Beer gardens in Germany developed in the kingdom of Bavaria in the 19th century, during which dark lager beer was predominant. Already in the Bavarian brewing regulations of 1539 and, subsequently in 1553, Albert V decreed that only in the period from 29 September, the feast of St. Michael, to 23 April, the feast of Saint George, could beer be brewed. This period was chosen for the required low temperatures for fermentation, especially to compensate for the great heat created by the boiling process. The kettle was heated to the extreme during the brewing process, which resulted in numerous fires in breweries during the 16th century. As constituted at that time, with the conflagration of cities as the worst possible danger, the brewing of beer was prohibited during the summer months. To provide beer during the summer, large breweries dug cellars in the banks of the River Isar for the storage of beer, to keep it cool. To further reduce the cellar temperature, they covered the river banks with gravel and planted chestnut trees, the leaves of which provided cooling shadow in summer.
Soon after that, the beer cellars were not only used to store, but also to serve the beer. Simple tables and benches were set up among the trees, creating "beer gardens", and soon they were a popular venue for the citizens of Munich. This aggrieved the smaller breweries that remained. To prevent further loss of customers, they petitioned Maximilian I to forbid the serving of food in the beer cellars surrounding Munich. Consequently, in riposte, the beer gardens allowed their patrons to bring their own food, still common practice today.
This decree is no longer in force, and many beer gardens do serve food today. But according to the current Bayerische Biergartenverordnung (Bavarian beer garden ordinance) of 1999, traditional beer gardens that still allow their patrons to bring their own food and serve beer under shading trees are privileged in regard to a later closing hour and noise limits. Otherwise, the term Biergarten is not restricted, and anyone can call any kind of open-air restaurant by that name.
An important part of life for many citizens, the Bavarian Biergärten usually serve common Bavarian cuisine such as Radi (radish), Brezn, Obatzda, halbes Hendl (half a grilled chicken), Hax'n (knuckle of pork), and Steckerlfisch (grilled fish).
Beer gardens around the world
The term "beer garden" (Biergarten) has become a generic term for open-air establishments where beer is served. Many countries have such establishments. The characteristics of a traditional beer garden include trees, wooden benches, a gravel bed, and freshly prepared meals. Some modern beer gardens use plastic chairs, fast food, and other variations of the traditional beer garden.
In Austria, the beer garden is called Gastgarten (guest garden). They serve food such as ein Paar Würstel (a pair of the German Bratwurst) or Schweinebraten (German pot-roasted pork). When ordering beer, the choices are usually a Pfiff (0.2 liter), a Seidel (0.3 liter), or a Krügerl (1/2 liter).
Canada has traditionally lacked an outdoor eating culture conducive to beer gardens. Cold weather and biting insects are part of the reason. However, with increased urbanization during the 20th century, drinking at outdoor cafes and restaurant patios became more common. Since Canadian alcohol laws in most provinces forbid drinking in unlicensed public places, beer gardens in Canada are generally a segregated area attached to an event such as a concert or festival. They are very popular at large sporting events such as the Memorial Cup in hockey. One cannot legally remove alcohol from the area or bring in outside alcohol.
Beer gardens are still very popular in Germany. The Hirschgarten restaurant in Munich is noted for its beer garden, which is possibly the largest in the world. It has seating for over 8000 people. The restaurant dates back to 1791.
In 2011, the world record for 'The worlds longest beer garden' was set in Berlin by the Berlin Beer Festival, measuring a whopping 1,820 m long.
Beer gardens are popular in Japan. Many are located on the roofs of department stores and hotels.
In the UK, a beer garden is normally an outdoor area joined onto a pub. They have always been popular, particularly in summer. Often, British pubs can become locally or, in many cases, nationally renowned for having larger, more beautiful, or quirky beer gardens. No fixed ideal exists of what constitutes a beer garden, and each pub makes the most of its individual situation. Consequently, furniture can range from logs to covered, heated dining tables and chairs, but typically consists of wooden picnic tables. Since smoking became illegal in indoor public areas, beer gardens are often used a lot more, even during winter. They now usually have a covered area to accommodate smokers during inclement weather.
In the United States, one of the earliest, and most popular, beer gardens was Castle Garden at The Battery on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in New York. It had previously been a fort, and subsequently became a theater, the first immigration station (predating Ellis Island), a very popular public aquarium, and finally a national monument.
Completed in 1919, the Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall is the oldest beer garden in New York City. Located on 24th Avenue in Astoria, Queens, it is operated as part of the Bohemian Citizens' Benevolent Society, along with a bar and catering hall. The Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall officially seats 800, though often entertains more during festivals and other events.
Scholz Garten is the oldest operating business in Austin, Texas. It has been at the same location since German immigrant August Scholz opened it in 1866. In addition to an indoor restaurant and outdoor beer garden, it has a six-lane bowling alley.
In the US, historically, beer gardens offered many pastimes besides just beer drinking. Some spots hosted shooting galleries, bowling alleys, and live classical music. People could come for entertainment and events, even if they did not want to partake in the drinking. Today, many beer gardens have outdoor games, as well as board games, available to patrons.
American liquor laws condition how beer gardens can operate in each state. For example, Washington alcohol laws require organizers to apply for and receive a liquor license, servers to be over 21 years old, alcohol only to be consumed in the designated venue, the area to be fenced, and staff to "cut off" obviously drunk patrons. Additional laws restrict alcohol-related signage associated with the event and prevent smoking in the beer garden.
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- Dan Packel (March 12, 2012). "A Brief History of Beer Gardens". Retrieved December 27, 2012.
- Bavarian Minister of the Environment and Health: Bayerische Biergartenverordnung von 1999 (Bavarian beer garden decree of 1999) (German)
- Hirschgarten home page
- Destination Munich
- Sismondo, Christine (2011). America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 336.
- Packel, Dan. "A-Brief-History-of-Beer-Gardens". Drink DC. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
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