The export-oriented brewery was once leading in Germany.
“Since 1383” do the labels on the bottles of Löwenbräu’s Weißbier say. It was Herman Dihm, who inferred this date from old tax books in 1922. Since 1981, however, it has been known, that in 1383, no brewery existed at the spot, where the brewery was to be founded years later. The fact, that Dihm wasn’t very keen on precise research in order to find a pleasantly early founding year may have been linked to the circumstance, that his father-in-law was the director of the brewery.
In 1982, Helmuth Stahleder, who was working for the archive of the city of Munich, that it wasn’t before 1524, that the first brewer, Jörg Schnaitter, moved into the house in question, 17 Löwengrube (lion pit). Although he already moved again in 1539, from then on, there has been a brewery in this building for centuries. While the name Löwenbräu (lion brew) didn’t appear before 1746/47, the name of the Löwengrube was first documented in 1640. It is unknown, if the street got its name from a fresco displaying a lion on a house or if the fresco was already referencing the street’s name. Following this discovery, at least the bottles of the Löwenbräu Urtyp mention 1524 as the founding year.
In 1818, the brewery was taken over by Georg Brey, who built two large beer cellars at the Unterwiesenfeld and acquired permission to also produce beer there only one year later. A third brewery site was added with the acquisition of the neighboring Filserbräu in the Nymphenburger Straße. After transferring the original brewery permit from the Löwengrube to the new plant at the Unterwiesenfeld, today’s Stiglmaierplatz, Brey was able to unite his three brewing coppers in one place and create Munich’s first large brewery plant in 1851.
Starting with the brew year 1863/64, Löwenbräu was the largest brewery in Munich, having a market share of 25%. However, this position was only held for a few years, until the nearby Spatenbräu had its heyday. In 1872, Georg Brey’s son Ludwig transformed the company into a stock corporation and secured its growth for the following years. In 1883, he opened a beer palace, the Löwenbräukeller, next to the brewery, as all the large breweries did back in the day.
In 1907 the Löwenbräu AG acquired the Mathäserbräu, where the Bavarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed in 1918. Although the brewery at this site ceased production already in 1915, it was to be transformed into the largest gastronomic venture of the brewery after 1957. The Mathäser-Bierstadt (beer city) was able to host 5000 guests in its 16 different restaurants. In 1996, it closed down and was replaces by a multiplex cinema. A Mathäser brew has again being produced since 2016, but neither on the historic site nor by Löwenbräu.
World War I hit the exceptionally export-oriented, largest brewery in Germany very hard. Much harder than Haidhausen’s Unionsbräu. The latter grew very fast after it was taken over by Joseph Schülein in 1885 and acquired the Münchner-Kindl brewery in 1905. In 1921, Schülein merged his brewery with the struggling Löwenbräu AG, and kept the direction of the AG, as Unionsbräu was the healthier of the two companies at the time. The Löwenbräu name was only kept due to the fact that is was significantly older than Unionsbräu, which was only introduced in 1885. However, still today Löwenbräu’s Starkbier is called Triumphator, a brand that was created by Unionsbräu.
Also in 1921, Löwenbräu merged with Bürgerbräu. Joseph Schülein later passed the management to his son Hermann. The Schüleins being Jewish, the Nazis soon started to call to boycott the “Judenbier” and Hermann Schülein had to leave the company in 1933. While his father stayed in Bavaria, at Schloss Kaltenberg and ran a brewery there, which is today owned by Prince Luitpold of Bavaria, Herman was able to emigrate to America and had even greater success there with Rheingold Breweries.
The following decades have then been closely tied to Schülein’s successor as the majority shareholders, the Finck family. The severe break caused by World War II, prevented Löwenbräu from ever returning to the stage of world’s largest breweries, despite some success in America in the 70s and 80s. Being the largest real estate owner in Munich after the city itself, it was, however, a very interesting financial venture. After 1982 the corporation was restructured multiple times, even outsourcing the valuable real estate branch.
In 1997, Löwenbräu AG merged with the neighboring Spatenbräu, which was once its main competitor, into the Spaten-Löwenbräu group. Only six years later, it was acquired by the Belgian Interbrew, which was transformed to Ab-Inbev in a merger with Anheuser-Busch in 2004. Consequently, the once largest brewery in Germany is today not more than a small regional brand of an international corporation, which is led by an office in Bremen.