The last century began with about two dozen breweries dispensing the sacred brew to thirsty Munich inhabitants. It ended with the "Big Six" dominating the City's suds scene:
Löwenbräu

This is the beer you've probably heard of because it's everywhere in Munich and, indeed, around the world. Fact is Löwenbräu is just another good-tasting beer in Munich and nothing special. What does set it apart is the history behind the brand. The house at 17 Löwenbruge Str. was brewing beer as early as 1324. A pub called Zur Löwen was serving up beers by 1383. What really gave it its name was the expansion outside the country, with the first bottles of Löwenbräu crossing the Bavarian border around the mid-19th Century. Be forewarned that although Löwenbräu used to export directly from its plant on Nymphenburger Str., today it licenses much of its overseas trade. Löwenbräu has merged with Spaten, but the brew remains essentially the same.

Hofbräuhaus

Everybody knows of the "Haus," but without "Hofbräu" the beer, the Hofbräuhaus would probably be just another walk-up in the middle of Munich. While Augustiner has its religious roots and Hacker-Pschorr its commercial beginnings, Hofbräu has a royal connection. Duke Wilhelm V founded the Hofbräuhaus and brewery in 1589. The duke originally wanted only to brew modest amounts of beer, only enough to supply the royal court. He moved the brewing plant from Einbeck to Munich to save on production costs, only to find that the local beer barons missed their former brew. So, following the Einbeck recipe, the first "bock" (originally called "einbock") was born under the HB banner. That was in 1614 and the exclusive right to bock beers continued for another 200 years. When the potent brew was licensed to everybody, it became better known as Maibock (after the month it was traditionally brewed) and both terms are commonly used today. The Koniglisches (royal) brewery became a state-run operation 1939, but the logo -- with the HB adorned by a crown -- still alludes to its regal 16th century beginnings.

Augustinerbräu

Augustinerbräu got its start with the same folks who brought you early morning prayers, vows of silence, and -- er, selective -- abstinence. The Augustiner Brothers began brewing beer as early as 1328 on a spot that is today the home of Augustiner Großgastätte near the Marienplatz. A fire that year destroyed much of the competition, but spared Augustiner, making it one of the city's oldest surviving breweries. In 1803 secularization took the brewery out of the hands of the monks and gave it to the state, but the name remained. Augustiner moved to a new location in 1817 and was purchased by Anton and Therese Wagner in 1829 and remains in their family today. It later moved to its current Landsberger Straße location and was severely damaged during World War II. The rebuilt edifice is today a protected historical monument of Munich. Augustiner is renowned for brewing Munich's best beer (not just our idea, but clearly the pick of Munich's beer drinkers). Its secret may lie nearly 700 feet underground where the brewery draws its water from it own private well.


Paulaner

We like Paulaner beer almost as much as Augustiner Edelstoff. It's a close second, in our opinion, as the Munich's best beer. Paulaner is often mistaken as three different breweries: Paulaner, Thomasbräu, and Salvator. Paulaner is its flagship beer, pale in color, a typical Munich sweet lager. Thomasbräu has come to serve as the brewery's alcohol-free beer, and they also make a "leicht" beer (3.2% alcohol) under the Paulaner name. Salvator, stands by itself as the mother of all strong or "stark" beers. In fact, the -ator suffix is now affixed to the names of most strong, double-bock beers of Salvator's ilk. Although Salvator is brewed year-round by Paulaner, it is center stage come the annual "Starkbier Festival" in March, when the city's strongest beers are dispensed with total impunity.
Paulaner got its start as a monastic brew, fermenting itself into existence in the Neudeck monastery in 1629. After privatization two centuries later, a master brewer named Franz Xavier Zacherl arrived on the scene to put Paulaner on the map. He introduced steam-powered production and fashioned large cooling cellars to house vast quantities of beer. The brewery incorporated as a publicly owned company in 1886 and expanded to absorb Thomasbräu in 1928. Today the brewery sits across the street from Paulaner Keller atop the hill known as the Nockherberg. It is today the largest brewery in Bavaria and one of the most modern.

 

Hacker-Pschorr

This consolidation of two Munich breweries is really a throwback since Hackerbräu and Pschorrbräu were actually one and the same in the early 1800s, under the banner of Joseph Pschorr, once considered the king of Munich's brewers. Pschorr's sons later went their separate ways and divided the brewing business into Pschorr and Hacker wings. The Hacker line of brewmasters actually reached back to the 14th century. But when Joseph Pschorr married into the family in 1793 he put the entire brewing business at the center of Munich's entrepreneurial map. By 1820 it was considered the premier brewing house among Munich's 50 or so beer businesses. In 1834, the brewing empire was passed to sons Georg (who headed Pschorr) and Matthias (Hacker). Both brothers prospered and so did their brands. The two breweries became friendly rivals, but when tragedy struck, blood was thicker than . . . water. When a bombing raid shut down Pschorr's brewing works in 1944, Hacker allowed the Pschorr family to brew twice a week until their equipment could be repaired. In 1972 the two breweries joined once again, hyphenating the brand to Hacker-Pschorr Bräu. Today, the brand is part of Paulaner, but retains its brewing independence.


 

Spaten

If the world of brewing needed an underdog, Spatenbräu wouldn't even need to audition for the part. It's one of the Big Six, to be sure, but Spaten still has to work overtime to gain the respect and recognition that is its due. It's not Spaten's fault. They brew a great beer, without question. But when you ask the average Münchner to name the six primary breweries of Munich they'll cover the first five without a problem, but then stumble over Spaten. You might expect otherwise, since Spaten is associated with perhaps the most famous brewing family Munich has ever produced. Gabriel Sedlmayr and his sons Josef and Gabriel II. The Spaten name goes back further than the Sedlmayrs, to 1397 when records showed the existence of a brewery owned by a Herr Spaeth who was busy producing his Oberspathbräu. The name was modified to Spaten later, around the time Gabriel Sedlmayr took over in 1807. Until his death in 1839, Sedlmayr set about to successfully bring Spaten up from obscurity to become the third-largest brand (behind Hacker and Pschorr) in Munich. Sons Gabriel II and Josef built a new facility in the spot where the brewery is located today on Mars Straße. Much like the Pschorr brothers, the Sedlmayr siblings parted company and began brewing competitive beers. One of these made beer history when Josef introduced the first amber-colored Märzen-style beer in the Shottenhamel tent at the 1872 Oktoberfest. Thus, Oktoberfest beer was born. Gabriel, for his part, introduced a cooling process that substantially aided the bottom-fermentation method for brewing Munich lagers. After World War I, the two brothers combined their brewing houses to a single Spaten brand. In 1972, the brewery went public, issuing stock for the first time. Spaten merged with Löwenbräu and the combined entity has been bought out by Belgian brewing giant Interbrew. The good news, mergers aside, the taste of the brew is unchanged.