How chestnut trees, King Maximilian and Bavarian ingenuity saved summer drinking.
An entire summer without beer? Unthinkable, though in the early 16th century a rash of fires throughout Munich almost made it a reality. But give a Bavarian a problem and he’ll give you a beergarden.
Brewing requires heat and during the summer, brewing kettles were getting so hot that they were catching fire. To protect the public, the Bavarian brewing regulations of 1539 banned brewing from March until September. In order to have beer for the summer, it would have to be brewed in the winter followed by several months of chilling.
Without modern refrigeration, this was a true challenge – but Bavarian brewers would not be denied. Locating their breweries outside the city of Munich, they created deep cellars to chill the beer. To help keep them cool year round they spread gravel and planted shade-giving chestnut trees. (Chestnut trees have shallow roots, ensuring the cooling vaults below wouldn’t be damaged.)
The breweries quickly became popular destination for Munich’s beer-loving citizens. At first, people just picked up the cold, fresh beer to take home. But soon enough, visitors found they couldn’t resist enjoying a beer in the shade of the chestnut trees. Drawing on their natural Bavarian hospitality, brewers set up tables and benches and the beergarden was born.
As crowds flocked to the beer gardens, the city’s inns and restaurants went empty. Irate innkeepers complained to King Maximilian, the first King of Bavaria, demanding action. In 1812, he declared a compromise that would protect the Munich restaurateurs: other than bread, beergardens couldn’t sell food. This saved the beergardens and didn’t keep the crowds away for a minute. They simply brought their own homemade dishes, the start of a tradition that exists today. So the next time you find yourself in a beergarden, raise a glass to King Maximilian and say “Prost!”.