Oktoberfest entranceOktoberfestBambergPassau

People are often surprised to learn that beer brewing predates written human history. In fact, beer is the oldest known prepared beverage – predating wine by nearly 5,000 years – and most historians agree the invention of beer brewing was a stepping stone to the invention of baking bread. The Hebrew Bible mentions beer as one of the provisions with which Noah stocked his ark and the Epic of Gilgamesh, written in the 3rd millennium BC, equates drinking beer with becoming a civilized person. Indeed, some argue that beer helped save early civilizations by sparing countless thousands from deadly, water-borne diseases which were prevalent when clean drinking water wasn’t available.

It was in Bavaria, however, that beer was elevated from prosaic to extraordinary. For here, in this beautiful, southeastern corner of Germany, the monastic communities of the Middle Ages began brewing beer as a means of both sustenance and income. Over time, these monasteries each developed their own, unique brews and it wasn’t long before the flocks of faithful began partaking of free rations the monks would provide on holy days and after marriage ceremonies. On non-holy days, however, the monks would charge a fee for the beer and they soon found that plenty of customers were ready to pay for their unique libations. It wasn’t long before an entire industry was born.

The breweries, beer gardens, and, indeed, monasteries, of Bavaria become our focus as we immerse ourselves in the 12-century-old craft of brewing in this beautiful region of Europe. Here we set our sights upon becoming connoisseurs of the fermented beverage that is now enjoyed on every continent and in nearly every nation on the planet. We begin in Munich, the capitol of Bavaria and birthplace of the beer brewing industry, where the crystal clear waters of the roaring Isar River proved to be most ideal for making great beer. It’s no surprise that by the end of the 15th century there were thirty-eight breweries here alone.

Our endeavor takes us to the laboratories of the world-renowned Doemens Academy of Brewing which has been training brewmasters for better than the last century. Here we enjoy a fascinating program on the history and process of beer brewing and take part in a hands-on demonstration of the modern technologies that make mass production possible. In Munich as well we explore several of the city’s famous beer halls and biergartens – Augustiner, Spatenhaus, and Hofbräuhaus among them – which reveal the significant history, traditions, and brand identity associated with each beer. An afternoon excursion takes us to the monastery and brewery at Andechs to explore the monastic origins of beer brewing and sample the brew that has been crafted at this spot for some twelve hundred years. And last, but not least, as our sojourn coincides with Oktoberfest, we are provided an insider’s glimpse of this annual Bavarian celebration of beer.

Mid-week we depart Munich and head north to explore the provincial centers of Bavarian brew making. Spending a night in the medieval town of Bamberg, we visit the nearby malt and hops factories to get a better understanding of the raw materials of beer. From Bamberg we journey to Passau, the celebrated and picturesque city of three rivers on the boarder of Austria. Here we spend the night in one of the world’s only “beer spas” and partake in a special food and beer pairing dinner hosted by a world-champion, beer sommelier. The next day we are given the opportunity to put our new knowledge to work as we spend time crafting our own, unique brews at the Creative Brewery.

Our final destination is the wonderfully-preserved, medieval city of Salzburg, Austria. Here we learn to recognize the subtle differences in the taste of beer as we stray further from the center of Bavaria. We also explore the “Brauwelt” (“Beer World”) museum and, finally, take our exam to earn the prized Certificate of Beer Knowledge from Doemens Academy.

Along the way we are guided by the expert knowledge of Herbert Hoffman, a board member of Doemens Academy, as well as by a select group of guest speakers and beer specialists. By the end of the week we not only achieve a better understanding of beer and of the interesting cultural history of brewing, but also of how this humble libation has actually helped shape the course of human history. And while some will continue to debate whether or not this beloved beverage truly helped preserve the life of mankind, there will be none left who will doubt that it has most certainly contributed enormously to man’s enjoyment of life.

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