THE DRINK NATION IS A FREE RESOURCE FOR FINDING EVERYTHING AWESOME ABOUT DRINKING IN YOUR LOCATION
Signup

A Brief History of Beer Gardens

Springtime drinking fun
by Dan Packel on Mar 12, 2012 in Beer
A Brief History of Beer Gardens

As temperatures begin to rise, it’s time to begin thinking about one of the great pleasures of springtime: an afternoon sitting under the shade of a blossoming tree, stationed at a long table, hoisting a liter mug of beer. Maybe even playing a game of dominoes.

Yes, beer garden season has arrived. So let’s take the time to thank two groups of people — the Germans who invented lager, and the Germans who immigrated to the U.S. in the second half of the nineteenth century. If it weren’t for them, baseball would likely be our only excuse to sip suds in the sun.

Unlike the ales that constituted all the world’s beer before the middle of the nineteenth century, the lager yeasts discovered in Bavaria at that time required a different type of fermentation. Ales — produced through the addition of top-fermenting yeast — ferment rapidly, at warm temperatures. Lagers, contrarily, depend on a slow, cool fermentation, ideally at temperatures between 45–56 degrees Fahrenheit. And after fermentation is complete, they need to be stored and aged for several months, at even cooler temperatures.

This was an era before refrigeration, however, so Bavarian brewers dug out large underground cellars for stashing the barrels while the beer “lagered.” To ensure fuller protection from the sun, they then scattered gravel over the ground and planted leafy chestnut and linden trees, which, as they grew, would provide ample shade from the sun.  

Someone did the math. Shade, gravel, beer — all just off the banks of Munich’s Isar River, which provided an additional source of cooling for the beer. Put some tables and chairs outside, and start the taps. Beer garden culture was born.

In the U.S. to this point, our drinking culture came from the British Isles, where men would gather in inns or public houses to knock back their ales and spirits — generally far from the view of women and children. Meanwhile in Germany, Sundays (in particular) at the beer gardens had become a family affair.

And when Germans started streaming across the Atlantic in the middle of the nineteenth century, they brought their beer gardens along with them, to cities like Milwaukee, Cincinnati, New York, and Baltimore. According to Andrew Barr, author of Drink: A Social History of America, while some of these American versions were actual gardens, others were simply indoor halls with long tables. Some had plants as a reminder of their outdoor origins. Occasionally, a large mural lined a wall, depicting a scene of natural splendor.

But even without sunlight, these destinations offered more than just beer. Kitchens turned out old country fare like schnitzel and wursts. And there was plenty of other entertainment too. In her book America Walks into A Bar, a history of American public drinking, Christine Sismondo notes that many of these gardens hosted shooting galleries, bowling alleys, and live classical music. Some spots even charged admissions, for certain patrons would come simply for the tunes and the atmosphere but would abstain from the libations available.

For a sense of the classic, pre-prohibition era of American beer gardens, take a trip to Astoria, Queens to visit the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. The oldest beer garden in New York City, they’ve been pouring out beer inside and outside since 1910. The space is a notable inspiration to contemporary restaurateurs, such as Aaron McGovern and Jeepo Vorobjovas, who opened Washington, D.C.’s Biergarten Haus in 2010, and Philadelphia’s Stephen Starr, who launched Frankford Hall in 2011. There aren’t any beer barrels aging in the cellar here, but with gravel on the ground and linden trees arching their branches overhead, the spirit of Bavaria shows demonstrates its continued appeal. Prost!

Top photo via Flickr user A. Currell

Recent Articles
Home Bar Project Below Features

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
Neil Patrick Harris Is New Spokesperson for Heineken Light in Money Back Guarantee Campaign

Neil Patrick Harris Is New Spokesperson for Heineken Light in Money Back Guarantee Campaign

Heineken Light just made a new, impressive-sounding promise: If you don't think its beer is the best-tasting l...read more ›

by Hannah Howard Apr 15, 2015
The Best Places to Drink in Disney World

The Best Places to Drink in Disney World

It's easy to imagine, if you've never been, that Disney World is just for kids, but it's so much more....read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Apr 15, 2015
Home Bar Project: How to Make a Gimlet

Home Bar Project: How to Make a Gimlet

Have you ever dreamed of having an amazing home bar, filled with bottles you actually use and the tools you need to execute a finely crafted cocktail?...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Apr 14, 2015
SPONSORED
Perennial Funding - rectangle
Top 20 Drinking Quotes of All Time

Top 20 Drinking Quotes of All Time

Writers and musicians have a long, storied history with alcohol, and that intimacy with the bottle shows through in the memorable lines these artists ...read more ›

by Jenny An Sep 3, 2013
Get Ready to Hang Out at the Naked Beer Fest in the Poconos
by The Drink Nation Apr 10, 2015
Dallas Host the Biggest Beer Fest in Texas This Saturday, April 11

Dallas Host the Biggest Beer Fest in Texas This Saturday, April 11

Did you grab tickets for the largest beer fest in Texas?...read more ›

by Carrie Dow Apr 8, 2015
Home Bar Project: How to Make a Mojito

Home Bar Project: How to Make a Mojito

Have you ever dreamed of having an amazing home bar, filled with bottles you actually use and the tools you need to execute a finely crafted cocktail?...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Apr 8, 2015
You Can Now Buy Whisky Scented Clothing

You Can Now Buy Whisky Scented Clothing

Johnnie Walker partners with Harris Tweed Hebrides to make whisky scented fabric and Oliver Sweeney to create some very unique shoes. ...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Apr 8, 2015
Happy National Beer Day!

Happy National Beer Day!

April 7, 1933, signaled the end of Prohibition with the signing of the Cullen-Harrison Act....read more ›

by The Drink Nation Apr 7, 2015
Official Easter Cocktail: Zombie Peep Corpse Reviver

Official Easter Cocktail: Zombie Peep Corpse Reviver

Many offerings have been made to the Easter cocktail recipe gods, but we have come up with the most appropriate of all....read more ›

by The Drink Nation Apr 3, 2015
SPONSORED
Read The Drink Nation Anywhere You Are
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close