Varieties of German Beer
by Kevin Fishman
Centuries ago Germany, like many other places, often had areas with polluted and
undrinkable water causing many to turn to beer. To insure their beer remained safe
for all to drink it was mandated that German beers had to adhere to the standards of
Reinheitsgebot, a beer purity law. This law only allows barley, water and hops as
beer ingredients. Despite these limited ingredients German brewers were able to
develop a variety of beer styles. Indeed, this variety is often overlooked when
people consider which nation has the best beers. In making the case for German
please consider these delicious styles:
Altbiers are a German-style brown ales that are smooth and relatively delicate beers.
They are slightly sweet, but crisp and clean. Stronger versions of altbier, called
doppelsticke, are basically bigger, sweeter versions of the original style.
If you want to give this type a try my favorites are the Headwall Alt from Tuckerman’s
Brewing Company in New Hampshire. At 4.7% it's a tasty session beer yu can have
few of. If your local store carries imports you might consider the Uerige Doppelsticke
at 8.5 % ABV. It is a warming beer well suited to the chill of autumn and winter.
Stock up now since those days are soon coming.
If unlike me, you're in a warm climate, try a Kolsch. It's a lighter style with a mild
bitterness. It's refreshing, light, refreshing, dry, easy drinking beer. And please don't
dismiss this as a simple, light beer. It is a very difficult style to brew. If a brewer
makes a mistake in a Kolsch, there is no way to hide the flaw by pumping the beer
full of hops or malts. That's one reason you don't always find this style on tap at your
Here in upstate NY, one kolsch that is of high quality and relatively easy to find is
Reissdorf Kolsch, at 4.8%ABV. It's made by the Braurei Heinrich Reissdorf. Another
good American made version of the style is Harpoon Summer Ale. Refreshing!
German brewers are the masters of wheat beers – they brew some of the best wheat
beers in the world today. There are several styles of German wheat beers –
hefeweizens (cloudy, often with flavors of bananas and cloves), dunkelweizens (dark
wheat beers), weizenbocks (strong wheat beers), Berliner weisses (sour and tart
wheat beers) and kristalweizens (filtered versions of hefeweizens).
The Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier is a 5.6%ABV hefeweizen from the
Weihenstaephan brewery, as well as the Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, another
hefeweizen from Spaten-Franziskaner in Germanny. Both are excellent. If you want
to try a sold dark wheat, seek out the Ayinger Ur-Weisse from Brauerei Aying. It is
one of the best you’ll find. And by the way, if you can't find them ask your local shop
to order some. It will be worth the extra tariff.
Of course when most people think of Germany they think lagers. It's the style that
the nations is world famous for. Perhaps the most widely known style of lager is the
Pilsner. It's ostensibly the style most mass-produced American beers are based on
but those don't really have much in common with the authentic thing. A real Pilsner is
floral, grassy and almost hay-like hops, light and effervescent, flavorful – everything
a mass-produced lager isn’t.
Two of my favorite Pilsners are the Das Naturtrube, from Dinkelacker-Scwaben Brau,
and the Bitburger Premium Pils from Bitburger Brauerei. Bitburger especially is
reasonably priced and not too hard to find.
If you want something a little stronger, look to bocks. They are more full-bodied,
sweeter and hoppier than a typical pilsner. Two authenitc ones often imported to the
US are Monchsof Bockbier from Kilmbacher Braurei and the Mahr’s Christmas Bock,
a winter seasonal from Mahrs-Brau.
And, since this is the October issue of BeerNexus it's only right to includeOktoberfest
in our discussion. Oktoberfest beers are rich, toasty, malty beers, brewed in the
spring to be released for the annual celebration that begins at the end of September
and runs through the first week of October. It’s probably the easiest German style to
find the United States, and there are many great ones available. If you're looking for
good ones made in Germany try the Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen and the Spaten
Oktoberfest from Spatenbrau.
Germans are very conscious of distinct beer styles. When they order a beer, they
rarely ask for it by its brand name. Rather they order beer by its style designation,
asking for a Pils, an Alt, a Kölsch, a Weissbier, a Helles or a Dunkel, for instance.
Except perhaps for the ubiquitous Pils, which holds a roughly 60% market share
throughout Germany, most styles have a stronger following in their regions of origin
but are much less known. German beer making has taken different paths in different
parts of the country. Broadly speaking, beers become maltier as you travel from
north to south and hoppier as you travel in the reverse direction. In addition, some
styles have more than one, often regional, name. A Kellerbier, for instance, may also
be called Zwickelbier, Kräusenbier or Zoigl; a Dortmunder may be called Export; a
Maibock, or Helles Bock. As you can see some of these styles are not covered in
this article which is only meant to introduce you to the main German beer styles.
I hope I've convinced you to give German beers their due. They are wonderful
beers, well crafted and flavorful. And more, there is a style for just about anyone.
beernexus.com - SPECIAL REPORT
German Beer Guide