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Food & Drink

The Craft of Strong Beer Brewing

In Bavaria, the passing seasons are reflected not only in the weather but also by the types of beer on offer. In the cold winter months, when a light lager just doesn’t hit the spot, local breweries start preparing the region’s signature starkbier, or ‘strong beer.’ Brewed to be sipped rather than guzzled, these warming beers are deliciously malty and, at up to 13% alcohol, are considerably stronger than most other German styles. With the Munich Starkbier Festival commencing on 19th February, join us as we discover the craft of strong beer brewing.

After Oktoberfest has passed (and steins of the season’s Märzen beers have been drained), breweries are busy preparing their next orders – for strong beer. Strong beer is made with higher than normal volumes of malted barley, leading to brews that are sweet, dark in hue, and rich in fermentable sugars. Those sugars are consumed by the yeast, producing higher amounts of alcohol as a result and making for a strong final product of between six and 13 per cent ABV; this one isn’t for the faint hearted. Though the strong beer season (‘Starkbierzeit’ in German) lasts for only a month or so, it’s highly anticipated by locals, who look forward to these tasty brews. Strong beer first-timers should expect flavour profiles of toffee, chocolate, and spice.

Within the strong beer category, there are several different traditional sub-styles. Perhaps the best known is doppelbock, which is not only powerfully flavoursome but also has a rich history. It was developed in the early 1600s by Franciscan Paulaner monks who settled in Munich. The monks were from a strict order which banned them from consuming any solid foods during the 40 days of Lent, so they came up with the idea of creating their own beer, or ‘liquid bread,’ to enable them to enjoy the nutrients of the grain without breaking their fast. The outcome was so delicious that the monks began offering this beer to the public and it eventually became a favourite local tradition.

Strong beer continues to be produced by a number of Bavarian breweries, like Paulaner and Hofbräu. Over several centuries, Paulaner’s brewmasters have developed their own version of the historic monks’ recipes to create the popular Salvator Doppelbock. The 8% brew is made with three hops and dark Munich malt, giving it a chestnut brown colour and a dominant malt flavour and aroma. Paying homage to its origins, the bottle label features the image of a monk, while the name Salvator Doppelbock roughly translates to ‘Holy Father beer’.

To celebrate the Starkbierzeit season, breweries and bars across the city come together to host the annual Munich Strong Beer Festival. Unofficially recognised as Oktoberfest’s younger, calmer brother, the festival offers the optimal opportunity to sample strong beers produced by local breweries at events and beer halls all over Munich. The first cask is always tapped by a celebrity at Paulaner Keller, where the biggest party unfolds. Taking place this year from 19th February to 19th March, the Munich Strong Beer Festival should be right at the top of all beer enthusiasts’ spring travel itineraries.

Outside of the festival, Munich’s famous super-strength beers can be sampled at breweries, bars and taverns across the city throughout Starkbierzeit. Before the season closes in early spring, make sure you also visit Munich’s oldest strong beer brewery, Hofbräuhaus, which is renowned for its Hofbräu Delicator beer.

With so many beers to sample, first fill up on Italian cuisine at Sophia, opening at The Charles Hotel in the heart of Munich in April.

Image credits: draft beer © Jonathan Austin Daniels/iStock, beer coasters © marlusFM77/iStock.