Last week we took a look at the Christmas beers of Belgium. This week we explore German and Austrian beers that will help you welcome the season. Both of these German-speaking countries have long, storied beer traditions. Germany has Oktoberfest; Austria is famous for its Viennese pilsner (which, by the way, is making a roaring comeback after falling out of favor with Austrian drinkers).
From the southern reaches of Bavaria, where Munich is situated and Oktoberfest reigns, to the North Sea coast, beer is a way of life in Germany. But, when the holiday approaches, the Bundesrepublik becomes a winter wonderland of Christmas markets, snow-covered villages with festive decorations on every building. Germans wash all this holiday cheer down with special winter beers brewed specifically for the cold winter months.
Krug-Bräu has been brewing beer in Waischenfeld, Germany since 1834, and it remains a small, family owned brewery. But, from this modest facility comes truly remarkable selection of beers, including a winter release: Krug-Bräu Weihnachtsbier or Christmas beer. Like most beer in Germany, it’s a lager made with just four ingredients—water, malt, hops and yeast—in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot (the German Purity Law). After brewing, the beer is lagered, or aged, for four weeks before public consumption. This amber bock has aromas of toffee and spicy hops. It tastes moderately sweet and malty but is full-bodied, with 6.8 percent ABV.
Another favorite winter brew comes from Munich’s famous Hofbräuhaus, founded 429 years ago by Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria. Wilhelm’s brewing empire took off when, 13 years after its founding, his Hofbräuhaus secured the rights to brew wheat beer. The ducal brewery has since changed hands, eventually becoming a royal brewery and ultimately a national brewery. Along the way to the modern era, it introduced Hofbräu Winterzwickl, a dark, malty beer with hints of dark chocolate, cherries and Christmas spices and a slightly bitter finish.
Schloss Eggenberg is home to one of Austria’s oldest breweries. The site has been occupied since the first millennium, and beer has been brewed there since the 14th century. It wasn’t until 1681, however, that anyone outside the castle got to taste it. That’s when the brewery was bought and officially opened for business. It changed hands again in 1803, when Johann Georg Forstinger took over and made a family business out of the ol’ Schloss. After surviving two major fires and two World Wars, its brewing tradition remains alive and well.
Eggenberg’s seminal Christmas beer, Samichlaus, is brewed only once a year, on December 6. (Readers of last week’s column will recall that’s St. Nicholas Day across much of Europe.) The lager once held the record for the world’s strongest beer, with 14 percent ABV. Samichlaus is a sipper, not a slammer. It pours reddish brown with a sweet aroma, hints of caramel and chocolate and complex flavors of prunes, malt and caramel.
Winter beers in Bavaria and Austria are strong, dark and sweet brews that will keep you warm and jolly through the holiday season. Seek them out, and toast your good fortune.