For some time, I’ve heard tales from my German colleagues of a mythical beer, brewed by monks for hundreds of years, atop a hill somewhere in Bravaria. A email exchange with Dieter, himself holidaying in the hills of the Black Forest, suggests that the beer is called Weihenstephan, and, in fact, it is brewed not far from München. Further research reveals that it is the “Oldest Brewery in the World”, now owned by the State of Bravaria, and is now associated with a technical university. So on my last day in Deutschland, I charted a course for the village of Freising, about a half hour north of my flat near the Hautbahnhof. I consulted the Internets to plan this excursion, and what I found was scarce, confusing, and/or in German. This, of course, contributed to the fun. But, I thought I would take the opportunity to tell the tale of my excursion. So, Interweb, here is my story…
Advance scouting: I found the Weihenstephan web site, which fortunately happens to provide an English version. The Guided Brewery Tour Page suggests that tours are offered at 10am on Monday, among various other times: Wunderbar! But then it also says “Guided Brewery Tour Only After Appointment”. What does this mean, I wondered, on Sunday night… I sent an email to the address listed, and received a well meaning but confusing response:
Dear Mr. Bonsignore,
Thank you for your inquiry. Unfortunately, it is not possible today in a tour with receives.
Bayerische Staatsbrauerei, Weihenstephan
Huh? Well, since I received this reply while on the train to Freising, I wasn’t going to give up hope, and if nothing else, I would at least go see what the place looked like.
Getting to Freising: This little town is conveniently located at the end of an S-Bahn line, the S1 to be exact, which terminates at the Flughafen or Freising on its northern end. It also happens to be a stop on the main rail line heading from Munich to Prague, so I was able to grab Czech bound train on my way there, and Freising was the first stop. This cut the 45 minute S-Bahn trip down to about 25 minutes.
Getting to Weihenstephan: I arrived at about 9:15 am, and headed out of the station attempting to follow my Google Maps walking directions. Of course, I was immediately disoriented, but fortunately found that there were signs pointing to Weihenstephan, and just followed those: straight out the front door, left on a foot path along a canal, past a waterfall, right on another road, over a bridge, and then onto a steep foot path that climbs up the hill leading to the campus above. At the top of the hill, the path ends among some picturesque gardens that are part of the Technical University of Munich at Weihenstephan. The walk took about 20 or 25 minutes, so I was early for the 10am tour. Which was good, because it was completely unclear where the tour started, or if there was even a tour at all. I had to wander around quite a bit before finding the gift shop downhill on the other side of the campus. Here, I used hand gestures and semaphore flags to convey to the shopkeeper my confusion about the tour. She was able to call the office, confirm that there was a tour about to start, and sent me up the hill to meet the guide. Success!
The Tour: My group included an Italian family, two other guys, and me. I was the only one that didn’t understand German, but our guide was kind enough to translate the essential bits for me. I taught him that the English word for Gewürznelke is “Clove”, but I don’t think he believed me. He referred to carbon dioxide as CO-W, which I found too amusing to correct. He gave a great tour, even if I couldn’t understand 95% of it. The advertised 60-70 minute duration was actually closer to 3 hours, but regrettably didn’t include tastings (the only part I would have been able to completely understand). There is a restaurant on site, with an outdoor order-at-the-counter style Biergarten option, as well sit-down table service. I opted for the later, and had the ominous sounding but tasty “Pork Knuckle”, bretzels, potato dumpling, and kraut salat accompanied by the unfiltered Pils that’s only available on site, and the renowned Hefe Weiβeier before throwing in the towel. Despite reports to the contrary, they do offer 0.3L servings of some of the beers, but I opted for the 0.5L of each… And bought an assortment of six bottles to carry back downhill. Five of them were wrapped in diapers, packed in the luggage, and are now resting comfortably in my fridge, half a world from their origin, awaiting my liquid revisit of the adventure in the next few days.