“There’s something wonderful about drinking beer outdoors. I really do believe it makes the beer taste better.”
Those are the words of Bob Tupper, and he should know: Tupper and his wife, Ellie, literally wrote the book on drinking at outdoor European beer gardens.
“I visited my first beer garden on a tour of Europe with the Hamilton College Choir in 1968,” Bob said. “Our choir director knew about the Augustiner garden in Salzburg, and when he took us there, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I took Ellie back on our first trip to the continent in 1977, and it captured her as well.
Tupper says the gardens have good food at honest prices. “They have to do a good job with the food because people are allowed to bring their own, so you won't sell food that can't compete with a picnic. On days that we go, Ellie picks up some veggies and cheeses from a market; we'll augment that with spit-roasted chicken, grilled ribs (the Germans do them really well) and fresh mackerel cooked over live coals.”
He said that discovering beers has been a way for him and his wife to experience Europe without getting sucked into the usual tourist trail. “You truly can drink in the culture as you travel.”
At one time, he said, the United States had scores of gardens that rivaled the best in Europe. Prohibition killed some of them, soaring land prices did in most of the rest. The garden scene in the U.S., however, is now undergoing rapid and remarkable growth. “Big-time players in the craft revolution are building new breweries that are intended to be tourist destinations and are incorporating large garden spaces as they do,” Tupper said.
Top 10 European Beer Gardens
10. Klášterní šenk (Prague, Czech Republic)
This beer garden sits under a huge monastery on the hills above Prague. Between the seven seating areas, about 1,750 people can dine and drink here. “We spent our 40th anniversary there,” Tupper said, “Klášterní šenk … is one of our favorite spots in the world to drink.”
9. Mosebacke Etablissement (Stockholm, Sweden)
Mosebacke beer garden, next to the Södra Theater, sits on top of a bluff overlooking the harbor and the cruise ships far below. “There’s one kiosk, on the right as you enter, that offers dozens of craft beers—served in proper glassware—that are hard to find even in the good beer pubs,” Tupper said. Be warned, though, it’s a long walk up Götgatan to get to the garden, but if you ride the elevator of the skyscraper at the base of the hill, it will take you to a nightclub that has a level walkway to Mosebacke.
8. Wilde Rose and Spezial Keller (Bamberg, Germany)
Climb up to Oberer Stephansberg to reach them both. The larger is the Wilde Rose. The potential for a good view, however, is diminished by a high fence surrounding the place, Tupper says, but at least it keeps the kids off the roads. “Our favorite is the Spezial Keller, which is still linked to a brewery in town that produces an excellent version of the local Rauchbier (smoked lager). Views of the distant Michaelsberg are magnificent,” Tupper says. Spezial also has a children’s play area.
7. Faergekroen Bryghus (Copenhagen, Denmark)
The small garden attached to the Faergekroen Bryghus brew pub in the center of Tivoli is nestled into one of the most scenic spots within any large city in the world, according to Tupper. “You could imagine yourself in a remote and bucolic place if it weren’t for the screams coming from the coasters a few hundred yards away.”
6. Bauschänzli (Zürich, Switzerland)
Bauschänzli serves a reasonable variety of beer, but for Tupper, its draw is the view. “It sits on the site of a Baroque fortification jutting into the Limmat River, just above the bridge and a long football punt from where the river empties into the lake.” The first beer garden here dates from 1907; a significant renovation in 2006 provided its current look. The bottled beer selection even offers a few that are relatively uncommon. Food is cafeteria style, but “if you beg at the right time they’ll cook it to order,” Tupper says.
5. Brauereigaststätte Spitalgarten (Regensburg, Germany)
Brauereigaststätte doesn’t have the best beer in the world, Tupper says. “The beer is just OK, though in Germany OK really is OK, but the traditional Bavarian food is dependable, and the view of the Danube is simply spectacular.” At night the massive cathedral shines over the whole scene from the other side of the river.
4. Maximilians-Brauwiesen (Lahnstein, Germany)
Maximilians-Brauwiesen stretches down a hill from the brewery to the banks of the Rhine River. The beer is fine, but Tupper wouldn’t recommend an excursion just for the beer. Instead make sure to soak in the view of this scenic towm. “The Rhine is still a major part of Europe’s transportation system, and you’ll see all sorts of barges and boats pass by as you sit and sip.” The currywurst comes highly recommended. While you're in Lahnstein, don't miss the Lahneck Castle; this medieval castle has presided over the confluence of the Lahn and Rhine rivers since the 13th century.
3. Three Gardens at the English Garden (Munich, Germany)
The ones in the northern parts of this park are smaller, more subdued, but have the best food, according to Tupper. The biggest surrounds a multi-story Chinese pagoda. Cold Hobräu beer flows freely, and a German oompah band plays from the second floor of the tower twice a week. If you are shy, don’t approach from the south: You’ll pass through Europe’s most public clothing-optional area.
2. Hirschgarten (Munich)
Hirschgarten is the city’s biggest and best, Tupper says. At peak times 7,000 thirsty drinkers pound liters of Munich’s best beer: Augustinerbrau. “It used to be the king’s hunting ground. With patience, you can still find a table that abuts a chain-link fence separating you from the hungry deer begging for pretzels.”
1. Augustiner Bräustübl zu Mülln (Salzburg, Germany)
“With 1,400 seats, Augustiner is not the biggest in the world, but in our experiences it’s been the friendliest,” Tupper says. “Every time we’ve gone there we’ve made ‘new best friends’ for the evening. The food is far superior to most garden faire.” There are more than 20 buffet options available.