“The Most Exquisite Conceivable Extract of Malt and Hops”


Munich’s Beer Wows Foreign Visitors in The Late 1800s (And Still Does)

An American, Edward Payson Evans*, reported in 1889 on the famed court brewery of Munich, the Hofbrauhaus, as detailed in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. While there is much in the article of interest, including an impressive and obviously accurate account of the true origin of bock beer, I will let the writer speak for himself as to the marked impression the beer of Munich made on three visitors he mentioned.

The first is General Ulysses S. Grant, who was on a world tour after leaving the White House in 1879. (In this case Evans was reporting on something that occurred a decade back).

During the Civil War Grant had been famous, or infamous, for his too-zealous interest in Bourbon. Nonetheless given his battlefield successes, Abraham Lincoln was impelled to state that if he knew the brand Grant liked he would mention it to his other generals.

The second visitor was an Australian newspaper correspondent. The third, an American professor on tour with his family.

As a conscientious cicerone, the Consul first proposed a visit to the galleries of painting and sculpture and the treasures of the National Museum, but the General declared that he had been already sufficiently bored by the works of the dead and living masters and had, since landing, become tolerably familiar with the contents of old curiosity shops in England and on the Continent, and would much prefer a change of programme. The Consul then suggested that if he wished to confine his observations to things of a distinctively local character, they would do well to begin with the Court Brewery. A two minutes’ walk brought them to this Mecca of all thirsty Munichers.

After having selected and rinsed their mugs (the tapster would disdain to fill a smaller measure) they took their places in a long file of equally ardent devotees of the goddess Cerevisia, and in due time were able to retire with their portion of the brown foaming beverage to such seats as they were fortunate enongh to find vacant. The General lifted the stone mug to his lips, and having drawn off about half its contents at a single draught, sat it down again with the laconic remark, “That’s good.”

Tradition is silent as to the number of hours they tarried over their beer, and no injudicious chronicler has kept an exact tale of the mugs tbey quaffed, but it is on record that when the Consul called at the hotel the next day and inquired what the General wished to do, the latter replied: “Well, suppose we go to that place again.”

What is here related of General Grant is the common experience of tourists. Not long since, the correspondent of an Australian newspaper visited Munich and devoted several letters to a description of the city and his impressions of the same. He was evidently in a bad mood and nothing pleased him. The so-called Athens on the Iser seemed to him to have been greatly overrated as an art center and not to be entitled to any consideration whatever as an emporium of trade. He described the architectural creations of King Ludwig I. as clumsy imitations bordering on caricatures of famous edifices and the public monuments as poor efforts to immortalize provincial celebrities, whose names were never heard of outside of Bavaria.

By a happy chance our Australian drifted into the precincts of the court Brewery, which struck him at first sight as a very nasty and disgusting place; but no sooner had he taken a good swig of the famous brewage than he turned to his fair spouse and exclaimed with enthusiasm: “Sally, this stuff is genuine, in fact it is about the only genuine thing that I have as yet found in Munich.” From that moment a complete change came over the spirits of the man. Raw winds, rainy weather, rude shopkeepers, sham architecture, weary pilgrimages to worthless works of art, and the like inamenities of the tourist’s life were all forgotten in the intense enjoyment of this most exquisite of conceivable extracts of malt and hops.

Last summer an American professor visited Munich for the first time. He arrived with his family late in the afternoon, suffering from the fatigue of a long railroad journey, and took furnished rooms for two weeks. As he sat down to the frugal supper which had been prepared in anticipation of his arrival and tasted the delicious beer which his landlady had placed before him, he turned to her and said: “I’ll take the rooms for a month”.

*Evans was a scholar with a deep knowledge of the German language and its culture. See more details here in his Wikipedia entry.