STARKBIERZEIT 2018click image for gallery


In German, Stark means strong. We know what Bier means, and Zeit means time … it is now time for strong Bier in Bavaria – and, so it is here in Hayes Valley. In February and March we take time to appreciate the Stronger Biers. ‘Strong’ however, does not refer to the higher alcohol content these Biers contain, but to the “original wort” used in their brewing – indicating the amount of solids the Bier contains. Which for most Doppelbocks amount to roughly a third of a loaf of bread. This is why, even to this day, Biers are often referred to as ‘liquid bread’ (Flüssiges Brot) – originally brewed by Italian monks, who crossed the alps and settled in Munich, to sustain their body and mind during periods of prolonged fasting. Early records show monks in Munich were brewing giant cellars full of Bier by 1328 at the latest. So important was the brewing of Bier to the trade, life, culture and prosperity of Munich, it is no wonder that the word in Bavarian (München) means monk. First the Royals (who funded the monks brewing enterprise), and eventually everyone got a chance to enjoy the delicious, dark and complex strong lager. The first one named ‘Salvator’ (Latin for Saviour) is still brewed by the Paulaner Brewery using the same basic recipe. Today there are at least forty varieties brewed in Bavaria alone, most of which bear the “-ator” suffix in deference to the ur-lager. The Strong Bier Time is celebrated every year around St. Joseph’s Day with Starkbier festivals all over Bavaria, one for almost every brewery. In Munich the Starkbierfest (1751) even predates Oktoberfest (1810).

The histories of Munich’s most beloved brewery (Augustiner) and the first Wheat-Doppelbock (Aventinus) both have something special in common, not just the Reinheitsgebot and numerous awards for three of the world’s greatest strong biers. At very important times both breweries were run by industrious and intelligent women. All played a key role in not only the development of their own respective breweries, but the evolution of the Doppelbock style and Bavarian Bier Culture in general. Terese Wagner took over the running of the Augustiner brewery in 1845 introducing steam power. In 1996 Edith Haberland Wagner, the last direct family member and controlling owner of the Augustiner brewery, passed away, willing her ownership to a foundation she created with a focus on cultural heritage and environmental protection. Today Augustiner is still considered the official Bier of Munich, it’s said their light lager makes up 60% of the total Bier sales in the city. However, the biggest female character in the story of strong Biers is the young widow of George Schneider the third, Mathilda. She broke with Bavarian Doppelbock naming tradition (eschewing the “-ator” suffix) to create the first ever Doppelbock Weisse (strong wheat beer): “Aventinus” – after Aventinustrasse in Munich, the original brewery’s address. It is generally considered the “most intense and complex wheat beer in the world.” Aventinus also has an even more intense little sister – created by accident when transporting the Bier in winter without temperature control. During the long rail journey, the Bier would freeze, and when the ice that formed was removed, what was left was a concentrated stronger ale: “Aventinus Eisbock.” We are extremely grateful for the contributions of these strong women to strong Bier. Prost !!

More malt, more flavor, more fun, double the ‘bock’. It is very easy to discover the attraction of the original Bavarian strong Biers. The Doppelbocks tend toward dark red-brown, almost black, with an off-white to latte-colored thick, creamy head – rich and very malty on the nose. From the first sip look for notes of caramel, toasted bread, brown sugar, roasted nuts, dried figs, licorice, ripe plums, molasses and cocoa powder, hints of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. In the best examples of the style the higher alcohol is very well hidden in the overall drinkable balance of roasted malt, earthy hops and the sweet ripe stone fruit flavors that make Doppelbock the perfect match for the season’s heartier fare. Perfect with aged cheeses, cured sausages, roasted meats, desserts and brunch dishes – or as the monks drink it – in large quantity, without bread, for weeks at a time.