A Thumbnail History of Munich's Hofbrauhaus

Categories: Featured, Sietsema

Watercolor of Hofbräuhaus around 1919 by fledgling Munich art student Adolf Hitler. He would soon be using the beer hall to stage Nazi rallies.

When I was an elementary school student in Minneapolis, German was a required subject. It was a German part of the country, though not as German as neighboring Wisconsin. Twice a week, as part of our lessons, we filed into the language-resources room and sang a song about the Hofbräuhaus:

In München stet das Hofbräuhaus
Eins, Zwei, G'Zupfe!


In Munich stands the Hofbräuhaus
One, two, down the hatch!

It was something of a joke on the part of our teachers that they were making eight-year-olds sing a German drinking song. At least it impressed upon our young minds the idea that a venerable institution called Hofbräuhaus existed in Munich, Germany. Its importance in our imaginations only increased as we, growing older, learned more details.

Throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, the water available throughout Europe was fantastically polluted, and served as a vector for many deadly diseases, not limited to cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Accordingly, everyone drank beer instead. But by the late 16th century, beer had a bad reputation due to frequent adulteration with inferior and even toxic ingredients.

Into the breach jumped Wilhelm V, Duke of Bavaria, who had been asked by the city fathers of Munich to establish a brewery where the wholesomeness of the product could be guaranteed. The new brewery lurched into action in 1592 in the city's old courts building. The only beer produced at that time at the company to be called Hofbräu was brown ale.

While the brown ale was brewed with barley, the duke's successor to the dukedom, Maximilian I, preferred lighter wheat beers, and he promptly ordered the brewery to make them. He also decreed that Hofbräu would have a monopoly on making wheat beers. By 1605, the facility was producing 38,000 gallons of beer per annum, and couldn't keep up with the demand. By 1607, a new, larger building had been constructed to house the brewing operations.

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