Session #134: Zum Biergarten

Sign on a wall: Zum Biergarten,

For the 134th edi­tion of The Ses­sion, in which beer blog­gers around the world write on the same top­ic, Tom Cizauskas has asked us to think about beer gar­dens.

A good beer garden is a kind of fairy tale that allows you to wallow in summer, and to imagine yourself above or outside the modern world.

We first became aware of how mag­i­cal a Ger­man beer gar­den could be after Jes­si­ca went to the World Cup in 2006 and came back in love with the Englis­ch­er Garten in Munich where she saw thou­sands of foot­ball fans served litre after litre of Helles with unruf­fled effi­cien­cy.

A sunny beer garden.

When we think of Ger­many, we think of beer gar­dens: the high alti­tude majesty of the gar­den at the top of the Staffel­berg; the back­up gar­den of Würzburg­er Hof­bräu we found by acci­dent, which feels as if it’s deep in a for­est despite the ring road on the oth­er side of the hedge; or the river­side idyll of the Spi­tal­brauerei in Regens­burg where this blog was born.

Entrance to a beer garden in Wurzburg.

Ger­man beer gar­dens work because they are giv­en space to breathe even in big cities, because of at-seat ser­vice, and because the weath­er is fair­ly reli­able from spring through to autumn which means you can set them up and pack them away to some sort of sched­ule. (The last few times we’ve been to Ger­many we missed beer gar­den sea­son, catch­ing them as dead leaves began to blow around the table legs and the bench­es com­menced their pad­locked-and-chained win­ter hiber­na­tion.)

Garden at the Drum, Cockington.

In Britain, beer gar­dens don’t work quite so well. Here it can be warm and bright on Christ­mas Day, but rain from May to Sep­tem­ber. Few pubs have the space for a real gar­den – you’re lucky to find a yard in most cas­es – and when they do, rarely find it worth­while keep­ing them main­tained. You’ll often find mildewed pic­nic tables, plas­tic patio fur­ni­ture, or con­crete tables designed to stay put dur­ing gales, but rarely any trees or bird­song.

Pub table: Anchor Fast, Nottingham

Smok­ers, with nowhere else to go, own British pub gar­dens and the infra­struc­ture of bolt-on ash­trays and lean-to shel­ters reflects that. Or, alter­na­tive­ly, they are the domain of chil­dren, so you’ll find your­self drink­ing next to a boun­cy cas­tles or fibre­glass tree slides.

The yard at the Downend Tavern, Bristol.

Coun­try and coastal pubs some­times pull it off, tak­ing advan­tage of the land­scape to make a small gar­den feel end­less, plac­ing tables on cliff­sides, wood­sides and river­sides. Urban pubs can some­times do it, too, with enough pot­ted palms and fairy lights, as our old Lon­don local, The Nags Head in Waltham­stow.

Country pub garden in the sun.

The City Arms, Wells. The Flask.

British beer gar­dens rarely achieve the laid-back mel­low­ness of the Con­ti­nen­tal vari­ety because we don’t get to prac­tice using them enough. They’re either des­o­late, or over­crowd­ed and chaot­ic, with seag­ulls smash­ing stacks of wasp-filled glass­es as they swoop on half-eat­en burg­ers, watched by rapid­ly red­den­ing drinkers squint­ing into the sun.

A seagull on a pub table.

Still, that first out­side pint of the year is a won­der­ful thing – a cel­e­bra­tion of hav­ing sur­vived the win­ter, a toast to the sum­mer yet to come. We’ll be out there on the bare lawn next to the wheel­ie bins the first chance we get.

One thought on “Session #134: Zum Biergarten”

  1. I must have missed this piece when it was first post­ed, which is a shame as I’m a great fan of Ger­man beer gar­dens. Sev­er­al years ago, my son and I spent 10 days trav­el­ing around Munich vis­it­ing some of the city’s finest out­door drink­ing estab­lish­ments. We used Lar­ry Hawthorne’s excel­lent “Beer Drinker’s Guide to Munich”, which has recent­ly been updat­ed, to point us in the right direc­tion.

    You men­tion the love­ly gar­den attached to Spi­tal­brauerei in Regens­burg, which counts as one of my favourite places to enjoy a beer, as well. Our return vis­it to the city, last autumn was quite late in the sea­son, so I know what you mean about the dead leaves start­ing blow around ones feet.

    We’re off to Bam­berg in 12 days time, where the love­ly Spezial-Keller, with its views out over the rooftops of the city, has to rank as one of the best beer gar­dens in the whole of Ger­many. That, plus a glass or two of the smoked Spezial Lager­bier, makes for me, what is the per­fect drink­ing expe­ri­ence.

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