The Experts' Guide To The World: Bavaria
Sunday 13 February 2011
The Bavarians have ways and means of working up a powerful thirst before they let themselves loose on the exquisite beers that have been brewed within the confines of the Kloster Reutberg monastery since 1677. In winter, they clip on cross-country skis and glide across the snowy expanse of heather-covered heath surrounding the baroque monastery, which has had a pub, restaurant and beer garden attached to it since the mid-19th century. If it's cold without snow, they bind on skates and spend an hour or so flitting up and down the length of the frozen Kirchsee lake that lies little more than a stone's throw away. In summer, the lake, with its peaty, amber-coloured water, transforms into a magnificent place to swim, sunbathe or simply walk around. In the distance is a near-ever-present, panoramic view of the Bavarian Alps, a gigantic snow-capped wall of grey rock that rises above forests of fir, beech and oak, just a few kilometres away to the south.
Walking into the beer garden is a bit like straying into the "Tomorrow belongs to me" sequence of Cabaret, minus the Nazism: sun-lit Alps beckon in the distance, while at an array of wooden outdoor tables, drinkers in leather trousers and Loden jackets quaff beer from large porcelain jugs under a panoply of verdant chestnut trees; the waitresses are clad in tight-waisted Dirndl dresses, the waiters in waistcoats and Lederhosen It may look a caricature of a German beer garden, but nobody bats an eyelid, as their get-up is nothing remarkable and definitely not put on for the tourists. It's a reminder that in strongly traditional Bavaria, people still wear the dress of their region with self-assuredness, if not pride.
Close to the Alps south of Munich, Kloster Reutberg is one of the few truly independent breweries left in the state. Its beers may only be obtainable at the monastery pub and supermarkets within a 20-mile radius, but what beers they are! There are no fewer than 10 of them and several pack a punch big enough to floor the average Real Ale aficionado. Josefi-Bock, a seasonal, malt-based strong ale, weighs in at 6.9 per cent alcohol. The so-called Weihnachts-Bock, or Christmas, ale is 6.7 per cent. One personal favourite is Kloster Reutberg's Dunkel Export, an aromatic, chestnut-coloured beer brewed entirely from malt. Another is the brewery's Sankt Aegdius (St Giles) beer. The latter is unfiltered and brewed according to procedures that were common a century ago, but which have long since been forgotten.
Kloster Reutberg changed hands two years ago and, under its current management, not only has the quality of the beer improved, its culinary performance has also taken a leap forward. But being a traditional Bavarian institution, nobody should expect a Cordon Bleu, vegetarian or even vaguely experimental menu. Roast pork with crackling, red cabbage and hand-made potato dumplings or spit-roast duck with home-made sauerkraut may not be that innovative, but they are outstanding when made from the right quality and often organic ingredients and properly cooked. So is home-made Apfelstrudel, rounded off with coffee and Obstler, a south German clear schnapps distilled from apples and pears and matured in oak barrels.
Reutberg beer may not be readily available worldwide, but Bavaria's provincial government has now started offering it to visitors at its state reception in the German capital. It's not hard to understand why.
Tony Paterson is Berlin correspondent of The Independent
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