History of Starkbier Festival

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Today, March 13 begins the Starkbierfest. The heart of this festival is in , Germany, specifically at , where it all began, and lasts about two weeks. It is unlike its more well-known sibling Oktoberfest in a few ways.

Little Known

Outside of Germany and Munich in particular, it’s not widely known, except to German ex-pats or beer lovers. Or historians who have visited Munich in the Spring.

Narrowly Observed

There are perhaps half a dozen locations in Munich that celebrate it.

Misunderstood

It’s the festival for Starkbier.

It’s German for strong beer.

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Some assume the name refers to it’s higher alcohol content, but that’s not the case, though it is more alcoholic, about 6.5% to 9% by volume. Instead, the name is due to the higher gravity, or of the beer, with its concentration of solids like proteins, starches, and sugars… the . Starkbier contains 180g of solids or the equivalent to a third of a loaf of bread. It was originally dubbed , or “liquid bread” by the monks who created it. It’s liquid nourishment.

History

The story goes back to the monks of Munich. Indeed, the German word for the city, , means “by the monks” in reference to the Benedictine monks who ran a monastery in what is now Old Town. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Paulaner monks of Munich, in observance of the 40 days of Lent, did not eat during the daylight part of the day. For years they had been brewing beer, so they turned to the creation of a “strong beer” that was particularly rich in nutrients. They were allowed to consume this during the daylight hours due to the slogan:

…or in English “liquid does not break fasting.” Starkbier would curb their appetite during the day. It only took a few decades before other Munichers were tapping kegs of starkbier and instituting local public celebrations annually. The clever Paulaner monks did this without violating the Purity Law of 1516 that required that all beers brewed in Germany be made with only water, hops, malt, and yeast.

They sent a barrel of this rich, malty to the Pope at the Vatican in Rome for his benediction. The trouble began with the long journey across the Alps from Bavaria to Italy. By the time the beer arrived, it was sour and spoiled. When the Pope tasted it, he found it so terrible that he assumed it must have been intended as some form of penance. He told them that if they wanted to drink this strong beer, they were welcome to do so. They were permitted to fill their tankards five times a day with the brew. But their tankards were a liter, or two, in size.

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In 1751 the Paulaner monks created the “Holy Father Beer” for the name day of their religious founder Franz von Paula, or , after the namesake of the Paulaner monks, and “Sankt Vater” (sacred water) soon became “Salvator.”

Naming

Starkbiers have names that typically end in “-ator” giving them a strong, dinosaur-like name:

  • Salvator, by Paulaner
  • Triumphator, by Löwenbräu
  • Maximator, by Augustiner
  • Aviator, by Airbrau (at the airport)
  • Suffikator
  • Predator
  • Optimator
  • Spekulator
  • Delicatior

The Starkbierfest

This event traditionally occurs annually in Munich. Due to precautionary Coronavirus measures, it’s been postponed until sometime later this year. Otherwise, it’s held not in the traditional festival grounds of or . Instead, it’s in the local breweries:

  • Paulaner am Nockherberg — the first tap, and one of the largest beerhalls in the city, holding 5,000 inside and a few thousand outside under tent coverings.
  • Löwenbräukeller — long tables
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  • Augustiner Keller

At the Löwenbräukeller

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In 2003, I was speaking in Munich for work. The local office invited me out to Löwenbräukeller for Starkbier. I knew little German at the time and understood the words and , but not by the German pronunciation.

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We got to the brewery at 6 pm, where they served “lighter” beer to fortify us for the strong stuff. Long tables filled with people of all ages lining them got started with glasses of beer the size of 55-gallon drums. They were called . I knew that stein meant stone, and that is what people were soon becoming.

The band in started with traditional German music. The locals began to sing along. When the starkbier came out later, the signature 7.6% alcohol Triumphator was thick, rich, malty, slightly sweet, and almost chocolaty. The crowd became more animated. Another band came out and the music changed to American rock and roll. Everyone knew all the words.

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By the end of the evening, we were literally dancing on the tabletops with complete strangers and singing “Twist and Shout.” Yet another band ended with “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” a song written by Randy Newman and featured at the end of the UK movie “The Full Monty,” where the men drop their pants. The band then did the same at the stroke of midnight.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

Silicon Valley Tech Exec: Cloud, Data Storage, Automation. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, andpop culture. Blog: http://billpetro.com

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