

The Rein­heits­ge­bot orig­i­nated in Bavaria, home of the Ok­to­ber­fest, which kicked off its frothy fes­tiv­i­ties re­cently. But I’d de­cided to dodge the six mil­lion-strong crowds and come here for my own lit­tle pil­grim­age.

And I was mak­ing it all the more spir­i­tual by do­ing my drink­ing at two Bene­dic­tine monas­ter­ies with a fine tra­di­tion of home-brew hos­pi­tal­ity, and in two great lo­ca­tions ac­ces­si­ble from Mu­nich: An­dechs, on its own hill be­tween the lakes of Starn­berg and Am­mersee; and Wel­tenburg, which lies on an al­most com­i­cally scenic sec­tion of the Danube near Re­gens­burg.

Wel­tenburg, my first stop, also hap­pens to be in the Holy Land of hop gar­dens, the Haller­tau, which is among the world’s largest hop­grow­ing ar­eas.

So be­fore I vis­ited the monastery, I had a cou­ple of hoppy di­ver­sions.

One was an ex­cur­sion out into the Haller­tau it­self, a rolling land­scape patched with stand­ing hops up to seven me­tres tall, which makes driv­ing be­tween them like pass­ing through canyons of green. An enor­mous 98% of it goes into mak­ing beer.

Elis­a­beth Stiglmaier, a hop farmer’s wife and self-pro­claimed ‘hop am­bas­sador’, was my guide here.

She took me out around the typ­i­cal Haller­tau vil­lage of At­ten­hofen to show me how the vines are tended and har­vested. One hectare of these fluffy green cones is suf­fi­cient hop­pi­ness for a mind-bog­gling nine mil­lion pints.

Some of the Haller­tau’s hops end up in the old­est monas­tic brew­ery in the world at Wel­tenburg, where the brew­ing habit – since 1050 – is 500 years older than even the Rein­heits­ge­bot.

Just down­river is the el­e­gant, Ital­ianate im­pe­rial city of Re­gens­burg, and many of Wel­tenburg’s vis­i­tors make the jour­ney up­river through a spec­tac­u­lar high-walled lime­stone gorge.

Most come to sit in the big tree­shaded court­yard, which has enough space to seat a cou­ple of hun­dred peo­ple, all tuck­ing into lunch and drink­ing the monastery’s fa­mous dark beer.

This Bene­dic­tine tra­di­tion of hos­pi­tal­ity stems from St Bene­dict’s re­quire­ment that monas­ter­ies should pro­vide both food and ac­com­mo­da­tion to pil­grims and the poor.

Dur­ing long pe­ri­ods of Catholic fast­ing, only liq­uid could be con­sumed by the faith­ful, so the monks brewed a high malt con­tent beer as a bread re­place­ment.

To this day, beer in Ger­many is still re­ferred to as ‘liq­uid bread’.

In fact, the monks them­selves (there are just seven left) are pretty par­tial to a glass or two, brew­mas­ter Lud­wig said as he showed me around.

Lud­wig is proud of the fact that the Wel­tenburg brew­ery has won the ‘best dark beer in the world’ prize three times in re­cent his­tory.

The suc­cess, he said, is partly down to the qual­ity of water in the monastery’s own spring. And, of course, partly down to brew­ing ex­per­tise.

At An­dechs, on the other side of Mu­nich, the monas­tic or­der is Bene­dic­tine too, but the setup is slightly dif­fer­ent.

Here, the 17 monks in the com­mu­nity com­bine ‘Ora et Lab­ora’, work and prayer, and that means that all the brew­ing, ma­tur­ing and bot­tling, is done on site, un­der their su­per­vi­sion.

An­dechs’ his­tory is patchy, and the monas­tic church less ethe­real than Wel­tenburg, but the lo­ca­tion and the views are enough to bring large cheer­ful crowds to the Bräustüberl, the main monas­tic bier­garten, par­tic­u­larly on sum­mer week­ends.

An­dechs gets a mil­lion vis­i­tors a year, and on many days, the curse of the selfie means it is im­pos­si­ble for the monks to be able to wear their habits in pub­lic with­out in­ces­santly be­ing asked to pose.

Last or­ders at the An­dechs Bräustüberl are at 8pm, to make space for prayer time.

By 9pm, those of us who were stay­ing in the monastery’s gue­strooms – large, light and com­fort­able, and with a cou­ple of free bot­tles of An­dechs beer thrown into the bar­gain – were sur­rounded by peace, and had the cob­bled path­ways and the views to our­selves.

Next morn­ing, I hopped in a taxi back to the near­est rail­way sta­tion, my pil­grim­age done.

The driver turned out to be an en­thu­si­ast for monas­tic beer, telling me that An­dechs also does an al­co­hol-free ver­sion, which ap­par­ently perks him up af­ter the gym.

It is, he said, “just like liq­uid bread”. I’ll drink to that. – The In­de­pen­dent

Cel­e­bra­tion of a great brew ... some of the older brew­eries in Bavaria can be found in (top row, from left) the An­dechs monastery; the Wel­tenburg monastery; and the im­pe­rial city of Re­gens­burg.

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