Don't Be the Schnitt: Munich, Germany
I wish I could write a blog post about Munich that deals with something other than beer. How many times can we get away with going there and seeing exactly zero city sights? But the two occasions we have been to Munich have been in January and in March, when the weather was frigid and sleety and terrible and the only logical thing to do was to sit inside and drink beer. My dear friend Rachel, who has lived in Munich for years, has constantly berated us for visiting and not seeing the city’s full potential. I promise we will make a proper Munich summer weekend eventually, and then, maybe I’ll be able to write a proper Munich travel post. But alas, this post will be about beer.
In March, we were in Munich for precisely 24 hours. Raunaq discovered that Anderson Paak was doing a European tour, but skipping over Zurich (Rude. Obviously, he hadn’t gotten the memo that Zurich is cool. Doesn’t Anderson read my blog?). But he was playing in Munich. And what’s the point of living in Europe if you can’t pop over the border to Germany on a Tuesday night for a concert? Exactly.
But if I am being completely honest, the real reason I was wholly unopposed to making a spontaneous one-day international trip was not because of Anderson Paak (even though he was awesome live and brought down the proverbial haus) - but because of the beer. Because before I went to Munich for that first time, I did not understand the hype about German beer.
I’m from California, where craft beer is king and anything less than a double IPA at 7% ABV is essentially water. The hoppier, the better. My palette was accustomed to the bitter taste and strong aromas, and it was difficult (nay, impossible) for me to accept that a simple lager at 4.8% would be anything more than something cold to drink on a hot day. My philosophy is that while every country in the world brews their own beer, they all taste more or less the same. Lion in Sri Lanka, Salva Vida in Honduras, Peroni in Italy, Kingfisher in India, Coors in the United States, Feldschlösschen in Switzerland. All are light, refreshing, non-offensive beers, tasty in the moment but nothing to write home about. I figured Germany would be no different.
As you can guess, I was wrong.
Now, I knew the Germans were serious about their beer. In order for it to be even called beer in Germany, it must be brewed according to the Reinheitsegot (literally, the “Bavarian Beer Purity Law”), which only allows for the three ingredients of water, hops and malt. It’s been brewed this way for centuries. Breweries started in German monasteries, back when drinking beer was safer than drinking water. The monks knew their stuff (and how to start a lucrative international business). I knew German beer was a point of pride. I just didn’t know why.
And then, during our first trip Munich on a freezing Saturday in January, my little IPA-obsessed mind was a little bit blown. Our first stop was at Augustiner-Bräu, the oldest independent brewery in Munich, for a pint of Helles lager. A classic. And - wow. From that first sip, I was hooked. It tasted exactly how you would want a beer to taste. Crisp, clean, impossibly fresh. It’s a bit hard to explain the taste of a lager in lyrical detail, but trust me, it is really good beer. Then, I tried the Eldelstoff, and things got even better. We paired it with a stack of salty pretzels, and Alex was in a very happy place.
I’m not saying it’s the best beer I’ve ever had. But it would be a terribly ignorant mistake to put German beer in the same “so-so” category as the rest of the world’s national beers. Let’s just say that now whenever we are in a place that has Augustiner on tap, you can bet we will stop for a drink (in Innsbruck, we went to the same brewery twice in one night and the waitress recognized us second time around). One more craft beer snob put in her place.
So, this is how we ultimately ended up back in Munich in March. Came for the beer, stayed for Anderson Paak. Raunaq and I arrived via train early Tuesday evening and had an hour to kill before the concert - more than enough time for a pint or two. There are Augustiner breweries all over Munich, so we picked one that used to be a former monastery, and had a beer garden that looked like it would be delightful in the summer. It was 7pm on a Tuesday night, and the place was packed. We grabbed the only free seats at a circular table near the front, sharing with three other Germans: Stoned guy, Dorf; Crazy-eyed guy, Friedrich; and Death Metal guy, Lars.
Dorf, Friedrich and Lars immediately started serenading me with their rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner as we sat down. “I’m Canadian,” I told them, and their faces fell. We ordered two large Edlestoffs, and so began the hour with the Bavarians. Let’s call it a Bavarian Rhapsody.
(And yes, I finally caved and told them I was from California.)
My general rule of thumb is that when meeting people from the country you are visiting, a nice way to break the ice is to compliment something you like about said country. So, I figured I’d start the conversation by talking about my unexpected taking to German brews. After all, I had seen the light, changed my ways, nearly become a new woman. You guys get it. I was ready to accept the error of my old ways and profess a new love.
But I chose to start with “I didn’t get the big deal about German beer, until n-,” and the rest of my poetic waxing was drowned out by yells and some Bavarian slang I did not understand. Even the Turkish guys, who at some point had joined our table, were booing me. Friedrich slammed his fist down on the table, narrowed his eyes, and pointed a finger at me. “You can say that here,” he said. “But don’t EVER say that in Ireland.” “Huh?” “You should never get in a fight over beer with an Irishman.” Wait, what? Is that some Celtic proverb that I missed? But I didn’t press the point.
Lars liked heavy metal (he seemed quite disdainful of any other musical genre) and loved Bavarian castles. He was very disappointed to hear that we had been to Munich twice and done essentially no sightseeing. “What about the castles?” he said. We couldn’t miss the Neuschwanstein Castle! “You know, it was built by this crazy Bavarian king. He was gay, and built this beautiful amazing castle (not sure how those two things are related, but go on), and then he got murdered - by either his financial advisor or his lover or both.”
He ended the history lesson with the proclamation that “there are Bavarians, and then there is everyone else,” and even though he seemed to be teetering pretty close to the edge of nationalism, I let it slide. I had already made everyone upset over my earlier beer comments, I was not about to mount an affront on Bavarian pride. And besides, this was drunken history at its finest.
The conversation continued. Friedrich, probably the most chatty of the bunch, seemed to like Raunaq and I just fine. Except that he kept making wild eyes and the “slit throat” sign to me across the table every time I cautiously began to breach the topic of diversity in German beer.
Dorf, the stoned guy, had said literally nothing since the Star-Spangled Banner. Then, when we were all on our second round of beers, he finally turned his eyes up at me, smiled and said, “Wait. Is weed really legal in California? That’s awesome.” We hadn’t been talking about weed at all. Oh, Dorf.
And all three of them hated Berlin.
It was perhaps the most entertaining hour of my life. Followed by a high-octane funky fresh performance by Andersan Paak in a very cool, warehouse-y hipster venue somewhere in Munich, and then (you guessed it) more Augustiner beers. We also ordered obtazda, a cheese dip we discovered in Nuremberg that is ⅓ butter and 100% the best thing to order whilst in Bavaria.
“I’ll have to check with the chef,” the bartender said when we ordered it. Raunaq and I found this hilarious. I mean, yes, it may be a culinary masterpiece, but at the end of the day, it’s also just butter and cheese mixed together. “I’ll have to check with the chef.”
Oh, I almost forgot. I guess you are probably wondering about the Schnitt.
It’s what you order when it’s late, it’s been a long night, and you may or may not have reached your alcohol limit - but your friends just ordered one more round and you don’t want to be left out. It’s when you want one more beer, but you're not really sure if a whole one will put you over the edge. Enter the Schnitt.
Rather than tipping your glass and getting a proper fill, for a Schnitt, the bartender will just open the tap and let the beer quickly fill the stein. This method creates a foamy phenomenon (sometimes 75% foam and 25% beer), and it’s a bit like the lottery. Sometimes the Schnitt closer to a full glass of beer, other times half-full (or half-empty, if you’re grumpy because you really just wanted a proper beer in the first place). Win some, lose some. Either way, it’s about 40% off the regular beer price. Schnitt is literally is translated to “cut,” and that’s what it is - a slice of the real thing. You shouldn’t order a Schnitt as your first or only beer, only as a last call. And no, you can’t technically be the Schnitt, but it certainly sounds like what you would be, once you have one too many.
Needless to say, by the end of this night, Raunaq and I were both the Schnitts. I’m guessing that Dorf, Fredrich and Lars were, too.