A beer garden (a loan translation from the German Biergarten) is an outdoor area in which beer and local food are served, typically at shared tables. Common entertainment includes music, song, and games, enjoyed in an atmosphere of Gemütlichkeit.
Beer gardens originated in Munich, the capital of the German state of Bavaria, in the 19th century, and remain common in Southern Germany. They are usually attached to a brewery, beer hall, pub, or restaurant, with a distinction being made between a Wirtsgarten where only food sold by the venue is allowed and a traditional Biergarten where patrons may also bring their own.
In Britain a beer garden is an open space which is attached to a pub. In the countryside they usually provide an iconic surrounding view of the area; in towns and cities a beer garden is an open garden space. Pubs located along canals will usually have a canal-side beer garden. Many pubs compete throughout the year to be named 'Britain's best beer garden' in numerous awards. Some provide open air music, as well as food, beer and other drink options.
It is unknown which Munich brewery opened the first Bavarian Biergarten, but it was likely one of Munich's big six: Löwenbräu, Hofbräuhaus, Augustinerbräu, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Spaten. What is known is that they developed in the then Kingdom of Bavaria in the 19th century.
Seasonal limitations on when beer could be brewed were already in the Bavarian brewing regulations by 1539; in 1553, Albert V decreed a period from 29 September, the feast of St. Michael, to 23 April, the feast of Saint George, for its production. The cool seasons were chosen to minimize the risk of fire when boiling mashed grain into wort. Numerous conflagrations had occurred, resulting in the prohibition of brewing during the summer months. In response, large breweries dug cellars in the banks of the River Isar to keep their beer cool during storage. "Beer cellars" for consuming beer on premises naturally followed.
To further reduce the cellar temperature during the warm seasons, 19th century brewers covered the river banks with gravel and planted horse-chestnut trees for their dense spreading canopies and shallow roots, which would not damage the cellars. Soon after that, serving cool beer in a pleasant shaded setting emerged. Simple tables and benches were set up among the trees, creating the popular "beer garden" we know today. Food service followed, aggrieving smaller breweries that found it difficult to compete. They petitioned Maximilian I to forbid it. In compromise, beer gardens allowed their patrons to bring their own food, still common practice. As a rule of thumb, beer gardens offer clothed tablesets, whose guests must buy food from the house. If you bring your own food, you must use the bare table sets. With the advent of widespread lagering in the later 19th century, beer gardens grew more popular than ever.
Maximilian's decree is no longer in force, and many beer gardens forbid victuals not sold through the establishment. Common Bavarian fare such as Radi (radish), Brezn (soft pretzel), Obatzda (cheese dip), halbes Hendl (half a grilled chicken), Hax'n (knuckle of pork), and Steckerlfisch (grilled fish) are often served. Equally important to the beer garden is an atmosphere of Gemütlichkeit, conveying a feeling of warmth, friendliness, and belonging. Reinforced by shared tables, it is often accompanied by music, song, and fellowship among strangers.
This is so integral to beer garden culture that the Bayerische Biergartenverordnung (Bavarian beer garden ordinance) of 1999 permits traditional tree shaded venues that allow their patrons to bring their own food to close later and exceed noise limits otherwise in force. Beyond this, the term Biergarten is not restricted, and anyone can call any kind of open-air restaurant by that name, though purists distinguish between a Wirtsgarten where only the brewery's food is sold (such as the outdoor tables at the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl) and a Biergarten where patrons may bring their own.
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 also common on university campuses.
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 the United States, 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 (legal drinking age is 21). For example, Washington alcohol laws require organizers to apply for and receive a liquor license, 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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Media related to Beer gardens at Wikimedia Commons