Bavaria is richly blessed with abbeys and monasteries. Their beautiful settings, treasures and pilgrimages attract many visitors. As do their home-brewed beers. These range in style from traditional to innovative.
Inside the brewhouse: Irseer Klosterbräu
The Benedictine Abbey of Irsee near Kaufbeuren in the Eastern Allgäu was founded in 1185. It really came into its own in the 18th century. The main attraction in the Baroque Church of Peter and Paul is the pulpit, which takes the form of a ship’s prow. Complete with mast, rigging, linen sails and putti as sailors… (Other examples of the exceptional ship’s prow pulpits in Bavaria - which represent the ship of the church weathering all storms - can be found in the Parish Church of the Annunciation in Erding-Altenerding and the pilgrimage church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bad-Kötzting-Weißenregen.)
The abbey was dissolved in 1803 and from 1832 it served as the local mental asylum. In 1981, it was converted into a training and conference centre. Renovation work on the former abbey began in 1970 and its brewery was expanded to include a brewery museum, offering direct views into the brewhouse and the fermentation cellar. A restaurant with a Biergarten, a hotel and a conference centre followed. The unfiltered Kloster-Urtrunk is the signature beer of Irsee and boasts an original spicy yet mild flavour. Other variations include the dark, quaffable, mildly aromatic Kloster-Urdunkel, the strong, amber-coloured Kloster-Starkbier, the Kloster-Weiße with its fine yeastiness and the classic Kloster-Helle.
irsee.com (only in German)
Bottom-fermented: Klosterbräuhaus Ursberg
Ursberg Abbey, between Augsburg and Memmingen, is a former Imperial Abbey of the Premonstratensian Order. The abbey was dissolved in 1803. In 1884, the Priest Dominikus Ringeisen bought the property and set up the Franciscan St. Joseph's Congregation to care for people with physical and mental disabilities. In 1996, the establishment became an ecclesiastical foundation under public administration. It supports people with disabilities in various places in Bavaria.
The Premonstratensian monks had been brewing beer in the abbey as early as 1623. The brewery building was built in 1792. It specialises in bottom-fermented beers, including the following: Ursberger Märzen, amber in colour with very mild bitters; Pils with typical hop aromas; Helles, a full-bodied light beer with pleasant hop bitters; Dunkles, dark, malty and full-bodied with a fine bouquet. The beers can be enjoyed in the restaurant or the Biergarten. Accommodation is provided in the adjacent hotel.
klosterbraeuhaus.de (only in German)
Bockbier and liqueurs: Klosterbrauerei Ettal
Klosterbiere, or abbey beers, have been brewed in Ettal for more than 400 years, since 1609. This Benedictine Abbey on the edge of the Ammergebirge Mountains near Garmisch-Partenkirchen was donated to Bavaria by Emperor Ludwig in 1330. It enjoyed its heyday in the 17th and 18th centuries, when pilgrims came to worship the Ettal Madonna, a statue imported from Pisa. The magnificent Baroque complex with the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was designed by Enrico Zucalli.
A new brewhouse was built in 2016. The main beers produced in Ettal are the Ettaler Kloster Hell (subtly malty with a spicy character), the Ettaler Kloster Dunkel (fine and sweet malty aroma) and Bockbiere (light and dark strong beers). A wheat beer is also produced in cooperation with a large brewery. The brewery tour includes a visit to a brewery museum. Since around 1900, liqueurs have also been produced in Ettal, including the “Abteilikör”, green and yellow liqueurs made according to ancient recipes. Accommodation can be found in the “Klosterhotel Ludwig der Bayer” with its “Bräustüberl” restaurant. The “Café 1330” offers coffee and cake.
kloster-ettal.de (only in German)
Upper Bavaria’s holy mountain: Klosterbrauerei Andechs
The onion tower of the Andechs pilgrimage church above Lake Ammersee can be seen from a distance. The Rococo jewel of the Upper Bavarian Fünfseenland (five lakes region) is dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra and St. Elisabeth of Thuringia, from the House of Andechs. Pilgrims have been coming to a chapel on the hill since 1130 to worship a relic of St. Nicholas. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Andechs also became a pilgrimage site in honour of the Virgin Mary, with a shrine to St. Hedwig added after 1945: born in Andechs, she was Duchess of Silesia. Benedictine monks have been providing hospitality for pilgrims since 1455.
Presumably the brewing tradition of Andechs also dates back to that time. Today, the abbey brewery is run by the order as an independent enterprise. The brothers brew the beers in a traditional multi-stage mashing process: Helles, Dunkles, Weißbier – and the respective Bockbier variants with their increased alcohol content… These popular beers, and also alcohol-free wheat beer and shandy, can be tasted in the famous Bräustüberl, where you can also tuck into snacks brought from home, in the Biergarten and in the Klostergasthof inn.
Wonderful Biergarten: Kloster Reutberg
The Monastery Brewery Reutberg is a popular destination in the Tölzer Land region of Upper Bavaria. Visible from afar, it lies to the north of the town of Sachsenkamm. Reutberg was founded in 1618 for sisters of the Capuchin order and later became a Franciscan convent. Homage was paid there to the “Reutberg Christ Child”, a figure of the baby Jesus supposedly from Bethlehem. Sister Fidelis Weiß, who experienced mystical visions, was buried in the Monastery Church in 1923.
The brewery has been in existence since 1677; the Franciscan sisters originally did the brewing themselves. The Brauereigenossenschaft Reutberg has been continuing the tradition since 1924. The palette of beers served in the monastery’s Bräustüberl ranges from Hellen (light hop bouquet) and Dunklen (malty and full-bodied) to Weißbier (light and dark wheat beers) and Pils (with aromatic hop bitters). These are augmented by seasonal specialities such as Josefibock (slightly malty), Weißbierbock (yeasty) and Ägidius-Trunk (naturally cloudy and unfiltered). The phenomenal Biergarten offers superb views of the Isarwinkel and Karwendel Mountains. The Reutberg region offers many rewarding walking and cycling trails. The Southeastern Bavaria Way of St. James also passes the Reutberg.
klosterbraeustueberl.de (only in German)
Masterful: Bavarian State Brewery of Weihenstephan
The Bavarian State Brewery of Weihenstephan in Freising is famous for being the oldest brewery in the world still in existence. It has been around for almost a thousand years! The Benedictine monastery set up by St. Corbinian in 725 was granted a brewing and serving licence in 1040 and continued to exercise these rights until its dissolution in 1803. At that point, the Bavarian State took it over and the brewery was run by the royal estate of Schleißheim.
In 1909 the College of Agriculture and Brewing was established in Weihenstephan. Today, students from all over the world come here to learn the art of brewing. The product range of the brewery encompasses sixteen different beers, many of which have won awards. In addition to the regular varieties of Hell, Pils, Dunkel and Weißbier, other beers well worth sampling are the light Weizenbock Vitus, the dark Doppelbock Korbinian and the Kellerbier 1516. They are best enjoyed in the Bräustüberl Weihenstephan with its Biergarten and views across Freising. Visitors can also tour the brewery and visit the brewery museum.
Solar beer: Klosterbrauerei Scheyern
The abbey originated in 1077 in a monk’s community in the area of modern-day Bayerischzell near Lake Schliersee. In 1119, the monks moved to Scheyern. The new Count of Wittelsbach, Count Otto V of Scheyern, had settled in Wittelsbach Castle (in modern-day Aichach, destroyed in 1209). The now unused castle became the private monastery of the House of Wittelsbach (the family crypt until 1252).
Beer has been brewed in Scheyern since that time - so since 1119! The Benedictines produce their traditional beer exclusively from aromatic Hallertau hops and water from their own abbey well. The beers are neither pasteurised or ultraheat-treated. The range is extensive: there are traditional sorts such as Hell (quaffable, mildly hoppy), Dunkel (slightly tart), Weißbier (naturally cloudy, unfiltered wheat beer) and Schyrengold (naturally cloudy country beer brewed according to the rules for “solar beer”, i.e. using solar or renewable energy).
In addition there are abbey beers sold further afield and produced by the private Tucher brewery, and the “Junge Frische” range featuring Benedictus (lively with a tart hop bouquet) and Dreiundreißig Kloster Pils (tart, 33 bitters). Finally there are four different craft beers using new hop varieties and exotic flavours such as mint and menthol. The abbey also has its own bar with a Biergarten, a butcher’s, a distillery, a cheese dairy and an Alm in the mountain pastures near Bayerischzell.
kloster-scheyern.de (only in German)
Medal-winning: Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg
Weltenburg Abbey boasts a spectacular location on the Danube Gorge with its steep rocky sides. It lies around 25 kilometres southwest of Regensburg. The abbey is thought to have been founded around the year 600 by the Irish-Scottish wandering monk Eustachius and Agilus of Luxeuil. It is the oldest monastic establishment in Bavaria. Nowadays, the Baroque complex is inhabited by Benedictine monks. Of particular note is the Abbey Church of St. George, designed by the Asam Brothers.
Evidence shows that beer has been brewed in the abbey since 1050. The star of the brewery is the Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel. This fine, creamy, bottom-fermented beer with its powerful taste has won the Gold Award at the World Beer Cup in the USA no fewer than three times. The Weltenburger Kloster Asam Bock, in turn, is a three-time Gold Medal winner at the European Beer Star, and a malty, aromatic, sweet, dark Doppelbock. The range also includes Helles, Pils, Kellerbier, Märzen and more.
The Klosterschänke tavern with a direct beer pipeline to the cellar and a Biergarten with chestnut trees both provide guests with a great place to sit and enjoy the various liquid delights. The beers can also be paired with Bavarian dishes in the “Weltenburger am Dom” restaurant in Regensburg. A visitor centre in the historic Felsenkeller provides information about the abbey, the brewery and the natural environment of the Weltenburger Enge. Guided tours of the church and brewery are also available.
weltenburger.de (only in German)
Fill your tankard: Aldersbacher
The Aldersbach Brewery, southwest of Vilshofen on the Danube, also looks back on a long monastic history. 1268 saw the first mention of monks at the Cistercian Monastery of Aldersbach brewing beer primarily for their own consumption. In the 16th century, the brothers expanded the brewery and planted hops. As a consequence of the secularisation in 1803, the family of the Freiherr of Aretin took over the complex and has been running the brewery ever since.
They brew a wide range of traditional beers, from the Aldersbacher Urhell (fine and slightly hoppy) and the Kloster Dunkel (malty and aromatic) to the Freiherrn Pils (slim, finely hoppy) and other varieties. Their full-bodied Zwicklbier won the Silver Medal at the European Beer Star 2017, while the mild and hoppy Kloster Weisse Hell has won the German Agricultural Society’s Gold Award no fewer than six times. The glass showcase brewery creates a constantly changing selection of craft beers (India Pale Ale, Stout, Weizenbock, Barley Wine and Porter).
Visitors should definitely take the opportunity to look inside the former Abbey Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, designed by the Asam Brothers. Guided tours of the brewery, church and abbey are available. Guests can soak up Lower Bavarian “Gemütlichkeit” in the Bräustüberl. There you can get your Stein, or tankard, refilled at the counter. When the weather is nice, visitors can sit outside in two large Biergartens.
aldersbacher.de (only in German)
Holy duo: Speinshart and Kemnath
1145 is the probable construction date of Speinshart Monastery, northwest of Weiden, with the first documented mention of the presence of Premonstrations there in 1181. The monastery became a religious and cultural centre of the northern Upper Palatinate. The new Baroque building erected in the 17th century was designed by Wolfgang and Georg Dientzenhofer and is an architectural monument of European significance. The monastery was dissolved in 1803 and brought back to life in 1923. Extensive renovation work was completed in 2017.
Today, the monastery also serves as an international venue, hosting cultural events and concerts. The Speinsharter Klosterbier is served in the monastery’s own Klostergasthof tavern. This quaffable, amber-coloured beer with its finely spiced, malty aroma is brewed by the Kemnather Klosterbrauerei, just ten kilometres away. The origins of this private brewery date back to the Franciscan monastery of Kemnath, founded in 660 and dissolved in 1802. The brewing coppers in Kemnath produce Helles, Pils, Bavarian wheat beer, Märzen, a seasonal festival beer and Zoiglbier, a natural full beer and speciality of Oberpfalz.
kloster-speinshart.de und klosterbrauerei-kemnath.de (only in German)
Fresh from the barrel: Kloster Kreuzberg
In pre-Christian times, the Celts made pilgrimages to a cultural site on the Kreuzberg. Since the Middle Ages, this 900 metre-high mountain in the Rhön district has been a destination for religious believers. They seek out the pilgrimage cross on the summit, later replaced by three crucifixes. A little lower down, a Franciscan monastery has stood here since 1692, and a brewery since 1731. Pilgrimage is thirsty work! Thank goodness that the monastery on the “Holy Mountain of Franconia” was not abolished during secularisation, as happened to so many of Bavaria’s abbeys and monasteries. Today, the monastery and its restaurant make a popular destination.
Franciscans are a mendicant order, so the convent and the restaurant are separate entities. The monks used to serve their beer to pilgrims free of charge until 1920. The Klosterbier is almost all served from barrels. Its quality comes from the fact that it is made from their own spring water, Rhön brewing malt, aromatic hops from the Hallertau and a recipe that has not changed over the centuries. All the beers are unfiltered: Dunkel, Pils, Helles Hefeweizen and the Christmas Weihnachstbock (“only for seasoned beer drinkers”...). Guests can find refreshments in the rustic Klosterschänke tavern with its large Biergarten – and sleep in the Berggasthof “Elisäus” near the pilgrimage church. A small quantity of the valuable product is surrendered to neighbouring Franciscan monasteries. As a result, the Kreuzberg beer can also be enjoyed in Engelberg Abbey in Großheubach.
engelberg.franziskaner.net (only in German)
Franconia’s oldest brewery: Weißenohe
The Benedictine Abbey in Weißenohe in the Upper Franconian district of Forchheim has been in existence since 1050. It can be assumed that beer has been brewed there since that date too. Weißenohe is therefore deemed to be Franconia’s oldest brewery! Over time, the abbey was destroyed and rebuilt several times, and following secularisation it was sold to a private buyer. The monastic master brewer continued to run the brewery until it was sold, complete with brewing rights, in 1827.
Today, it is run by the fifth generation of the Winkler family. The water for the brewery comes from Franconian Switzerland and is ideally suited to dark, not overly hoppy beers. The hop variety “Hersbrucker” gives an elegant tartness while the malting barley comes from the immediate surrounding area. The resulting products: Altfränkisches Klosterbier (amber-coloured, full-bodied), Classic Export Bioland (powerful, with aroma and body, EU organic certification), Kloster-Sud (malty), Bonifatius Dunkel (moderate bitters and pleasant roasted aroma), Bonator Doppelbock (“Drink does not break the fast” ...), Eucharius Märzen (golden-red, spicy). Food and drink are served in the adjacent inn. The old malting house hosts art exhibitions. The ten-kilometre 5-Seidla Steig (Brewery Route) starts in Weißenohe and leads to four other brewery taverns.
klosterbrauerei-weissenohe.de (only in German)
Visionary: Vierzehnheiligen Nothelfer Bier
The name of this beer means “an emergency helper” and is made in the Trunk brewery, just a short walk up the hill from the Vierzehnheiligen church. The imposing Baroque basilica was built on a mountain near Bad Staffelstein in Upper Franconia following a design by Balthasar Neumann. It is dedicated to the Fourteen Holy Helpers: Catholic patron saints from the second, third and fourth centuries, who all died as martyrs (except for Ägidius, the helper at confession and the nursing mother). Since the mid-15th century, pilgrims have come here to the place where the saints once appeared to a shepherd and where the Basilica was eventually built.
The Vierzehnheiliger Bier has been brewed since 1803, and by the Trunk brewery since 1989. The speciality beers only use malts from Kulmbach and Bamberg as well as regional hops. The most well-known is the dark Nothelfer Trunk - the colour of horse chestnuts and described as having “grain, bread and roasted aromas, followed by chocolate, espresso, caramel and Brazil nuts - with bitters present at the finish”. Other beers sure to slake your thirst include: Pils (citrus aroma), Bio-Weiße (intensive cloves at the finish), Hell (lightly honeyed notes) and Silberbock (nutty resonance). This liquid assistance is served in Bräustüberl and Biergarten and a selection of drinks is also sent out through the mail.
brauerei-trunk.de (only in German)