Beer to Germany is like celebrity is to the rest of the world; it’s a national obsession. There are over 1300 breweries in Germany, which is more than any other country in the world, and the Germans sit third on the current beer consumption per captia world table, losing out only to the ever impressive, and much respected, Czech and Irish drinkers.
German beer has long been regarded as some of the world’s best produced brews. It is little wonder that this is the case, considering the tight restrictions under which they brew it. In 1516 the German brewer’s of the time created the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot, or Bavarian Purity Requirement, which limited what could be used in beer production to only water, hops, and barley-malt. Later, with the discovery of yeast, the agreement was altered to allow this ingredient, and for some of the pilsner type beers, some sugar was also subsequently allowed. But besides these few minor amendments, German beer has remained unchanged in its production methods since the 1500’s, making it the world’s most purely produced beer, and keeping it entirely chemical free.
In Germany, you do not traditionally buy beer according to brand or brewery, but instead, according to variety and style. The choice is often dictated to you by where in Germany you are at the time, and what brewery is associated with the pub or bar you are drinking at. The two main varieties of German beer are the ales, including the famed German wheat beers, and the lagers, including the ever popular Pilsners from Bavaria.
In regards to ale, the Berliner Weisse is one of the most fascinating styles of German wheat beer, not only for its distinct sour taste, but also because it is usually drunk with the addition of fruit syrup. This has helped it become an unexpected hit amongst the young and trendy Berlin clubbers, especially amongst the women, and has successfully re-birthed beer as, not only a drink for men in pubs, but for both men and women in pubs, bars, and clubs. Yet there is also plenty of tradition and mystique for the beer enthusiasts in Germany. There is the Kolsch wheat beer, a light bodied pale beer that can only be legally brewed in Cologne. Within the same region of the Rhine River there is also the dark amber wheat beer, Altbie, which has a very distinct hoppy and bitter taste to it. Then there is the very famous, strong tasting, and high alcohol concentrated wheat beer, Weizenbock, which comes with anything up to 8% alcohol in it. The Weisenbock is one of many hefeweizen style wheat beers in Germany, which are produced in the uniquely German style of not filtering out the yeast once the beer is brewed.
The German lagers are equally as famous as the German wheat beers and are probably the more commonly drunk. The German Pilsener, a light bodied pale lager, is by far Germany’s most popular beer, making up almost two thirds of the market share. Then there is the Marzen, a medium bodied malty lager that comes in pale, amber, and dark, which is the beer of choice at the famed Oktoberfest held annually in Munich. The German lagers also come in some very uniquely German styles and flavors. There is the Schwarzbier, a dark lager, which has a very distinct chocolate flavor to it. The German Rauchbier, a specialty of the Bamberg region, which comes in a very dark color as well and has a unique smoky taste to it because of the way the malt was smoked before brewing. And then there are the Bocks, the word itself a reference to a unique German style of brewing that uses a particular strain of top-fermenting yeast. There is the standard Bock, a heavy-bodied amber colored beer with 5-7% alcohol and a somewhat sweet taste to it, the Dunklesbock which is a darker heavier version of the Bock, the Dopplebock, an even darker lager than the Dunklebock, with a very high alcohol content of up to 12%, and the king of them all, the Eisbock, which is a freeze distilled variation of the Dopplebock that has an alcohol content of anything up to 15%.
Drinking German beer is like touring the country itself, and it is well worth the journey. German beer is higher in protein than beer produced elsewhere, and consequently, it is considered better for your health than other national beers, not to mention it has no chemical additives. It has many unique styles and flavors of which most are worthy of your palette at the very least once.
1. Beer in Germany
2. Healthy Beer
3. A Beginner's Guide to German Beer Styles | Serious Eats