I invite you to make the journey deep into the heart of Bavaria. Only 90km from Munich lies Abensberg in the Hallertau, the world's largest hop growing region. Abensberg is home to Kuchlbauer, a small brewery specializing in Hefeweizen style beers. This region is also home to the two oldest known licensed breweries in the world, Weihenstephan (1040) and Weltenburg (1050), and currently has about 600 operating breweries. Despite brewing traditions going back almost a thousand years, Hefeweizen is a fairly new phenomenon in beer. Traditionally, the malt in German beer is barley. The addition of wheat as a malted grain has become increasingly popular over the past sixty years. Kuchlabuer decided to specialize in Hefeweizen early in the twentieth century and has been operating a tour of its facility for about thirty years.
What makes this brewery tour special is that the owner, Leonhard Salleck, has taken it upon himself to make a visual experience out of the tour that combines beer with art, philosophy, literature, and agriculture. Two years ago, they renovated their tour operations and created Bierwelt (World of Beer) laden with animatronic beer gnomes, exhibitions on brewing history, a beer pharmacy, a tower dedicated to beer, and of course beer sampling.
The tour involves winding your way through the brewery grounds, following a curved path of beer bottle bottoms inlaid into the floor of the facility. At various stations, you are presented with information about brewing history, the personal philosophy of the owner, and are encouraged to "see the beauty in life, do good, and recognize truth."
The culmination of this tour is the ascent of the Hundertwasser Tower. Friedensreich von Hundertwasser (1928-2000) is one of the most recognizable artists in the German speaking world and is known for his architectural modifications shunning straight lines and promoting organic irregularities.
The owner was able to convince Hundertwasser to design a tower for the brewery as one of his last projects before his death. After almost a decade of struggling with the local government over the tower height and construction guidelines, the tower opened in 2010 and has become a must see for beer and art enthusiasts in the region.
The tower, originally designed to be seventy meters, now tops out at thirty-five meters. As you climb the tower you find alcoves, symbolic windows, and small rooms to explore. At the top of the tower, the tree of knowledge is represented in the walls of the oval dome. As you descend you are brought into a room and offered one of their six different styles of Hefeweizen, from alcohol free to a Weizendoppelbock that will "send you flying" as they say. (Additional beers may be purchased for 1€)
How to get there:
It is only 90 minutes by train from Munich central station via Ingolstadt to Abensberg. Get a group day pass called a "Bayern Ticket" for €29 and that will get you and 4 of your friends from Munich to Abensberg and back for the day. The tower can only be visited as a part of the tour that costs €11 for adults. Discounts are available for students, seniors, and children. In the summer they often turn away visitors, so reservations are highly encouraged. Tour reservations can be made online besucherinfo(at)kuchlbauers-bierwelt.de.
Please note: you must be 16 to sample beer at Bierwelt.
More images are in the photo album.