Spaten Brewery is regarded as the most significant German brewery in the development of lager brewing. Records suggest that there was a Spaten Brewery, a brewpub in fact, in Munich as far back as 1397 but it was not until the early 19th century, under ownership of the Sedlmayrs—arguably Munich’s most prestigious brewery family—that Spaten, meaning spade, came into its own. Gabriel Sedlmayr (the Elder) purchased the Spaten Brewery in 1807 and quickly turned it into Munich’s leading brewery.
Much of the credit for Spaten’s place in brewing history must go to Gabriel Sedlmayr (the Younger) who embraced the invention of steam power in more ways than one. He traveled Europe on rail to study brewing techniques in Austria, Switzerland, Prussia, Belgium, and Britain, where brewers were vigorously exploring temperature control.
In 1821, Spaten helped fund the first steam engine in Bavaria. Later, in 1844, Gabriel bolstered brewing production with the introduction of steam power at Spaten and, with this, Spaten cemented its reputation for darker (dunkel) Munich-style lagers. A year later, one of Gabriel’s protégés, Jacob Christian Jacobsen, founded the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen using Spaten yeast and specializing in dark lagers as well.
Peerless in its pursuit of brewing excellence, in 1841, just 1 year before the introduction of the pilsner in Pilsen, Bohemia, Spaten introduced the first amber-colored lager in Continental Europe, the Märzen. It reached the Bavarian market roughly at the same time as another amber lager, the Vienna lager of the Dreher Brewery, first graced the taps of the Austrian capital. In 1872, the Franziskaner-Leist Brewery, although not (yet) part of Spaten, but owned by Joseph Sedlmayr, brother of Gabriel the Younger, came out with a special Oktoberfest beer oddly named a “Märzen-Bier” brewed “the Vienna way.” The current Spaten Oktoberfest beer is still brewed largely according to that 1872 Franziskaner-Leist recipe. A year later, in 1873, Spaten commissioned the first ever continually operational refrigeration system, designed by Carl von Linde. About 2 decades later, in 1894, it became the first Bavarian brewery to brew a light-hued lager, Spaten Münchner Hell, using a variation of the 1842 Pilsner brewing method.
Spaten adopted the spade logo in 1884 as a ground-breaking marketing move. In 1922, the Spaten and the Franziskaner-Leist breweries formally merged. Then, in 1997, the joined company merged with the Löwenbräu Brewery. In 2003, this new enterprise was subsequently purchased by the company later known as Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Spaten beers include Münchner Hell (5.2% alcohol by volume [ABV]), Doppelbock Optimator (7.2% ABV), Oktoberfestbier (5.9% ABV), and a pils (5% ABV).