Can’t make Oktoberfest this year? Or perhaps you can’t wait until September to start celebrating? Then don’t despair, Oktoberfest’s younger brother is coming to your rescue. Introducing… Starkbierzeit! The Strong Beer Festival.
This annual event in Munich runs over two weeks around St Joseph’s Day – this year it’s 9-25 March, 2012. The beer is fresh, the beer halls in full swing and there is plenty of entertainment for everyone. Not to mention truck loads of Bavarian food and cheer making this little known festival a good place to head this March.
The lethal ales
Starkbierzeit is the time of year for all the local breweries to pull out their most lethal of ales, known as Doppelbocks, and hence the name ‘Strong Beer Festival’. Doppel means double and bock is a type of dark malty beer. Nothing with an alcohol content of under 7% will make the cut for this festival. But be careful, their strength is often masked by a delicious and strong malt flavour, and their potency can sneak up on the most experienced beer drinkers.
History and tradition
The history behind this festival goes way back to 1627 when the Paulaner monks arrived in Munich and began brewing their own beer according to a medieval Benedictine recipe. The monks named this beer Sankt-Vater-Bier (‘Holy Father Beer’), and over the years it was know by a number of names including; ‘liquid bread’, ‘holy father oil’, and the ‘gentleman’s beer’. Over time it eventually became known as Salvator, the Latin word for ‘Saviour’.
The tradition of Starkbierzeit was started by the Paulener monks at the end of winter as a way of recognising and rejoicing that another hard season was over and that spring had well and truly arrived. As this time of the year it’s Lent, meaning that only liquid is allowed to pass though ones lips, the monks came up with the nifty idea of making the Salvator extra-strength to sustain themselves during their Lenten fast. The stronger the beer the more nourishing it was and, most importantly, it didn’t break the fast! The tradition of celebrating the changing of the seasons and the first strong beer of the year is still celebrated today.
The opening ceremony
The Salvator, the oldest Doppelbock beer, is honoured during Starkbierzeit. The opening day of the festival is marked by the tapping of the first keg of the new season’s Salvator Doppelbock, in the hallowed halls of the Paulaner-Keller Nockherberg Brewery. This event is televised as you can only attend the tapping of the keg by special invitation, but don’t worry because for the rest of the festival there is plenty of Salvator on offer at the Brewery.
The Salavator is not the only beer brought out for this festival however, celebrations occur at all of the main Bavarian breweries in Munich.
Most Breweries make their own version of a Doppelbock, and in honour of the original Salvator beer most of the beer names end in “ator”; Maximator, Optimator, Ultimator, or Triumphator.
The Löwenbräukeller Brewery has festivities for a whole month surrounding Starkbierzeit. They erect a huge, roaring mechanical lion outside the entrance, pour litres and litres of their Triumphator Doppelbock and stage a stone-lifting competition (which anyone can participate in) with the grand champion crowned on the festival’s closing night.
With free entry to some breweries and ticketed events starting at €16 this is a cheap and cheerful festival to get 2012 underway.
TOP TIP: Each Brewery has their own events running, so check websites for more details and ticket prices. Some events run from late February until late March, others just for the two official weeks of Starkbierzeit, dates.
Thanks to Bernt Rostad and Russell C for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.