Ask someone to think of something Germany is known for, and chances are beer and brewing will be a top response. The tradition of German brewing is recognized worldwide in events like Oktoberfest, the popularity of beer gardens, the German Purity Law, and countless classic German beers that brewers from other countries attempt to emulate.
The best German beers exemplify tradition, technique, balance, and design. It’s no wonder, then, that the best German beers have rich traditions going back, in some cases, centuries. So, fire up your schnitzel maker and don that lederhosen (or dirndl). Let’s taste our way through the best German beers.
Best Overall: Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock
Type: Strong Wheat Beer | ABV: 12% | Calories: 360
Choosing one beer from a country rich in unique beer opportunities is so tough. Still, Schneider Aventinus encompassed many of the regions, techniques, and lore of German beers in one beautifully made beer. From the use of dark malt and wheat to the way the beer is distilled by freezing and removing ice to make it deeply complex and boozy, to the connection to ancient monks, Schneider Aventinus is a literal best compilation of German beers for beer lovers.
Best Oktoberfest: Hacker Pschorr Oktoberfest
Type: Oktoberfest Marzen Lager | ABV: 5.8% | Calories: 170
Rich in bready malts and balanced with spicy, noble hops, the Oktoberfest is always a welcome sight on beer store shelves. While many moan about the sight of pumpkin beers in August, I always get excited when the first seasonal marzens appear in time to celebrate the season’s changing. If you hate to see Oktoberfests go, look for traditional Marzen styles that are available all year long.
The first Oktoberfest was a wedding party. Like so many weddings I’ve attended, it quickly became a beer celebration. Today, the beer most revelers drink at Oktoberfest is lighter than the original beers served at that initial O’Fest. Luckily, Hacker Pschorr brews a true classic that you can find. Prost!
Best Hefeweizen: Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier
Type: wheat beer | ABV: 5.4% | Calories: 160
Long before hazy IPA caught beer drinkers’ eyes with its cloudy appearance, Hefe weissbier tantalized beer fans with its turbid look along with its fruit and spice aroma. The wheat malt that dominates this beer’s recipe offers a refreshing, slightly tangy flavor profile, while the beer’s yeast provides the beer’s signature banana and clove notes.
Best Kölsch: Gaffel Kölsch
Type: Kolsch | ABV: 4.8% | Calories: 145
Light, balanced, and easy drinking, Gaffel Kolsch is an approachable beer for the discerning drinker. Most overlook this style, but a true kolsch, like Gaffel, is an exercise in restraint and nuance. Enjoy one poured into the traditional cylindrical glass called a stange.
Best Pilsner: Bitburger Premium Pilsner
Type: German Pilsner | ABV: 4.8% | Calories: 145
Pilsner is by far the world’s most popular beer, and the German take on the style is definitely one to seek out. Bursting with spicy hops and bracing bitterness, Bitburger premium pilsner is a bright, light, and refreshing lager. Perfect on a hot afternoon or with a plate of sausages and kraut, you don’t really know pilsner until you’ve tried a Bitburger.
Best Dunkel: Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel
Type: Dunkel Lager | ABV: 5% | Calories: 148
Dark barley malt is combined with Noble hops for a toasty – but never roasted – beer style. Ayinger uses local Munich malt to create this complex yet drinkable lager that is perfect for a crisp autumn afternoon. Pair Dunkel with traditional German fare, like roast pork, potatoes, and sauerkraut, but it’s also can hold its own with your favorite BBQ. The warm, toasty malt intertwined with smoked meats and spicy sauces that can only be described as a slam dunkel!
Best Helles: Augustiner Brau Helles
Type: Helles | ABV: 5.2% | Calories: 150
Helles is similar to German Pilsner, with more balance and less bitterness. Brewers say the style is an incredibly difficult style to brew because there is nothing to hide flaws. The beer is made of pilsner malt and floral hops – no lactose or guava puree. The result is the ultimate beer, which Augustiner has mastered.
Best Bock: Einbecker Ur Bock
Type: Bock | ABV: 6.5% | Calories: 195
The German town of Einbeck is famous for strong, malty lagers known as bock. These bock beers are low in bitterness and high in toasty, malty flavor. There are a few different styles of bock but start with this classic version, which translates to Old Bock.
Best Doppelbock: Paulaner Salvator
Type: Strong Lager | ABV: 7.9% | Calories: 235
Doppelbock was initially brewed by German Monks who fasted during the Christian observation of Lent. While the monks could not eat during this time, they were permitted to sustain themselves with beer. Thus, they brewed a beer with a rich flavor profile. A Doppelbock is high in bready malt flavor and warming due to the increased alcohol content.
Best Schwarzbier: Kostritzer Schwarzbier
Type: Dark Lager | ABV: 4.8% | Calories: 145
The beer style translates to black beer. This dark beer gets its color from dark roasted malts. While many beer lovers understand the name, they misinterpret the color for beer that is thick and heavy. This is not the case with the classic schwarzbier, Kostritzer, which drinks more like a black pilsner than an imperial stout.
Best Rauchbier: Schlenkerla Marzen
Type: Smoke Beer | ABV: 5.4% | Calories: 154
To the uninitiated, a smoked beer may seem extreme, if not downright unappealing. However, should you find yourself in Bamberg, Germany, prepare for a revelation. Schlenkerla Marzen has been described as a bacon beer for the copious amounts of smoked malt used in this dark lager. In reality, the style is not at all extreme, and the smoke is perfectly in balance with the other beer ingredients.
German Beer FAQs
Why is Germany so famous for beer?
Many countries have strong beer cultures, but few beer cultures have been adopted into popular culture more than Germany, whether it’s the tradition and ritual of donning German garb to celebrate Oktoberfest each fall or simply the clean, crisp classic lagers for which the country brews, German beer knows no borders.
Often, when considering the origins of such a phenomenon, many consider the effect of nature or nurture. While Oktoberfest definitely gives people a reason to celebrate German beer, the fact that Germany can provide excellent ingredients for making beer within their borders is also a reason for their reputation. The country’s latitudinal location makes for ideal hop and local barley growing. German hops are said to be the finest in the world, and German malt, specifically pilsner malt, is used as the base for practically all of the beers found throughout.
Variety also plays a part in the popularity and reputation of German beers. Bavaria, dark beers, and wheat beers dominate the menu in the southern part of the country. The Bavarian-style wheat brew is a thirst-quenching beer perfect after a long bike ride. Many riders choose to unwind in the brewery’s beer garden, where they may indulge in the local fare of Weiss Wurst sausages and sauerkraut.
A unique, historical sour beer hails from the Northern part of the country. The Berliner Kindl Weisse is a wheat-based beer that was traditionally allowed to sour overnight, lending a lactic acidity. To correct for this sometimes overly tangy beer, breweries served sweet syrups with the beer to cut the tartness. Traditional flavors for these syrups included raspberry or an herbal version made from wormwood.
The western edge of Germany is home to the Rhine River. Situated on the river are two other great beer regions, including Colone and Dusseldorf. Beer is part of these towns’ identities, each brewing a single specialty beer that local brewers have mastered over time. Don’t expect to get an IPA in either city. Cologne is famous for its Kolsch, with its light body and exquisite balance, not to be outdone by Dusseldorf’s Altbier, with its warm, roasted malt flavor balanced with local German hops. Visiting the Rhineland is a must for any self-respecting beer lover.
What are the most popular German beer styles?
Each region in Germany claims its own classic beer style. Munich is known for dark beers. Further south, wheat beers are popular. Kolsch is popular outside of Colone, but likely the most popular beer style in Germany is the German Pilsner or some variation.
What is the German beer purity law?
In the year 1516, the Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV enacted a law that, among other things, made it illegal to brew beer with anything other than water, hops, and malt. The Reinheitsgebot, as it was called, had other stipulations on seasonal beer prices and later had to include yeast as an ingredient once scientists identified the organism’s significance in brewing. Many brewers still abide by the ingredient decree today – another nod to Germany’s adherence to tradition.
Do German beers have higher or lower alcohol content?
German beer ranges in strength from the very low weissbier of Berlin to the high alcohol beers like Doppelbock and Eisbock, which were brewed by monks during their Lenten fast. Most German beer styles fall somewhere in the middle at about 5 percent alcohol.
What’s the ideal temperature at which to serve German beers?
Most German beers are brewed with bottom fermenting yeasts that make them lagers. These yeast types prefer cooler temperatures than their ale yeast counterpart. After fermentation is complete, it is appropriate to serve lagers at the same cooler temperatures they fermented at, 36 to 44 Degrees Fahrenheit.
Ales, like the Bavarian Weiss beers, are fruitier and benefit from warming to between 45 to 55 degrees F.
Kolsch and Altbier are considered hybrid beers as they ferment with ale yeast at cool temperatures and often store these beers for an extended amount of time before serving. These beers are usually served cold.
What foods go well with German beers?
The well-balanced beers of German are exceptional food beers. Dark malts play perfectly with roasted meats, and the spicy and floral hops known as Noble hops accentuate seasoning and add life to any meal.
So, it goes without saying that German beer goes perfectly with German food. Notably, the pork sausages and schnitzel, ham hocks, and braised meats all complement the Maillard reaction of roasted malts. Sweet malt also contrasts with sauerkraut and even accentuates the flavor of chocolate in German desserts.
While the national foods will give you plenty of pairing options, don’t discount what German beer can do for other meals. Light pilsners and kolsch marry well with sushi, and dunkels and bocks are favorites with BBQ like smoked brisket.
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