The History of Germany’s Beer Gardens

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In the 16th century, Bavarian beer makers received a devastating blow. New regulations, called the Brauordnung, placed severe limits on their beer production. Due to a drastic deterioration of the quality of beer in the hot summer months, brewers were ordered to stop production until the weather cooled. In those days, fires were common throughout Europe and Bavaria’s iconic wooden buildings tempted fate a little too much.

Dark lager fermented best when it was cold, so Munich beer makers began digging their cellars along the banks of the icy Isar River. This practice was known as “lagerung,” or “storage,” and thus the lager was born. To further cool their fermenting brews, beer makers covered the ground above their cellars with gravel and planted dense-leaved chestnut trees to create shade. Wanting to sell their beer close to their cellars, beer makers set up wooden benches beneath the trees. In time, they began serving food.

Displeased by the competition, pub owners and innkeepers petitioned the authorities to forbid these breweries from selling beer (and food) directly to the public. In 1812, King Maximilian I ruled that brewers could continue to sell beer but not food. Breweries worked their way around this decree by allowing their guests to bring their own food—a practice still observed today.

No longer held to the food ban of the 19th century, Bavarian breweries today offer a smorgasbord of German delicacies. Bratwurst, pretzels, radishes, roast chicken, schnitzel, and obatzda (cheese spread) on rye are common items on beer garden menus. When it comes to beer, lager is still king. Pilsner, Dunkel, and Märzen are popular choices, as is Kölsch (a pale ale from Cologne) and sweet Bavarian wheat beer.

Thirsty for more information on Germany’s beer traditions? Check out these related blog posts:

Germany’s Harvest, Wine, and Beer Festivals

Insider’s Guide to Oktoberfest

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