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If there’s anyone who knows how to make a good beer, it’s the Germans. With the pilsner style, Oktoberfest and those crazy steins beer is an enormous part of German culture, and they’ve had hundreds and hundreds of years to perfect the craft. Germany can also be credited with pioneering the techniques and equipment used in modern brewing, and launching the oldest commercial brewery over 1,000 years ago (that is still operating today). The country produces a vast range of lagers and ales, with varying layers of complexity. There are seriously so many German beers to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin. But it’s okay if you don’t know where to begin on your journey into the orld of German beer – because we do.
WHAT MAKES GERMAN BEER UNIQUE?
German beer is so special because of a little thing called Reinheitsgebot. Reinheitsgebot is also known as the German Beer Purity Law. It was adopted in 1516, making it the oldest, currently valid consumer protection law in the world. The law is a series of regulations that limited the ingredients used in German beer to water, barley, and hops. The 1516 text does not mention yeast as an allowed ingredient, however, since its existence was not yet known.
Consequently, today the list of permitted ingredient has slightly changed to include a wider variety of malted grains, hops, water and yeast. The law also stipulates that beers that are not brewed exclusively with barley-malt must be top-fermented (so a wheat beer, for example, must be top-fermented). So, by the power of deduction, you have probably figured out that a lot of German beers are bottom-fermented.
This official protection of truly illustrates how important beer has been throughout Germany’s history and culture. And, the legacy of this law continues today – not only in Germany, but also in breweries around the world that look to it as a standard of quality.
However, this law has slowed the production of beer in Germany and led to the extinction of some regional specialties (liked spiced beer from Northern Germany), and has proved limiting in today’s world of trendy craft breweries. To combat this, some German craft breweries sneakily work around the laws by marketing their creative and wild brews as Biermischgetränke, or “mixed beer drinks.” In fact, even German politicians have argued for a revision to the beer laws to allow for a wider range of natural ingredients.
In short, a detailed look at the beer laws in Germany will show a number of changes over the past 40-some years, and we can expect to see changes in the future that allow forgreater flexibility. But, the German Beer Purity Law has, if anything, helped maintain a highly traditional beer culture, which means that we lucky consumers of lagers and ales can more or less drink like it’s the 1820s.
HOW WE CHOSE OUR BEERS
First of all, we wanted to give you a list that showcases the diversity of Germany’s beers. Even if you think German beers are all pilsners, you have to admit that the tastes within one style of beer can vary so much! But the truth is that there is so much more to beers from this country than pilsners. So, we have crafted a list that showcases the wide range of styles that Germany has to offer.
True, the beer laws have put limitations on the brewing of the ever-popular alcoholic beverage, but limitations can also push brewers to be more creative. It also means that the beers have more subtleties in the flavor notes – which can be oh so interesting. Of course, we also included some very popular beers from well-known breweries – after all, they are popular for a reason.
THE 10 BEST AND MOST POPULAR GERMAN BEERS THAT YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST TRY
If you say you love beer, but you haven’t had many German-style beers, then you need to reevaluate your drinking repertoire. Maybe you’ve had a pilsner or a Hefeweizen here and there, but there is so much more to discover when it comes to Germany’s culture ofale. The range of beers is considerably diverse, despite a lot of presumptions that it’s just a bunch of light beers. So, it’s time to remove your preconceived notions of German beers and get sipping. Here is a list of some of the best and most popular beers from the land of the Black Forest, Oktoberfest, and Beethoven. (And don’t worry – you certainly won’t just find pilsners on this list).
1. WEIHENSTEPHANHEFE WEISSBIER – 5 STARS
Like any wheat beer, this Weissbier from Weihenstephan – the oldest brewery in the world – has that refreshing, light banana-y flavor. It also has lovely notes of clove and pours with a perfect layer of white foam. But best of all, it’s very full-bodied and doesn’t leave your palate feeling like its lacking after you finish a pint. It’s also quite smooth, and has a lovely yeast taste. This beautiful golden-yellow beer is brewed according to the brewery’s centuries-old brewing tradition. The brewery recommends pairing it with fish and seafood, a spicy cheese, or traditional Bavarian veal sausage if you’re looking to really treat yourself to a full German spread. Of course, you can enjoy this beer at any time, with anything. Plus, this beer has won tons of awards, including Gold awards from the World Beer Cup and the World Beer Awards.
2. AECHT SCHLENKERLARAUCHBIER – 5 STARS
The Aecht Shlenkeria Rauchbier, otherwise known in English as the Original Schlenkerla Smokebeer is not the easiest beer to get your hands on, but the hunt is well worth it. The beer originates in the old town of Bamberg, where it is brewed in a classic half-timbered house. You literally can’t get a more German beer than this German beer. This is a dark, aromatic bottom-fermented beer with a (as you may have guessed) smoky flavor.
The malt is exposed to the smoke of burning beech-wood logs, after which it is matures in 600-year-old cellars deep in the hills of Bamberg. The word “smoky” might scare off some of you, but we promise that this beer is actually relatively mellow thanks to the maturing process. It’s definitely a unique, yet historic beer that any beer lover must try.
Fun fact: Schlenkerla is a word for “not walking straight,” in Frankish vernacular – just like a drunken person.
3. RADEBERGER PILS – 4.5 STARS
Of course, we had to include “Germany’s Premium Pilsner.” The key to this pilsner, it seems, is actually the water. The brewers at Radeberger use soft, spring water from their artisan well. Their logic has always been that beer is 90% water, so the water better be the absolute best you can find. Of course, this beer is also made with exquisite hops andfine-malted barley, which creates a pale golden color, creamy foam, and a predominantly hoppy taste with a pleasant note of bitterness. It’s a simple, subtle, but very excellent beer. Like most German beers, this pilsner is bottom-fermented and, like most German beers, it’s absolutely delicious.
4. AyingerLager Hell – 4.5 Stars
Crisp, smooth and mellow, this lager is an easy-drinking beer from Bavaria. It’s a Muenchener Hell style beer, which is one of the most popular beer styles to come out of the Bavarian South. This is the kind of beer that you can drink pretty much every day – you know, the one that you always keep one case of in your fridge for when you get home from work. And everyone needs this kind of beer in his or her drinking arsenal. This is thanks to its light malt taste, which also makes it a great beer for cooking or enjoying with a meal.
5. EINBECKER UR-BOCKDUNKEL – 4.5 STARS
Rich and toasty, this Bock-style beer is delightfully caramel-y. It has the warm aromas of toffee, raisins and molasses, and pours a dark amber cup. You will find that these aromas carry over to the taste, but it is not overly sweet as the various flavor notes suggest. This beer has a touch of hoppy bitterness that balances everything out for a well rounded, full-bodied profile. The Einbecker Ur-Bonk Dunkle is a delicious, barley-malt beer that will remind you that Germans make great dark beers too.
6. SPATENOKTOBERFEST – 4 STARS
Of course, we had to include an Oktoberfest beer on this list. This beer is sweet and a rich brown color. It’s got a mild malty taste, and a nice layer of roasted notes – perfect for those chilly autumn afternoons. But, this Oktoberfest is surprisingly crisp and doesn’t have a dull, heavy or overly malty feel like some Oktoberfest-style brews. And, with each sip, you’ll notice a wonderful earthy finish. Yet, the rich textured palate with that touch of sweetness stays true to tradition.
7. GAFFEL KÖLSCH– 4 STARS
This list would not be complete without a Kölsch style beer from the lovely city of Cologne, brewed according to an age-old family recipe. In fact, Gaffel is one of the most well-known breweries in the world for kölsch style beers. This beer is only brewed in and around the city and aged in cold cellars. It’s less bitter than a pilsner – it’s actually moderately hoppy and quite fruity, making it a truly crisp, refreshing summertime drink. The delicate bitterness of Gaffel’s Kölsch sets it apart from other brands. This beer is also top-fermented and is made in accordance with the Purity Law of 1516.
8. AUGISTINER BRÄU MÜNCHEN MAXIMATOR – 4 STARS
The Maximator from the Augistiner Bräu München brewery is perfect for the chilly weather months. It’s a soothing, deep brown Doppelbock beer of monastic origins – in fact, doppelbocks (or double bocks, which are actually dark lagers) were used by monks as a form of “liquid bread” to sustain them during periods of fasting.
With a rich and malty nose, and notes of toasted bread, nuts, brown sugar and dried figs, it’s perfect for drinking while you curl up by the fire with a book. It’s impressively smooth and subtly sweet, with just a touch of spiciness.
9. UERIGE DOPPELSTICKE ALTBIER – 3.5 STARS
This has been rated one of the best German altbiers – but this unusually bitter and aggressively malty style of beer is not necessarily for everybody. Altbier is a style brewed around the city of Düsseldorf and historically has been top-fermented, and is usually a dark copper color. It’s a special strong beer brewed specifically for the American market with an initial hoppy aroma, followed by notes of caramelized sugar, malt, and herbs. It’s also got some after notes of dark chocolate and rum that fade gently from the palate.
10. ERDINGER KRISTALL– 3.5 STARS
For our last beer, we’ve got another wheat one for you. The Erdinger Kristal is a lively wheat beer with fresh, fruity aromas. It’s got an extra dose of carbonic acid to make it especially crisp, sparkling and refreshing. As the name suggests, it’s a crystal-clear beer thanks to an intensive filtration process that only adds to its refreshing nature. Anyone that thinks traditional Bavarian wheat beer is a bit too cloudy will find solace in this beer from Erdinger. But never fear – it still has a strong malted wheat taste and an elegant hop bouquet at the finish.
YOUR GUIDE FOR EXPLORING GERMAN BEER
If you are just now getting interested in German-style beers, the key is just to try a few. Now, you may not immediately find one of these beers in your local liquor store. But if you live in the U.S. you’ll probably find that at least one of your local breweries does at least one German-style beer. Sure, this beer isn’t straight out of Germany, but tapping into your local resources (pun intended) is a great way to start venturing into these styles of beer. From there, you can figure out what you like and start ordering German beer, exploring in liquor stores, or maybe even booking a trip to the beautiful country itself to get your fill of lagers, pilsners and more.