Mention “beer festival” and “Munich,” and most people will automatically think of lager-swilling at Oktoberfest. But each March, the city holds another celebration: Starkbierzeit, a three-week event dedicated to strong beer. And while Starkbierzeit is decidedly tamer than Oktoberfest, which pulls in about six million people per year, one thing is clear when you’re elbow-to-elbow with locals and in-the-know visitors at tents and halls around town: it’s still a party.
Held every March since 1751, Starkbierzeit even means “strong beer season”: The brews have to have a minimum alcohol requirement of 7.5 percent to even be considered “Starkbier,” and Munich alone brews more than 40 varieties of it, some containing as much as 19 percent alcohol. The beers have a strong wheat taste and an even stronger finish (more similar to Guinness than, say, Blue Moon).
The tradition of consuming the stronger stuff in spring dates back to the 1600s, when Paulaner monks developed “Starkbier” to help them survive fasting for Lent. Since they weren’t allowed to consume any food for 40 days, the monks wanted a beverage that would keep them full and satisfied. The solution? Starkbier.
This year, Starkbierzeit will be held between March 15 to April 6. (It varies every year depending on Lent.) Here’s everything you need to know.
What are some of the most popular breweries to visit?
The most famous of them all is Paulaner Nockherberg brewery, which is where Paulaner monks started brewing Starkbier. Making a table reservation at this brewery is recommended, but won’t cost you anything upfront—it’s just so you can enter early. (You’ll pay for what you consume.)
Other popular breweries are Löwenbräukeller, which has tables huddled close together, and Augustine Keller, a smaller restaurant offering a more intimate experience.
What’s the payment system like?
Unlike Oktoberfest, there isn’t one main area where all the breweries congregate. Instead, beer halls around the city host their own celebrations every day throughout the three-week period. You pay per beer, which will run you $12 per liter, on average, though smaller restaurants may offer liters for as low as $9.
What time do things get started?
Breweries open around 6 p.m. and close around midnight. Try getting there around 8 or 9 p.m., which is when the crowds normally simmer down, but the entertainment is just getting started—think dance shows, a band, or even a political roast.
What else should I know?
Many visitors dress in traditional German outfits—dirndl and lederhosen—though this isn’t required. Given that the festival isn’t as well known, brushing up on your German will go a long way: memorize basic words like please (bitte), thank you (danke), and one liter of beer (eine mass). Waiters and waitresses often carry as many as 15-20 mugs of beer at once, and deal with a lot of tables, so you’ll be well-cared for if you tip a little, even though it’s not the European custom.
This article orignially appeared on CNTraveler.com.