For while a visit to a decent pub is all well and good – and a lengthy ‘session’ with good company and good cheer is one of life’s wayward pleasures – there is something even better about not having to leave. Perhaps it recalls the illicit thrill of the ‘lock-in’ – a precious and rare occurrence during my youth, when curtains were drawn for the benefit of a chosen few to combat the strictures of the licensing laws. Or maybe it’s just the beer-lover’s equivalent of being a kid in a candy store: with all that you crave as your very surroundings, and without the threat of the closing-time bell or chucking-out time’s habitual fizzle.
But when the first of these wishes was unexpectedly fulfilled during last November’s Lake District floods, it came as something of an anti-climax. You see, I had long imagined snow drifting up to the rafters of some exposed tavern, as the landlord administered consoling flagons of ale to hardy drinkers by an open fire. But the reality was rather grimmer: a torrent of water gushing through Wasdale, a broken road, and an unlooked-for day off work with only the local mountain rescue team for company. But when it came to staying in a brewery, it was – if anything – even better than I had imagined. In fact, based on this short stay at the Griesbräu in Murnau, a splendid brewery-cum-hotel in southernmost Bavaria, it’s something I would recommend to all who get the opportunity. Here’s why...
1. Beer on tap
Pretty obvious, perhaps, but as every beer-lover knows, there’s something special about drinking the stuff when it has only travelled along a few pipes, rather than having been shipped across the region, country or continent. At the Griesbräu, the great copper brew-kettles are there for all to see in the magnificent Brauhaus (beer hall); and the products – from the lager-style Helles to traditional Weissbier (wheat beer) and the reddish-coloured, full-bodied Drachenblut (‘Dragon’s blood’) – are guaranteed to reach you in tip-top condition.
2. Meet the brewer
Every brewer likes to think that his beer speaks for itself, but they are beer-lovers themselves, too, so are usually not averse to chatting over a sample or two and giving their personal recommendations. This was certainly true of the effusive Michael Gilg, owner of the Griesbräu, who was more than happy to pour me a sample of his limited edition Braunbier “Bruno” (straight from the barrel) and to enthuse about his business. Here is a man who clearly loves his work!
3. Eat beer-friendly food
There’s nothing wrong with calling for the wine list in a decent dining pub, of course, but when you come to a brewery such as this one, everything is unashamedly geared towards the beer. Guests are still given a choice between the two (there is, after all, a perfectly good restaurant with a perfectly good wine list); but even this is called Die Bierstube, so it somehow feels wrong to order a pasta dish with a glass of red. My recommendation: grab yourself a table in the Brauhaus itself, head up to the counter for a generous (and great-value) hunk of pork and dumplings, and embrace the whole Bavarian experience.
4. Take a tour & find out more
Most breweries these days are happy to let you in behind the scenes. Not only are the staff proud of what they do, but they also realise that providing the customer with a little more knowledge can significantly enhance the satisfaction derived from their product. Few, though, can be as charismatic as Wolfgang Jaubitz, the Griesbräu’s Master Brewer – and from the moment he showed up with his feathered cap and traditional breeches to lead our pre-arranged tour, we knew we were in for a treat. He conveyed a great deal of information in a hugely entertaining way, and although I’d struggle to recall everything he told us, I do remember plenty of eager questions, a lot of laughter, and the universal chorus of approval that met the final sampling session: he poured out a warm Bierlikör, distilled to an ABV of 22% and served with a topping of squirty cream, that one visitor claimed was “the closest thing I’ve had to cake in alcohol form”.
5. Soak up the history & atmosphere
Each brewery has its own quirks, of course, and the buildings are invariably infused with the passion of their owners. But staying overnight adds an extra dimension, and at the Griesbräu I loved feeling part of a cheerful, bustling environment. It might not be to everyone’s taste: the passing through of casual diners and drinkers means that it lacks the calm and tranquillity of many other hotels; but if you’re prepared to go with the flow and enter into the spirit of the place, then you might just find that – like me – you’ll be longing to return.
6. Avoid the walk home
If you’re staying at a brewery, then you cannot fail to appreciate the fact that everything is in one place. We were off exploring by day – cycling to the nearby lake and admiring works of art in the charming Munter Haus. But once we got back, it was all there: a comfy bedroom, a choice of places to eat, and some of the finest beer our euros could buy. And best of all? At the end of the night, there was no walk home!