The rather vacuous Spaten brewery was once the market leader in Munich.

In the 14th century, beer brewing was reserved for patricians in Munich, as only those had the right to acquire a brewing permit. A number of bad harvests towards the end of the century, in combination with beer price regulation, reduced the rentability of breweries, which lead to the closure of many of them. At the same time, the population grew, consequently not only causing an under-supply with beer but also, and maybe even more importantly, a drop in tax revenue. Hence, Duke Stephan II allowed any citizen to acquire a brewing permit in 1372.

The painting of 1840 shows the Spaten brewery in the Neuhauser Straße in the second building on the left ise.
The painting of 1840 shows the Spaten brewery in the Neuhauser Straße in the second building on the left ise.

This reform, which is today often interpreted as the beginning of commercial brewing, motivated Hans Welser to found a brewery in 4 Neuhauser Straße in 1397, which was taken over by Georg Spät, owner of the Unterspatenbräu (lower Spaten brewery) in 1622. While the Unterspaten brewery closed down at Oberer Anger in 1832, the newer brewery in the Neuhauser Straße, the Oberspatenbräu would transform from Munich’s smallest to the city’s largest brewery after the take-over by the master brewer of the court, Gabriel Sedlmayr.

Sedlmayr, son of a brewer from Maisach, was one of the most versed and innovative of his guild. Only one year after the acquisition, he introduced the roasting of malt using steam instead of smoke and was one of the first in Munich too use a thermometer. His main inspiration was breweries from London, which were already significantly industrialized at the time. For example, Sedlmayr had the first brewer in Munich working with a steam machine. In 1827, he was allowed to start a second brewery in the Hallerbräustadel near the main station, making him to one of Munich’s beer barons.

After the death of Gabriel Sedlmayr senior in 1839, the Spaten brewery was at first taken over by both his sons, Gabriel and Josef, until Josef left the company three years later to acquire the Leistbräu. As the Spaten brewery was very popular, Gabriel was looking for options to expand and acquired the Silberbauerkeller in Marsstraße, which was in 1851 the start of the move of the whole brewery within three years from Neuhauser Straße to Maxvorstadt, where it still is today.

In the following years, Spaten became the largest brewery in Munich. In 1882, they opened the Arzberger Keller, a beer palace-like all the large breweries owned one at the time. After its demolition during World War II, it has unfortunately never been restored. Today, its spot in the Nymphenburger Straße is used by the criminal justice center.

In 1884 illustrator Otto Hupp, who has been used by many breweries in Munich, created the iconic and still existing spade logo. The claim, “lass dir raten, trinke Spaten” (You’re well-advised to drink Spaten) followed in 1924.

Gabriel Seldmayr junior’s death in 1891 meant a break for the business. Although his three sons had already been managing the brewery successfully since 1874, his testation to give his five daughters one million gulden each, squeezed too much money out of the company’s equity, from which it could never fully recover. Subsequently, it merged with the other family-owned brewery, the Leistbräu into the Spaten-Franziskaner-Leistbräu, producing both in Marsstraße as well as Hochstraße at the Nockherberg.

In the same year, the new corporation began cooperating with the new, neighboring, market leader Löwenbräu. After the two World Wars, none of Munich’s breweries has been able to conquer the world market as they were before. Both companies eventually fully merged in 1997 and were acquired by Interbrew in 2003. Once one of the most influential breweries, which even credits itself for the introduction of the Munich Helles in 1894, is today not more than a regional brand of the largest, multinational brewing company, which obviously doesn’t quite know, what to do with it. Some say the Oktoberfest is the only reason, Spaten still exists today.