Get Your Gemütlichkeit on across Ohio: America’s Hofbräuhaus hotbed

By Sarah Jaquay

“All Hofbräuhaus experiences can be summed up in one word: Gemütlichkeit,” explains Eric Haas, co-owner of Hofbräuhaus Newport (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) and Hofbräuhaus Columbus. There’s also a new (late 2014) Hofbräuhaus Cleveland.

It’s important to note these establishments are official licensees of the original Hofbräuhaus (HB) in Munich, Germany, founded in 1589, once the official brewer of Bavarian royalty and a wildly popular Oktoberfest venue. Licensees must all brew in accordance with the German Beer Purity Law or “Reinheitsgebot,” which allows only water, barley, malt and hops as ingredients. (The Purity Laws were changed in 1993 but remain the gold standard for unadulterated beer.)

Gemütlichkeit (pronounced “geh moot lick height”) loosely equates to congeniality or friendliness. Like “terroir,” however, there’s no precise translation. Visitors to any of Ohio’s three HBs (although Newport is in northern Kentucky, it’s considered part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area) know exactly what it is by the time they leave.

There are only seven HB licensees in the US: those mentioned above plus Chicago, Las Vegas, Panama City, Florida and Pittsburgh. So how is it that Ohioans enjoy easy access to three when most states are gemütlichkeit-deficient?

The plethora of Ohio HBs started near the Queen City. The first HB outside Munich opened in 2003 in the Cincinnati area, selected because of its large German population. “Munich and Cincinnati have been sister cities for years,” explains Haas. He went on a choir tour of Austria and Germany and visited HB Munich in 1998. That’s where he got the idea to duplicate the experience back home. As a northern Kentucky native, Haas knew his heritage geography. “If you look at a map of German descendants in the US, the Midwest is slam-packed,” he notes. Haas also thinks Ohio’s robust tradition of military service is a factor. “Almost everyone you talk to that served in Europe has been to the Hofbräuhaus in Munich.”

The Newport and Columbus locations offer similar visitor experiences: both are designed to emulate the feel and camaraderie of a German beer hall. And although Columbus is festooned with more red and gray paraphernalia, Haas wants beer lovers to know every HB licensee is all about authentic German beer and cuisine with a side of gemütlichkeit. “We’re part of the craft beer revival in America.” And whether it’s due to Newport’s nightly “oompah” and polka bands, stein-holding and pretzel-throwing contests – not to mention monthly keg-tapping celebrations – Haas says it feels like Oktoberfest every day.

“It’s the full German dining experience [at HB Cleveland] – over-the-top schnitzel, big beer; everything’s made from scratch using original Hofbräuhaus recipes,” says Andrea Mueller, marketing and sales manager for HB Cleveland. When she tells you it’s a big place, she’s not exaggerating about size. The Cleveland location features a massive beer hall with communal tables and benches, a “Bier Stube” for reserved seating and a 1,000-seat outdoor beer garden that offers concessions and full-service dining.

When asked why Ohioans are blessed with multiple HBs, Mueller also believes it’s heritage-driven: “Ohio has a wide demographic of German and Eastern Europeans. These cultures have a tradition of quality beer-making.”

So if anyone wonders aloud why the Buckeye State is replete with Hofbräuhauses, tell them it’s the gemütlichkeit in our genetic code.

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