Germany is often considered a Paradise on Earth for beer lovers. Germans are proud of some 6,000 beers brewed in over 1,350 breweries, half of these in Bavaria alone – in other words a different beer for every day for over 16 years!
Some beer fans argue, however, that this has often led to stagnation regarding appearance and taste. An important criticism, indeed, and one that is being seriously addressed by many traditional breweries currently being challenged by a vibrant and growing Craft Beer movement.
Freshly poured German beers provide cool refreshment on hot Summer days and are best enjoyed with Bretzeln and grilled sausages in one of the country's many beer gardens.
The Munich Oktoberfest with its specially brewed Festbier is one of the largest public festivals in the world - with over six million visitors making the annual pilgrimage to the Theresienwiese with its large Bierzelte (beer tents) and non-stop live music.
Golden-brown, spit-roasted chicken (Hendl), roast pork knuckles (Schweinshaxe) and pork chops soaked in gravy (Schweinsbraten) are favourite beer tent dishes throughout Germany, along with Kaiserschmarrn (lightly-sweetened pancakes) and Bayrische Creme for dessert.
Beer has also found its way into German cuisine with renowned gourmet chefs seeking suitable beer combinations for their offerings, often including select beers in delicious culinary creations.
No other land on the planet has such a dense network of breweries including major global brand names and hundreds of small privately owned family-run and monastic breweries with local brewing customs stretching back centuries. And no other country has such an unbroken brewing tradition. This not only ensures the retention of the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ (German Beer Purity Law) but also the maintenance of strong regional variety. Diverse compositions of water, malt, hops and yeast are guarantors of a broad range of beers with different brewing and fermentation processes being applied.
Brauerei Hotel Gasthof Post in Nesselwang, Allgäu © Dr. Patrick Patridge
The most important German beer varieties
'Lager' (storeroom or warehouse) is a type of beer that is conditioned at low temperatures, normally at the brewery. It may be pale, golden, amber or dark. Although one of the most defining features of lager is its maturation in cold storage, it is also distinguished by the use of special yeast. A pale Lager usually has fewer hops than an Export beer.
'Export' beer is a soft-textured pale lager beer influenced by the Pilsener Lager, which in former times could be exported beyond city limits. Export beers are traditionally brewed in Dortmund. As the name suggests, export beers were brewed for export to foreign countries and was brewed stronger in order to overcome long-distance transport. The increased original wort and alcohol levels ensured stability and durability.
Weizen or Weissbier
‘Weizenbier’ and ‘Weissbier’ are the standard German names for wheat beers characterized by a fruity-spicy flavor. 80% of ‘Weizen’ beers originate in Bavaria but they are also very popular throughout Germany. ‘Weizenbier’ is available as filtered ‘Kristall’ / crystal clear or as unfiltered ‘Hefeweizen’ (yeast ‘Weizen’)
'Bock' beers are strong heavy-bodied, bottom-fermented, bittersweet lagers darkened by high-coloured malts. The tradition reaches back over 800 years to the Hanseatic city of Einbeck in Lower Saxony. ‘Maibock’ is a pale, strong lager brewed in the Spring.
‘Pilsener’ or ‘Pils’ is a refreshing pale lager with a light body and a more prominent hop character named after the Czech Pilsner bottom-fermented brewing process, invented by a Bavarian master brewer in the Czech town of Pilsen. ‘Pils’ is the most consumed type of beer in Germany and is available in many variations, also as Export, Lager and ‘Spezial’.
A craft brewery is a brewery that produces small amounts of beer typically much smaller than the large-scale breweries, and is independently owned. German craft breweries lay particular emphasis on quality, flavour and brewing techniques, with old recipes being resurrected, re-adapted and new beers being created.
Craft beers are increasingly popular and more widely available in Germany with new innovative breweries sprouting up all over the country. Traditional breweries are also experimenting with their own craft beer creations.
One of the first such breweries in Germany was established in Berlin in the mid-1990s. New festivals and events such as the ‘Berlin Beer Week’, the ‘Braufest Berlin’ and the 'Craft Beer Festival' in Frankfurt am Main are testimony to the growing interest in diverse nuanced beer creations and in a greater variety of beer types and flavours.
‘Kölsch’ is a pale, light-bodied, slightly bitter top-fermented beer which, when brewed in Germany, can only legally be brewed in Cologne where it has been brewed since the 12th century. It is traditionally served in thin 0.2 liter glasses to help preserve its smooth taste and frothy foam.
Kölsch beer halls in downtown Cologne are a must when visiting this ancient and highly sociable city situated on the banks of the majestic Rhine. Kölsch is frequently enjoyed along with large portions of boiled ham and Sauerkraut - especially during Fastnacht or Karneval in Köln.
Photo: "Kölsch aus Lommerzheim, Köln-Deutz" © Dr. Patrick Patridge
‘Altbier’ is a top-fermented, lager beer brewed according to an ‘old’ tradition since the 13th century in Düsseldorf which made it possible to ferment and mature beer at higher temperatures. In former times this was very important especially in the warm Summer months when stability and durability could not be guaranteed.
Altbier tastes range from mildly bitter and hoppy to very bitter and should be consumed in the Düsseldorf Altstadt or old city area - the Längste Theke der Welt - or the longest bar in the world, where over 250 bars, pubs and bistros are situated in close proximity.
‘Berliner Weisse’ is a top-fermented beer brewed in a special Berlin manner. It tastes bitter fresh and has low levels of alcohol. It is popular in Summertime and often served with a drop of either ‘Waldmeister’ (woodruff) or raspberry syrup.
Alcohol-free beers are on the rise in Germany are available in several variations from alcohol-free lager to alcohol-free ‘Weizen’ beer. They are isotonic, nutritious and very popular with cyclists, walkers and other sportspeople.
Germans like to celebrate in groups and there is no better place to get into the swing of things and to meet the locals than at one of Germany’s numerous beer fairs and festivals. The most famous of course is the Munich Oktoberfest (end-September to beginning October since 1810) under the motto ‘O´zapft is’.
This is the largest public fair in the world with over six million visitors and over 5 million ‘Maß Bier’ drunk in large beer tents from decorated 1 litre stoneware mugs called ‘Beer Steins’.
The classic Oktoberfest menu is a typical Bavarian Schmankerl consisting of Weisswurst, grilled half-chicken and Pretzeln. Munich brewers also brew a special festival beer known as Festmärzen.
Live music and dancing is non-stop and most participants wear traditional Bavarian costume, Dirndl for ladies and Lederhosen for gentlemen.
Oktoberfests have spread throughout Germany and further afield in recent times, complementing the many other regional and seasonal festivals such as the Gäubodenfest in Straubing / Niederbayern (August).
The Cannstatter Folk Festival in Stuttgart (end-September to beginning October) is another of the world’s biggest festivals and a haven for beer lovers. The ‘Bierfest’ serves up not only Stuttgarter and Swabian beers but also up 100 other German beers from the Baltic to Upper Bavaria, and from the Rhineland to the Oder basin - a wonderful opportunity, indeed, to sample, explore and get to know the breadth, depth and diversity of Germany’s unique beer traditions and picturesque landscapes.
"Ayinger Privat-Brauerei aus Bayern" © Dr. Patrick Patridge
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