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“Beer turns thurst into a beautiful thing” - Old German saying
It is no understatement to say that the Germans love their beer, as the fact that the country boasts over 5,000 different styles and around 1,200 breweries attests to. Germany is probably most internationally renowned for its wheat beer but it is pilsner which holds the 60% market share in its homeland. The other styles have strong followings in their regions of origin and some are hard to find outside those regions, let alone in the rest of the world. Each beer style is very different and, generally speaking, the further south you go, the maltier the beers become, whereas they become hoppier as you travel north. With such a huge variety of styles, there is a beer for pretty much any mood and any occasion, from a rich and malty doppelbock or eisbock to warm you on a cold winter’s day, to a cold, crisp and refreshing pilsner to sip in the heat.
A brief history of German beer
Brewing in Germany dates back to at least the late Bronze Age and the Germans are thought to have been the first Europeans to make beer. Despite the fact that lagers are by far the most popular of all German beers, the industry is built on a solid tradition of ale brewing. Indeed, until the 16th century Germany only produced ale, firstly in the home by hausfraus, then from the 8th century by brewmonks and brewnuns, until merchants took over around the 12th century. Lager wasn’t introduced until the 16th century and the beers we would recognise as the light, crisp, refreshing lagers Germany is now known for have been around a mere 150 years. Pilsner, which is steadily taking over the country, only began its conquest around 30 years ago. Thanks to a long brewing tradition that has allowed a variety of different regional styles to develop, as well as creative brewers and the German love of beer, Germany is awash with an incredible range of beers.
Mountain Landscape In Bavaria
Germany’s Purity Law
In 1516, long before anybody had ever thought to come up with consumer protection laws, Bavaria passed a law entitled Reinheitsgebot, with the intention of ensuring the quality of its beer. The law decreed that only three ingredients - water, barley and hops - could be used to brew beer. Back then Reinheitsgebot was largely to protect beer drinkers - which incorporated the majority of the population due to the poor sanitation levels of Medieval water supplies. When Bavaria and Germany unified in 1871, the former country insisted that the law be applied throughout Germany in order to prevent competition from brewers using a wider range of ingredients. The law was amended to allow yeast when the fermenting agent was discovered in the 19th century, and again in 1993 to include the incorporation of different kinds of malt and sugar. For ales, or top-fermented beers, the law is slightly less rigid in order to accommodate the centuries-old wheat beer. What categorically cannot be added to the brewing process are chemicals or other processed compounds. In this, Reinheitsgebot remains the oldest food safety law in the world.
Although originally it was passed to prevent crops needed to bake bread being used for brewing beer, today adherence to the law is regarded as a sign of the highest quality German beer and 5,000 different beers carry its seal, despite the fact no penalties for transgressing it remain. As a result, technique is just as important to German brewers as ingredients. With just four ingredients to play with, the huge variety of German beer styles stems largely from creative techniques. The 500 year old law is currently being pushed by the German beer industry to be given UNESCO World Heritage status, with the argument that it is a famous tradition unique enough to be worth protecting.
Oktoberfest Woman Holding Six Beer Mugs
Pouring a German beer
The high levels of proteins in German beers make for a thick, long-lasting head and, as such, they should always be poured in tall glasses, larger in volume than the amount of beer you are to pour in order to contain the foam. Rinse your glass in cold water without any detergent as residue could destroy the foam. Don’t dry the glass - fluff and fibres from tea towels can also prevent a proper foam from forming. Tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle and let half the beer cascade down the side before holding it upright and pouring the second half down the middle. This will ensure the carbonation is at the perfect level whilst producing the right amount of head.
Bavaria In The Beer Garden
Statistically the most popular of all the German styles, there are numerous varieites of the country’s bottom-fermented beers. The most well known are its pilsners, although they originated in the Bohemian city of Pilsen, now located in the Czech Republic. Germany has adopted the style and does it well - crisp, refreshing, with a hoppy bite and best served cold. For a strong lager, opt for a bock. Full-bodied, malty-sweet with a good hop-to-malt balance and low in bitterness, all bocks have a high alcohol content. Helles bock is lighter in colour, medium-bodied, with a predominantly malty taste. Doppelbock is a stronger version, whilst eisbock is stronger still. Mildly hopped helles has a caramel-like malty sweetness from the unique style of malting adopted by Munich brewers (from where the style originates), a pale to golden colour, and a low bitterness. Look out for Löwenbräu, Oettinger, Bitburger Premium Beer, and Hofbrauhaus.
Germany is probably most famous for its wheat beers, or weissbier, first brewed in 16th century Bavaria. Hefeweizen is the most popular - a beer brewed with an unusual strain of yeast that gives it its distinctive cloudy appearance and banana and clove-like aroma and taste. Dunkelweizen beer literally translates to ‘dark wheat’, the main ingredient of which imparts a rich fruit flavour, almost like drinking banana bread. If you want your wheat beer taken to the next level, try a weizenbock, which is brewed to bock strength, intensifying the flavour and strengthening the alcohol content.
Germany has a centuries-old ale brewing tradition, begun long before the discovery of yeast gave rise to lagers. As well as wheat beers, popular varieties include kölsch and altbier. The former is unique in that only breweries within Cologne can legally call their beers kölsch. Fermented at cooler temperatures than most ales, kölsch has a delicate, lightly fruity flavour more akin to a lager than an ale. The hops add a hint of spice and a herbal touch and it is an easy drinking beer. For a lightly hoppy version, go for malzmühle mühlenkölsch or sion kölsch, or päffgen or gilden for more of a hoppy bite. Altbier, which hails from Düsseldorf, is similarly brewed to kölsch but employs an even cooler fermentation, giving it a richly nutty, bready, malt character alongside a spicy, floral hoppy bitterness.