1st Munich Great Breweries Ultra
16th of August, 2021
Finally I have something running related to write about! One and a half years into this pandemic, most interesting races are still being cancelled or are happening under circumstances which take the fun out of it, so we have to keep taking matters into our own hands until further notice.
Munich. A few years ago I reconnected with an old friend from school, Nico, because he suddenly appeared on Strava as he had taken up running. He had been living in Munich for the past ten years, but was visiting Hamburg regularly due to his parents being here. We had a few runs together, kept in touch, and he then came up with the idea of planning a route through Munich we could run together which would connect all seven official Munich breweries.
The Seven Official Munich Breweries
Just seven? Of course, there are plenty more breweries in the city serving a million inhabitants. But in order to be legally allowed to define your brewery as a genuine Munich brewery, you have to fulfil two criteria. You have to have your brewery located on Munich’s turf and you have to draw your own water for it using a well which is also within the city’s bounds. Preferably near your brewery, for obvious reasons. For a long time, there have been six breweries which were accepted, but a seventh one made it into the list recently.
- Augustiner (1328)
- Löwenbräu (1383)
- Spaten (1397)
- Hacker-Pschorr (1417)
- Hofbräu (1589)
- Paulaner (1634)
- Giesinger (2006)
The numbers in brackets are the years when the breweries or their predecessor companies were first mentioned. As you can see, Giesinger is the odd one out with a nearly 400 year gap between its founding and the next oldest one, Paulaner. It’s more of a modern craft style approach in contrast to the very traditional other six. Of the seven, Augustiner seems to be the most popular one, also internationally.
Let’s find out how they all taste!
In the evening Nico and his partner Sarah and their newborn son Vincent invited me for a pasta party. We talked about the last few things to remember for the run to go over well, but Nico had it all planned perfectly. He tweaked the route for a few weeks and even biked several parts of it to see if it worked out.
The idea was to run to all of the seven brewery buildings but also have a beer of each of the seven. Here’s the thing, though. In earlier days, the breweries were all small old buildings near the city center, most of them offering beer on site, making route and task really easy and short. But as they expanded over the years, they built huge factories in the outskirts which would not be able to offer us a glass of beer at that place. So we had to do both: visit all seven buildings but also run past seven places which would sell a beer – places with some historic significance, preferably.
6:30 AM Start
The Augustiner brand is special in several regards. It’s the oldest of the seven at almost 700 years, and both the factory and the main consuming place are close to the central station not far from the city center. For those reasons, Nico chose it as a start and finish for us.
A common thing in Munich is having a Weißwurst breakfast – eating white sausages with sweet mustard and wheat beer in the morning. My hotel even offered beer on tap to draw yourself for breakfast. Crazy Bavarians!
So far we were very lucky in regards to the weather, but it was supposed to get as hot as 30 degrees Celsius later, which made me slightly afraid. Definitely need to watch the water intake and sunscreen up.
Some 10-12 kilometers in, we reached the first breweries. Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr now belong to the same holding company and have their buildings right next to each other out here.
Nico had even researched the fountains along the route so we wouldn’t have to stop to buy some water anywhere unnecessarily. The network of fountains around Munich proved to be reliable and of high quality. Now that the sun was frying us quite nicely already, a bit of a shower from that flowing water felt refreshing, too.
The First Beer of the Day
After around 25 kilometers, we reached the combined breweries of Spaten and Löwenbräu. Just like Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr earlier, these two belong together and share that same area. Here, Nico has a friend who actually works at the brewery. His name is Fabian and he is usually responsible for positioning the company’s beers at big festivals. Not much to do for him since the pandemic hit the world. He’s a great guy and agreed to meet us just after 9:00 AM to hand us a fresh and ice-cold Spaten beer. “A Hoibe”, as bavarians say. A half – as opposed to the more generally accepted beer serving size of a whole liter. He even put the glasses into the fridge before so we would enjoy an optimal experience here at Spaten.
We were thirsty, so this first one didn’t take long. Prost!
Alcohol and Endurance Sports
“Are you guys crazy?” is a sentence we have heard a lot when mentioning today’s plan to others. But actually, it’s not such a huge problem to have alcohol while being physically active. Obviously, it’s important to keep a good eye one’s body and not overdo it, which can be tricky given the nature of alcohol. That’s why we had a few people following our live positions and had planned to meet a few people along the way. For safety reasons, but for fun first and foremost.
Last weekend, Nico went to another beer marathon event in the town of Hachenburg. Then, there’s the popular Marathon du Médoc, which is a race through lots of wineries in the southeast of France. And, of course, the competition mode called The Beer Mile, during which you have to run four laps on a track of 400 meters and have a beer at each lap, 0.355 liters each at least. Look up videos of it, this one gets wild and really competitive! The inspiration for our plan came from a similar race in Belgium, also a beer loving nation.
Our goal today was to have a beer of each of the brands, but I decided to go with the non-alcoholic version whenever possible. Nico, however, who has been living here for a decade and is quite into beer, was planning on having the real experience, on the other hand. Let’s see how this goes.
This first beer turned out to feel great. Fabi brought out cold standard alcoholic Spaten, so this was my only choice. It was delicious and refreshing and no problem in regards to going on with the running. But Fabi had one more to offer. We went over to the Löwenbräu brewery next door, to which he had keys to as well and pulled out a few more beers for us. Fabi told us that as an employee for the two breweries, you’ll get eight crates of beer per month for free – that’s called Haustrunk. That’s right, eight crates per month! A standard crate contains 20 beers of 0.5 liters each, so that’s a substantial amount. It’s probably this much for historic reasons. Anyways, where do I sign up?
Now, Löwenbräu has non-alcoholic ones, so I had one of those as opposed to Nico who is going all in for now.
We saw a promotionally painted tractor with a number plate which revealingly said ‘HB’, which is Bremen – that’s because Spaten-Löwenbräu and the huge Beck’s brewery from Bremen in northern Germany both belong to the international conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev. Globalism.
At Spaten, another friend of Nico’s joined us, Niko. Two beers for him as well, and now the three of us went up north through Munich’s Olympic Park from 1972. Four breweries and two beers down.
Now, this sign is fake. There’s no town called Giesing unfortunately, it’s a neighborhood within the city center, and not eight kilometers north of it like this site of the new big brewery.
As a modern company, Giesinger had a crowd-funding campaign for building this huge factory. Nico took part and got 300 Euros worth of beer per year as interest from them. It gets paid out in paper tokens and he wisely had those in his backpack. Giesinger is not offering any non-alcoholic options, but they had something which was working for me called Federweiße, a tiny beer of just 0.33 liters and containing just 2.8 percent of alcohol, around half of the standard. Perfect. It tasted great, very fruity. Nico had the ‘real’ one instead. He was still doing great.
5 breweries, 3 beers.
Back south towards the city center. Niko ran with us for about 15 kilometers total and enjoyed our slow pace. Lots to talk about, good times. Then I felt like I needed something salty and fatty, for which I hadn’t planned sufficiently. The food I took was sweet oat-based bars only, but the sun flushed out a lot of salt through my skin. So I convinced Nico of a fast food restaurant fries break. That was great for the moment, but they were really heavy in my stomach for around an hour – not ideal. I need to remember this for next time.
By now, we were running for 42.2 kilometers, a whole marathon. The pace was getting noticeably slower, but we didn’t mind. Speed is not the point today. Which is why we took the chance to have another short break and cool off our steaming feet in the aptly named Eisbach (ice creek). That’s an aaaah moment.
Nico not only directed the course in a way that showed off lots of the popular sights of Munich, but he also proved to be a great tour guide by telling me about the history and backgrounds to lots of the areas we came through and ancient buildings we passed by. He could have offered this for money!
The Eastern Desert
The tricky part begins. The midday sun is burning hot right now, my weather app even warned us of “Extremely high temperatures” and recommended staying indoors. But we had an ultra marathon to finish and a few more beers to drink, first.
This next part of the route would lead us out east to the inconveniently located Hofbräu brewery. There’s really nothing worth mentioning on the way there, which is why Nico described the part as a desert. Apart from a gas station stop to refill our water and have a Powerade, nothing happened. Our pace decreased significantly and we talked less because we both had to fight the fatigue on our own. Ten kilometers out.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to see here. A big gate is preventing a visit and you can’t buy any beer either. We knew that, so we turned around and made our way back, ten more kilometers. The route back would be a little less tough because there was some shade cast by trees surrounding the paths.
By now, we had about 65 kilometers in our bodies. It was time for a break.
Back in the city, we had this planned stop near the former site of the brewery at one of their biergartens.
Here’s another Bavarian quirk. As I’ve mentioned, drinking just “a hoibe”, half a beer, is not the traditional way to go. Beer comes in 1 liter mugs. Biergartens offer half beers throughout the day, but after 5:00 PM it’s getting real. No more beginner’s sizes for anyone. A Maß or bust. We arrived here just around that time of day and Nico wasn’t happy about them not making an exception: a full liter would be too much for him, and the half mugs are still standing there, so what’s the hold-up anyways? The guy could not be convinced, so he went for his first non-alcoholic half a liter of the day, just like I did.
I think that was a wise choice at this point because we both felt tired and I could see in his face that he needed a short break.
6 breweries, 5 beers down.
The Final Stretch
What’s left now is the Augustiner brewery and beer, which was our starting point this morning and will be the finish line, too. But in addition, we have one more beer to drink, a Paulaner. Remember, this was the first brewery we visited today, but so far there was no chance to have one.
For that reason, on the way back through the city we stopped at Nockherberg. Another biergarten, right next to the former spot of the Paulaner brewery, and a cozy place.
Here, we got lucky and the guy made and exception for Nico, drawing a half beer although it’s not technically allowed due to the time of day. I went non-alcoholic again, in the shadow of one of the founding monk’s busts. What would he have thought of non-alcoholic beer?
At this point I finally remembered that part of the fun could have been to try and distinguish the taste of the seven. But I totally forgot and now I think these are quite similar to each other. That statement is definitely not doing these breweries justice, so please forgive me. I blame it on the running and the sun.
As in 2020, this year will also not have an Oktoberfest. The reason being COVID, of course. This postpones the decisions to be made regarding the inclusion of the new Giesinger brewery into the event, which I’m keen on finding out. Will the six ancient and traditional breweries, who are the main hosts of the fest allow the newcomer to put up its tent as well, next year? I would like that and I hope they find a solution, because someone has to make room.
One more kilometer to go, the sun is hanging low but our spirits remain high. This was a fun day and a pleasurable experience. Thanks to the perfect planning by Nico, nothing went wrong and we get to celebrate at Augustiner’s with one final beer.
Beer and Ultrarunning
72 kilometers on beer. 3.0 liters with and 0.5 without alcohol for Nico, 1.33 with and 2.00 without for me. Additionally we each had around 3-5 liters of water from the fountains and the one gas station we visited. Surely we lost a bit more due to the heat, but we made it through happily and healthy. I got a slight sunburn despite layering sunscreen three times during the day. I remember the beer stops to be a welcome break from the running and the half hour afterwards as especially fun. We took the best possible bodily reactions to alcohol out of the beer, fortunately. On the other hand, you can see our pace decline a lot over the day. I’m not going to lie, it was tough in the end. Especially the Hofbräu loop beat us up. Other than that, I could see myself doing something similar again. A few fellow runners and beer friends have noted that they would be up for a 2022 edition of it. Why not!
Back at the hotel, I enjoyed some protein-heavy plant-based Israeli food and fell asleep almost immediately. That’s a sign of a day well spent.
This has been a great weekend and source of new energy for me to take back home to the family. The past few weeks have been tough so I needed this and I am thankful I got to do this. As a side effect, I now feel prepared for the upcoming Mozart 100 race after this test. I will probably not have any beer during that one, though.