Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the southernmost state of Germany. The German name of this city of 1.35 million inhabitants is München, which derived from the Latin and old German designation apud Munichen, meaning “near the monks,” who are said to have founded the city, most likely in 1158. One of the key events in Munich’s early rise to prominence was a bridge that Duke Henry the Lion built across the Isar River, after he had destroyed another bridge near the city of Freising, some 40 km to the north. This rerouted the all-important salt trade and the wealth that came with it through the town “near the monks.” In subsequent centuries, Munich never looked back, developing into an important city in politics, culture, and, of course, beer.
Munich’s brewing tradition is almost as old as the city itself. Munich’s first brewery was started in 1269 by the infamous Bavarian Duke Ludwig (Louis) II “the Severe.” There is nothing left of this brewery, but the next one built, founded by Augustine monks in 1294, has since become the secular Augustiner-Bräu Wagner KG, which can claim the title of the oldest continuously operating brewery within the Munich city limits.
Despite the many mergers and acquisitions in the brew industry during the past few decades, Munich has remained one of the most important beer cities in Germany and the world. Perhaps its internationally most famous brewery is the Hofbräuhaus. It was founded in 1589 as the private brewery of Bavarian Duke Wilhelm V and is now a commercial brewery and a well-known beer hall in downtown Munich. It is now owned by the State of Bavaria.
Fortuitously for beer making, Munich is located in the midst of one of the best spring barley–growing areas in Europe, as well as next to the largest contiguous hop-growing area in the world, the Hallertau, where roughly one-third of the world’s hops are grown.
Of course, the most spectacular—and most raucous—manifestation of Munich’s importance as an international beer center is the annual Oktoberfest. It was first held in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Today the Oktoberfest is the biggest beer party in the world, attracting some 6 to 7 million visitors over the span of some 15 days.