Making German beer

Making German beer

by Heather Ann Cosimo
Stripes Europe

German beer has a heady reputation for high quality and standards. The myths and legends surrounding German beer live up to the hype. It is a vital part of German culture and to experience a fine homemade brew is pure enjoyment for the taste buds. You may love the beverage, but do you know how it is made?  Whether your drinking style is simply savoring or assertively chugging, it is valuable to know what you are drinking.  

The types and flavors may vary, but the way it is made is consistent. What makes German beer special is the beer “purity law,” called the Reinheitsgebot. Dating back to 1516, there were only three ingredients allowed in German beers: malt, hops and water. Turns out brewers back then used yeast unknowingly. There were no microscopes to prove that the yeast was actually there which is why the original Reinheitsgebot doesn’t include yeast. Upon the discovery of yeast, German brewers were permitted to make it the fourth legal ingredient. Today, the ingredients of pure beer are: malt, hops, water and yeast.  

The brewing process starts with the mashing and cooking of the grains at approximately 145 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. This converts the barley into sugar. Next comes rinsing the grains of barley sugar in 170 degree water; the extract is called wort. The wort is boiled and hops are added. Although there is currently a shortage of hops in the United States, German brewers are secured by maintaining contracted suppliers. The fermentation process is when the wort is cooled and yeast is added. The length of time varies and depends on the type of beer. Without yeast there is no fermentation and without fermentation there is no alcohol or flavor.

The differences between Ale and Lager beers are the strains of yeast used in the fermenting process. Fermentation is the heart of the brewing process. During fermentation, wort created from raw materials is converted to beer by yeast. Fermentation is usually divided into three stages: primary, secondary and conditioning (or lagering). Fermentation is when yeast produces all of the alcohol and aroma and flavor compounds found in beer. Manipulation of temperature, oxygen levels and pitch rate, as well as yeast strain selection, will all dramatically affect the production of aroma and flavor compounds produced during fermentation.

Wheat beers are considered Ales and are top-fermenting beers, taking around 1.5 weeks for the fermenting process. The bottom-fermenting beers are known as Lagers, such as pilsners, exports and premium beers. The fermenting process here is around 2.5 weeks long. Following the fermenting stage, comes the filtering. German beer is filtered so that there is no yeast in the bottle. 

With approximately 1,300 breweries in Germany, beer is a popular beverage of choice. Sampling the local brews is an essential part in getting acquainted with an area. If interested in a tour or tasting in your area, check out the multitude of German breweries at or Beer Me.

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