Gemütlichkeit is to the Germans as lagom is to the Swedes, hygge is to the Danish and craic is to the Irish! It’s hard to pin down but equates roughly to that fuzzy, warm feeling of having good food, good drink and good company. And the best place to seek Gemütlichkeit is a biergarten, which, coincidentally, is celebrating its 200th birthday in 2012.
It was King Max Joseph I who decreed in 1812 that beer (stored in beer cellars dug into river banks to keep it cool) could be drunk where it was brewed and food could be served there too!
To mark this milestone – and Oktoberfest, which starts in Munich on Sept. 22, 2012 – we’ve rounded up our top 10 beer gardens around the world. We’re starting, where else, in Munich, with three!
Hirschgarten, Munich, Germany
The historic – and family friendly – Hirschgarten is Germany’s largest biergarten, with benches seating up to 8,000 revelers stretching almost as far as the eye can see. The shady 200-year-old chestnut trees and deer (Hirschgarten translates to “deer garden”) that roam around the game reserve next to the beer garden add a bucolic touch to an evening’s drinking. The majestic Nymphenburg Palace is close by too. Augustiner beer is served, directly from the cask.
Taxisgarten, Munich, Germany
Not quite as old as Hirschgarten, Taxisgarten biergarten has been serving up to 1,500 guests at a time since 1924. It used to be a sanatorium for WWI veterans and gradually opened up to the public. Its proximity to the Taxisklinik, Bavaria’s largest maternity clinic, means that many a baby’s birth has been celebrated here! There’s a small children’s play area to keep the kiddies occupied. Hofbräu is a favored brew.
Airbräu, Munich Airport, Germany
Now, here’s a brilliant idea. A beer garden – and brewery – at Munich Airport! The Airbräu is to be found in the central courtyard between terminals 1 and 2. Airbräu is the world’s only airport brewery that crafts its beers in compliance with the 1516 Purity Decree.
If you didn’t catch the aviation theme, the beers’ names will give you a clue. There’s FliegerQuell, Kumulus and Jetstream and seasonal brews that include Aviator and Mayday, a word that recalls emergency but gets its name from May 1, when the first barrel is tapped.
Estabrook Park Beer Garden, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
It’s little wonder that Milwaukee is featured in our top 10. This noted city of brewing learned the trade from the German immigrants who settled here in the 19th century. The Old German Beer Hall on Old World Third Street represents the spirit and tradition of the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, which is perhaps the most famous beer hall of all.
Just this summer, Milwaukee got a new beer garden (the Estabrook Park Beer Garden), the county’s first in a park since Prohibition. The garden is situated in the wooded 50-acre park that hugs the Milwaukee River. Featured beers include Hofbräu Original Lager, Dunkel Lager and Hefe Weizen. Weather permitting, the beer garden will be open seven days a week, noon to 9 p.m., from Memorial Day through the end of September, then weekends only through Nov. 24. Search and compare cheap flights to Milwaukee.
Radegast Hall & Biergarten, Brooklyn, New York, USA
German expats had found a convivial home away from home in the beer gardens of New York for many years since the 18th century. Prohibition in the 1920s and later ill feelings toward Germans spelled the end of many of them. But the beer garden has made a comeback over the past few years. Undoubtedly, The Bohemian Hall in Queens is part of New York City history. It is said to be the last original remaining beer garden in New York, dedicated to preserving the Czech and Slovak communities.
Our pick of the bunch is Radegast Hall & Biergarten in Brooklyn, which with its rustic decor, hearty fare and great brews captures the ambiance of Oktoberfest in all its giddy, belly-busting glory. Search and compare cheap flights to New York.
Yaletown Brewing Company, Vancouver, Canada
A Western Canadian twist on the beer garden, the Yaletown Brewing Company has won many awards such as Best Brewpub in Canada and Readers’ Choice awards for Best in Vancouver. It’s located in a renovated warehouse in one of Vancouver’s trendiest districts. And the glassed-in brewery produces top-class beers. The best thing about it might be the long, narrow seats outside where Yaletowners and visitors pitch up to enjoy a pitcher or two. Search and compare cheap flights to Vancouver.
Praça Hercílio Luz, Blumenau, Brazil
This German settlement in the state of Santa Catarina is world famous for the crowd-magnet Oktoberfest it puts on each year (in 2011, more than 550,000 showed up and more than 626,000 liters of beer were downed; it’s on Oct. 10-28 this year) but it honors its Germanic heritage year round.
There’s no better place to soak this up than Praça Hercílio Luz, among the beer museum, WW2 monument and beer garden. German brews might be the most popular but Blumenau has plenty of micro-breweries of its own. Eisenbahn is the best known and there’s Bierland and Unser Bier, too; all of them offer a taste of Blumenau. Search and compare cheap flights to Brazil.
Forest Beer Garden, Tokyo, Japan
There was a beer garden at Midtown shopping complex this summer that served only Suntory All-Free and soda, orange juice and tea. But for a beer garden that serves something with more than 0.000% alcohol, visit Forest Beer Garden inside Meiji Shrine’s Outer Gardens. The trees are shady, the sausages German and the beer is Kirin Ichiban Shibori, Kirin Ichiban Shibori Stout or Budweiser.
It’s one of Tokyo’s largest beer gardens, with space for 1,000. Even at that, the garden gets busy over the weekend and booking in advance is recommended! Search and compare cheap flights to Japan.
Bräustübl Tavern, Salzburg, Austria
The Bräustübl Tavern in Mülln has been brewing beer since 1621. Not only is it Austria’s largest beer tavern, but the beer garden seats 1,500 drinkers. It’s self-service with the beer drawn from wooden barrels.
Augustiner beer is, as you’d expect by now, brewed in accordance with the 1516 Purity Law with just four ingredients: malt, water, hops and yeast. Hearty, beer-soaking meals can be found in the “stands corridor,” an arcade filled with deli stalls. Search and compare cheap flights to Austria.
Lowenbrau Keller, Sydney, Australia
There’s a little bit of Bavaria at the corner of Playfair and Argyle streets in the tourist-friendly Rocks district. Of course, they celebrate Oktoberfest (starts Sept. 22), but the tablecloths are blue-and-white checked and the staff are rigged out in their Dirndls and lederhosen year round.
Australia might be a long way from Germany but the beers are brewed in accordance with the Purity Law and drinkers can sample the Stiegl Goldbräu, Paulaner Premium Pils and Spaten München, which has the distinction of being the first keg tapped at each Oktoberfest. Search and compare cheap flights to Australia.
(Featured image: SteFou!)