Find happy hours and drink specials anywhere you are

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
spacer
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:
 
Has 'Curiosity' Killed the Can? Exploring Lululemon's Attempt to Sell Lager Alongside Leggings

Has 'Curiosity' Killed the Can? Exploring Lululemon's Attempt to Sell Lager Alongside Leggings

Care for a lager with those leggings? Lululemon has partnered with Stanley Park Brewing to produce the new Cur...read more ›

by Rob Jagiela Jul 31, 2015
Drinks Decoded: The Old Fashioned

Drinks Decoded: The Old Fashioned

This week, we take a look at The Old Fashioned and ...read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Jul 28, 2015
New London Bar Fills Empty Rooms With Clouds of Breathable Alcohol: What Could Go Wrong?

New London Bar Fills Empty Rooms With Clouds of Breathable Alcohol: What Could Go Wrong?

Are you tired of sipping on your cocktail? Try breathing in your cocktail instead at this new London bar....read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Jul 27, 2015
SPONSORED
Find happy hours and drink specials anywhere you are
Dogfish Inn Expands Its Beercation Reach With All-INNclusive Experience

Dogfish Inn Expands Its Beercation Reach With All-INNclusive Experience

The All-INNclusive Dogfish Experience is the perfect way to make the most of your beercation. ...read more ›

by Erica Bauwens Jul 27, 2015
Soak up the Sun at These Late Summer Food and Drink Festivals

Soak up the Sun at These Late Summer Food and Drink Festivals

Summer isn't over yet! Get out there and enjoy these great late summer food and drink festivals....read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Jul 23, 2015
What Does the Firestone Walker Acquisition Mean for Craft Beer Fans?

What Does the Firestone Walker Acquisition Mean for Craft Beer Fans?

Firestone Walker made an announcement late last week that they had been "invested in" by Duvel Moortgat. But w...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Jul 20, 2015
Tickets to the 2015 Great American Beer Festival on Sale July 29

Tickets to the 2015 Great American Beer Festival on Sale July 29

The GABF has sold out in well under and hour for the past six years. Tickets to this year's event go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, July ...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Jul 17, 2015
What's Cooking in the DMV: Local Distilleries to Visit This Weekend

What's Cooking in the DMV: Local Distilleries to Visit This Weekend

If you're looking to raise a glass of local spirits, check out one (or more) of these distilleries in the DMV....read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Jul 17, 2015
Best Washington, D.C. Brunch Drink Specials

Best Washington, D.C. Brunch Drink Specials

Whether you're trying to get the best of a hangover or simply celebrating the weekend with a bout of day drinking, these bars with breakfast sipping s...read more ›

by Drink DC Feb 10, 2014
Summer Six Pack: Six Refreshing Beers You Need to Try This Summer

Summer Six Pack: Six Refreshing Beers You Need to Try This Summer

Grab some of these refreshing brews for your next beach trip or cookout....read more ›

by Swabreen Bakr Jul 15, 2015
SPONSORED
View all Articles

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

Close