Munich: City of Jewish brewers and Israeli beer

We came for the beer or, more accurately, for the beer exhibition at the Munich Jewish Museum and the unveiling of the first German-Israeli collaboration beer.

The author at the entrance to the exhibition at the Munich Jewish Museum (photo credit: Courtesy)
The author at the entrance to the exhibition at the Munich Jewish Museum
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Six months of great expectations and high hopes reached fulfillment when my wife, Trudy, and I walked off the plane at Munich Airport. We came not as tourists or sightseers. We came for the beer or, more accurately, for the beer exhibition at the Munich Jewish Museum and the unveiling of the first German-Israeli collaboration beer. We were guests of the museum because I had helped in the “matchmaking” for the Israeli craft brewery chosen for the collaboration beer and publicized the event in the Israeli media.
Our stay in the quaint Ignaz Guenther House, built around 1761, put us in the center of the historic Jewish community.
Right on St. Jakobs Plaza, the Jewish Museum, Jewish Community Building and Synagogue, as well as the Munich City Museum, were just steps away.
Like many other museums across Germany this year, the Munich Jewish Museum is mounting an exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the famous Reinheitsgebot, the socalled Bavarian beer purity law. Each museum has its own angle, of course, and the Jewish Museum’s is – what else? – the Jewish contribution to the Bavarian beer industry. The museum also sponsored the brewing of the collaboration beer, having brought over brewers Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman from the Herzl Beer Workshop in Jerusalem to work with their counterparts at the Crew Republic Brewery near Munich, Timm Schnigula and Mario Hanl.
The displays included brewing in the ancient Middle East; Beer in the Bible and Talmud; Medieval brewers whose six-pointed “brew star” (Brauerstern) is identical to the Star of David; Jewish hop merchants in Bavaria; Famous Jewish brewing families who pioneered new technologies and brought German brewing to thirsty Americans; Jewish beer stein (mug) decorators; modern craft brewing and beer culture in Israel.
The displays were beautifully mounted, using artifacts, documents, photographs and multimedia – including computer touch-screens to retrieve information, and a movie mini-theater screening programs and commercials about Rheingold Beer in the US.
THE NIGHT we arrived, friends introduced us to the Ratskeller, a huge beer-forward restaurant that takes up the entire basement of the city council building.
Staying in tune with current trends, the Ratskeller offered some nice vegan options on the menu, but it was the beer list that got our attention. All the draft beers were either wheat ales (very popular in Germany) or European lagers like Pilsner, helles, dunkel, bock and doppelbock.
That’s what the Munich crowd wants. What about pale ale, IPA, porter or stout? Fuggedaboudit. You could get those in bottles, but that kind of set you apart from the “real” beer drinkers. Who orders bottled beer in a beer hall? It was the same situation a few days later in the Hackerhaus, the brewpub for the famous Hacker-Pschorr Brewery.
Germany has the distinction of being in the No. 3 position in per capita beer consumption: an astounding 116 liters a year! I did my part, too (I wonder if they count tourists in the statistics), while Trudy took sips from my glass. (By comparison, the average Israeli drinks only 14 liters of beer a year. Oh, the shame!) At the museum the next day, museum director Bernhard Purin held a press conference to announce the new exhibition and the collaboration beer.
His assistant Lilian Harlander and exhibition designer Martin Kohlbauer also spoke to the crowd, and then all the journalists got to drink the first public pouring of the new beer.
Has anyone tried to tell these guys that they shouldn’t be drinking while on assignment? Hah! How can you write about a new beer without drinking it? And drink they did. The museum even provided buttered pretzels to go with the beer.
In a hard-bound catalogue of the exhibition was my essay titled “In the Land of Israel, beer came late: Historical brew traditions in the Near East,” which I wrote in English but appeared, amazingly, in perfect German. I had to convince some journalists that my German was really nonexistent.
Purin, whom I had met when he visited Israel last year on two occasions, told me that even though many other museums were having their “Reinheitsgebot exhibitions,” none were getting the publicity of the Munich Jewish Museum.
“That is because the media went crazy over our collaboration beer,” he said. “Something like this has never been done before. Everybody wants to write about it – and to taste it!” We popped a bottle of the long-awaited beer and poured it into the beautifully branded tulip glasses especially made for the occasion, which were engraved with the exhibition slogan: “Bier is der Wein dieses Landes” (“Beer is the wine of this land”). The color was a nice dark amber with a dense white head. The aroma was yeasty, something not unexpected in a steam beer, where lager yeast does its magic at the higher temperatures associated with ales. The hop presence was very low, and it was hard to detect a dominant taste. Perhaps light banana and caramel, spicy citrus and toasted malt. Bitterness was also very mild, with the label admitting to 35 IBUs. There was a crisp finish. Alcohol by volume is 5.2 percent. My drinking companion termed this beer “a lager with added value.”
The bottom line: I really enjoyed this beer, and from the look of those around me, everyone else did as well. The Herzl– Crew Republic collaborative effort had produced a superior beer that avoids extremes in taste and brings people together – something beer has been doing for about 6,000 years.
THE FOLLOWING morning, our little group from Israel and a few other guests were given a private tour of another Reinheitsgebot exhibition in the Munich City Museum across the square. It was titled “Bier. Macht. München,” a play on words that could mean either “Beer. Power. Munich.” or “Beer makes Munich.” I figured that out myself. Really.
Anyway, this exhibition complemented the one at the Jewish Museum by highlighting the not inconsiderable role played by non-Jews in the growth of the Munich beer industry. Yes, there were some of those as well. For example, the “Big Six” breweries in Munich do not have Jewish origins (even though there might have been Jewish owners sometime during their centuries of existence). These are Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Lowenbrau, Hofbrau and Spaten.
I also learned that Munich has never lacked places where people could go to drink beer. From time immemorial, pubs were the social centers of the city, as indeed they were for all of southern Germany. From around 1900, the bigger beer halls, which could seat hundreds, became popular, joining boazen (little bars), beer gardens and beer cellars.
Not only do Münchners drink their beer everywhere they can sit, but they also drink it in prodigious amounts. It was only about a decade ago that beer began to be sold in third-of-a-liter bottles and glasses, long popular everywhere else in the world. Before that, the minimum size in Munich was a half-liter, but just as often, people ordered a full liter.
The locals called the new little bottles a “Prussian amount,” mocking their less bibacious countrymen to the north.
By the time the grand opening at the Jewish Museum rolled around later that day, we were quite familiar with the exhibition and the collaboration beer. But for the 450+ people who crammed into the lobby of the museum, it was their first time for both. Trudy and I got two of the few reserved seats, and Bernhard thanked me twice in his speech – at least, I think he did.
Afterwards, the crowd descended on the bar, where 800 bottles of the collaboration brew were consumed or snatched up in an hour and a half. In Israel, a few six-packs could have easily covered a crowd that size. Also popular were the branded tulip glasses, which many guests took home as souvenirs. I hope Bernhard took that into account when he built his opening events budget.
Trudy and I enjoyed mingling with the Munich upper crust, anybody who was anybody, including an heir to the royal family of Bavaria, Prince Luitpold Rupprecht Heinrich Wittelsbach.
Besides owning two lovely castles, the prince is CEO of the Schloss Brewery at his very own Kaltenberg Castle, where he hosts annual jousting tournaments.
We also met two of the speakers, Dr. Dan Shaham, the Israel consul general in Munich, and Marian Offman, the only Jew on the Munich City Council.
The brewers from Herzl and the Crew Republic were enjoying every minute, as well they should, basking in the spotlight of public appreciation for a beer well brewed. 
The writer was a guest of the Munich Jewish Museum. He is the owner of MediawiSe, an agency for advertising and direct marketing in Jerusalem. He writes a blog on Israeli craft beers at www.IsraelBrewsAnd-