Wilhelm V, the Duke of Bavaria (1579-1597), had a thirsty and demanding household. They were dissatisfied with the beer brewed in Munich, and so beer had to be imported from the town of Einbeck in Lower Saxony. Wilhelm ordered his retinue to think of ways of reconciling cost and pleasure, and on September 27, 1589, his chamberlain and counsellors Ch. Strabl, A. Amasmeyr, S. Prew and G. Griesmair submitted a suggestion: why not build a brewery?
Wilhelm was delighted with the idea and on the very same day (!) recruited the brewmaster of Geisenfeld Monastery, Heimeran Pongraz, to plan and supervise the construction of Hofbräuhaus (the “ducal brewery”), and to be its first master brewer.
Wilhelm’s son and heir, Maximilian I, had a different taste in beer than his father before him. He was less of a fan of the dark and heavy “Braunbier” – the most popular juice of the barley at that period. And he was not just a gourmet, but also a shrewd strategist where financing and marketing were concerned. Without further ado, he forbade all other private breweries to brew Weissbier, thus creating a monopoly for himself and his ducal brewery.
That meant not only a handsome source of income for his court, but also 400 years of experience in Weissbier brewing for Hofbräu München, as the brewery is called today.
Being successful isn’t always easy. Maximilian learned the truth of this when his Weissbier sold so well that the brewery was unable to brew fast enough to keep up with demand.
In 1605, the ducal brewery brewed a massive 117,424 gallons of beer – a veritable beer lake, a huge amount for that time. Maximilian decided to relocate the brewery and had a new one built on the Platzl (plaza), where the beerhall still stands today.
Of course, the new building had to be financed. Maximilian, with his keen financial sense, was aware of the potential that Weissbier offered and converted his people’s thirst into cash. In 1610, he legalised what was already common custom under the counter – he issued an edict allowing Munich’s tavern owners to buy beer from the ducal brewery and to serve it not only to members of the ducal household, but also to the “common folk”. That fired the starting shot for the triumphal march of the beers of Hofbräu München.
Heimeran Pongraz’ successor, Elias Pichler, was under pressure. The new brewery on the Platzl was complete, brewing was in progress, but the ducal court was complaining. In olden days, they lamented, there was always some of that good old strong beer from Einbeck to be had, but now – nothing but that locally brewed Braunbier and Weissbier. There had to be something stronger! Pichler experimented and in early 1614 produced the first beer in Munich brewed using the “Ainpockhisch” (Einbeck) method. This “Maibock” beer was to save the city of Munich.
When the Swedish army occupied the town in 1632 during the Thirty Years’ War, they only refrained from plundering and burning once they had been paid tribute of 344 pails of Maibock beer brewed in the Hofbräuhaus brewery.
Two years later, desirous of offering His Majesty a really special beverage, the royal brewers started to brew a beer specially for the festival with a deep golden colour, stronger original wort and higher alcoholic content – the world-famous “Oktoberfestbier” from Hofbräu München.
When Munich’s private brewers and tavern-owners complained that many ordinary citizens would like to enjoy the beer from the royal brewery like the public employees, Ludwig I proved to be an out-and-out philanthropist. He issued a decree granting a license for the beer, as well as food, to be served publicly in the Hofbräuhaus – the Hofbräuhaus inn we know today was born.
Sixteen years later, on October 1, 1844, Ludwig gave further proof of his philanthropic attitude: he cut the price of a one-litre mug of Hofbräu beer from 6_ crowns to just 5 crowns so that, in Ludwig’s words, “the working class and soldiers could afford a healthy and inexpensive drink.”
In the advertising world, plagiarism – stealing somebody else’s idea – is known as “inspiration”. And various other court breweries in Germany found “inspiration” in the highly characteristic mark of Munich’s Hofbräuhaus. To put an end to this, the brewery director, Johann Nepomuk Staubwasser, had the world-famous logo registered, first of all with the Munich District Court, and shortly after also with the Imperial Patents Office in Berlin, for use “solely by the Royal Hofbräuhaus Company in Munich”. The “wares (sic!) for which the sign is reserved”, said the letters patent, “[are] self-brewed beers in kegs or bottles”.
Space was getting short in Hofbräuhaus on the Platzl. Evidently, it wasn’t going to be possible to keep the brewery and the inn under the same roof forever. So it was that the Prince Regent Luitpold decided to move the brewery part out of Hofbräuhaus and to build a new brewery over the storage cellars on Innere Wiener Strasse. The final batch of beer was made on the Platzl on May 22, 1896, and then removed to the new fermenting cellar on June 2. The non-reusable brewery installations were scrapped, new equipment was purchased and everything that could be recovered moved to the new premises within 70 days. Brewing resumed in the new brewery on August 10, 1896.
The rise in “tourism” brought an increasing flood of visitors to the city of Munich whose programme included a visit to Hofbräuhaus. Chemnitz-born architect Max Littmann was commissioned by the Royal Planning Department to convert the building on the Platzl into a modern eating house. Littmann’s father-in-law Jakob Heilmann, who owned a firm of building contractors, began demolition work on the old brewery on September 2, 1896, to build the taproom as we know it today, which was opened on February 9, 1897. On the same day, demolition work started on the office building, which was converted into a separate restaurant part. The newly renovated Hofbräuhaus was opened on September 22.
Who does not know the famous Hofbräuhaus song – “In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus – oans, zwoa, g’suffa!” (In Munich there’s a Hofbräuhaus – one, two, and down the hatch!). This musical declaration of love to the world’s most famous public house was penned by a native of – Berlin. Composer Wiga Gabriel wrote the music to words by his friend Klaus Siegfried Richter from Hindelang in a Berlin café. Another friend, Wilhelm Gebauer from Leipzig, published it and made the sheet music available to the Bavarian brass bands which provided the atmosphere at the Dürkheim Sausage Fair in the Palatinate in 1936.
The song was a resounding success. It was the hit during the subsequent Carnival season which was the beginning of a triumphal march around the world.
Even the most famous beer-house in the world was not spared the catastrophic events of the Second World War. In the night of April 25, 1944, Hofbräuhaus was hit by the first aerial bombs, and three further air attacks did more damage. When fighting finally came to an end on May 8, 1945, only a small part of the taproom in Hofbräuhaus was still in working order; all the other rooms had been destroyed.
For the first time, a keg of beer is tapped at the start of the Oktoberfest – and the beer it contains comes from Hofbräu München.
After the second world war, the Oktoberfest did not take place again until 1949. 1950 was a historical milestone, being the first time that Munich’s mayor – in this case Thomas Wimmer – personally tapped the first barrel of beer at the opening of the event.
And strangely enough, although the ceremony took place at the Schottenhammel marquee, which normally serves Spaten brews, the keg the mayor tapped contained Hofbräu beer. Unable to agree with Spaten on the price of its beers, the Schottenhammel family decided to serve Hofbräu München – both in 1950 and the following year.
1607: Maximilian I, duke of Bavaria, moves the flourishing Weissbier brewing operations from the Alte Hof palace to the new brewery he has had built at the Platzl square. It is here that Hofbräu beer continues to be brewed until 1897.
1897: The Hofbräuhaus am Platzl is completely rebuilt and re-opened as a tavern, presenting itself in the form we know today.
Kurt Falthauser, presented the Sperger family, the innkeepers, with a small plaster figurine of the lost sculpture, and promised that this figure, in its original size, would once again sit atop the Hofbräuhaus in time for the celebrations commemorating the 850th birthday of the city of Munich.
During an official ceremony on June 20, 2008, the bronze figure, named “Julius” after its creator, was hoisted with a crane and fixed to the north side of the Hofbräuhaus oriel. After 63 years, the ‘patron saint of brewers’ once again graces the roof of the Hofbräuhaus.