History of Starkbier Festival


Starkbierfest is a public celebration throughout March this year, though some biergartens began in February.

The heart of this festival is in Munich, Germany, specifically at Paulaner am Nockherberg Brewery, where it all began. This year, the ceremonial keg tapping was on February 28, marking the official beginning of the festival season, though the public celebration runs from March 1 through March 24. In a few ways, it is unlike its more well-known sibling, Oktoberfest.


Little Known

It’s not widely known outside of Germany and Munich in particular, except to German ex-pats or beer lovers. Or historians who have visited Munich in the Spring.

Narrowly Observed

There are perhaps half a dozen locations in Munich that celebrate it.


Misunderstood Starkbierfest

What is Starkbierfest?

It’s the festival for Starkbier.


What is Starkbier?

It’s German for “strong beer.”


What is Strong beer?

Starkbierfest PosterSome assume the name refers to its higher alcohol content, but that’s not the case, though it is more alcoholic, about 6.5% to 14% by volume. Not your father’s 3.5% beer.

Instead, the name is due to the higher gravity, or Stammwürze of the beer, with its concentration of solids like proteins, starches, and sugars… the wort.

Starkbier contains 180z of solids, or the equivalent of a third of a loaf of bread. The monks who created it were originally dubbed flüssiges Brot, or “liquid bread.” It’s liquid nourishment.


History of Starkbierfest

When did it start?

The story goes back to the monks of Munich. Indeed, the German word for the city, München, means “by the monks” in reference to the Benedictine monks who ran a monastery in what is now the Old Town of Munich.

PaulanerAt the beginning of the 17th century, the Paulaner monks of Munich, in observance of the 40 days of Lent, did not eat during the daylight part of the day.

For years, they had been brewing beer, so they turned to creating a “strong beer” that was particularly rich in nutrients.

They were allowed to consume this during the daylight hours due to the slogan:

Liquid non franguent ieunum

…or in English, “liquid does not break fasting.” Starkbier would curb their appetite during the day. It only took a few decades before other Munichers tapped kegs of starkbier and instituted annual local public celebrations. The clever Paulaner monks did this without violating the Purity Law of 1516, which required all beers brewed in Germany to be made with only water, hops, malt, and yeast.


But what if the Pope should not approve?

Paulaner Monks

They sent a barrel of this rich, malty Doppelbock to the Pope in Rome for his benediction. The trouble began with the long journey from Bavaria to Italy across the Alps.

By the time the beer arrived, it was sour and spoiled. When the Pope tasted it, he found it so terrible that he assumed it must have been intended as some form of penance. He told them that if they wanted to drink this strong beer, they were welcome to do so. They were permitted to fill their tankards five times a day with the brew. But their tankards were a liter, or two, in size.

In 1751, the Paulaner monks created the “Holy Father Beer” for the name day of their religious founder, Franz von Paula, or Francis of Paola, after the namesake of the Paulaner monks, and “Sankt Vater” (sacred water) soon became “Salvator.”



In the 1780s, laws changed, making the monks’ beer available to the public. Beer prices climbed until 1888, when a fight broke out, with celebrants drawing swords and walking sticks and using their heavy ceramic beer mugs (steins) as weapons. Things have calmed down lately, with less saber-rattling.


Naming of Starkbiers

Starkbiers have names that typically end in “-ator,” giving them a strong, dinosaur-like name:

  • PaulanerSalvatorSalvator, by Paulaner: father of the Doppelbock beers
  • Triumphator, by Löwenbräu
  • Maximator, by Augustiner
  • Aviator, by Airbrau (at the airport)
  • Delicator, by Hofbräu
  • Suffikator
  • Predator
  • Optimator
  • Spekulator
  • Delicatior


The Starkbierfest


Munich Löwenbräukeller

This event traditionally occurs annually in Munich. It’s held not in the traditional Theresienwiese festival grounds of Oktoberfest or Fruhlingsfest.

Instead, it’s in the local breweries:

  • Paulaner am Nockherberg – the first tap and one of the largest beerhalls in the city, holding 5,000 inside and a few thousand outside under tent coverings.
  • Löwenbräukeller – long tables
  • Augustiner Keller


Starkbierfest At the Löwenbräukeller

Lowenbrau Keller

In 2003, I was speaking in Munich for work. The local office invited me out to Löwenbräukeller for Starkbier. I knew little German then and understood the words bier and Löwenbräu, but not by the German pronunciation.

We got to the brewery at 6 pm. The ballroom is one of the larger event spaces in Munich and holds 2,000 people. They served us “lighter” beer to fortify us for the strong stuff.



Author and coworker at Löenbräukeller

Long tables filled with people of all ages lining them got started with glasses of beer the size of 55-gallon drums. They were called steins. I knew that stein meant stone, and that is what people were soon becoming.

The band in lederhosen started with traditional German music. The locals began to sing along. When the starkbier emerged later, the signature 7.6% alcohol Triumphator was thick, rich, malty, slightly sweet, and almost chocolaty. The crowd became more animated. Another band came out, and the music changed to American rock and roll. Everyone knew all the words.



European coworkers dancing

By the end of the evening, we were dancing on the tabletops with complete strangers and singing “Twist and Shout” in English.

Yet another band ended with “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” a song written by Randy Newman and featured at the end of the British movie The Full Monty, where the men drop their pants. The band then did the same at midnight.


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

Subscribe to have future articles delivered to your email. If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment.

About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.