You’re parked on a wooden bench surrounded by friends, under a wide umbrella that provides shade from the autumn afternoon sun. On the table are steins of Hefeweizen and a heaping plate of pork sausage to share. The crowd breaks into spontaneous chants: Ziggy Zoggy Ziggy Zoggy OI OI OI! Glasses clink and a waitress appears, carrying a heavy tray brimming with the next round.
And you’re in ... Queens.
This festive spot, the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, is just one example of why you don’t need to travel to Europe for a classic outdoor drinking experience. Beer gardens have taken root everywhere from Melbourne to Beijing, providing comfortable spaces for communal gatherings and the raising of glasses. Even Manhattan’s painfully chic Standard Hotel opened its version of a beer garden in July, adding a Teutonic touch to the Meatpacking District.
Meanwhile, the tradition is going strong where it began. Beer gardens as we know them developed in Germany in the 18th century, when in order to keep fermenting beer cold during the summer months, breweries dug underground cellars behind their facilities. They covered the beer caves with gravel and chestnut trees, providing shade for outdoor drinkers. From Berlin to Munich and beyond, these hopping spots are filled to capacity with revelers during Oktoberfest season.
While the oldest beer gardens are shaded by hundred-year-old trees (no umbrellas allowed) and patrons sit on long wooden benches (no plastic chairs), the more modern iterations have looser rules. Some common assets do exist, though.
Jen Murphy, Travel Editor of Food & Wine, sister publication of Travel + Leisure, says a great beer garden “has plenty of shade. The staff should be knowledgeable and should be well-versed in the beer list and what foods pair best. The food shouldn’t be fussy but it should be delicious: sausages, moules and frites, sliders, charcuterie, a great selection of cheeses ... Beer is a beautiful accompaniment to food and beer gardens should emphasize that.”
Using similar criteria, we rated the world’s greatest beer gardens with three “s” factors:
- Scene. From an edgy crowd in Amsterdam to a wholesome family ambience in Berlin, beer gardens cater to as many types of people as there are pork dishes in Germany.
- Sustenance. Whether in the form of sausages, spaetzle, or a smorgasbord, hearty food is a must when the alcohol is flowing.
- Suds. From house-brewed varieties in Munich’s Hofbräuhaus to pitchers of Saigon at Luong Son in Vietnam, beer binds it all together.
So, after a summer filled with road trips and beach escapes it’s time to mark the changing of the seasons. And there’s no better place to do it than in a beer garden, frosty mug in hand.