A quick and easy guide to German beer styles

A quick and easy guide to German beer styles

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

New to Germany? Welcome to beer paradise! With so many domestic beers on offer, it's little wonder if your first foray into a "Getränkemarkt" (a large store that sells a mix of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages) feels slightly overwhelming. With so many styles and brands, how does one know where to begin?

Fortunately, brew fans from far and wide are eager to share their insights and expertise, and a plethora of online forums make it easy for them to share tasting notes and recommendations. When exploring the world of German beer, it can be fun to compare the comments of the websites frequented by Americans to those more commonly used by their German-speaking counterparts.

By combining the herd knowledge displayed across several of these aforementioned beer rating forums, we hereby present you with this starter list of seven styles, one for every day of the week, along with some specific brands you may wish to sample sometime soon.

Pilsner: This beer style birthed in the Czech Republic is the most widely consumed beer not only in Germany but the entire world. Also known as a Pils, this lager beer is typically pale in color, clear, hoppy and shows notes of bitter.

Try: Consumer spending habits place Becks, Krombacher, Oettinger and Warsteiner brands at the top of the heap; beer drinkers who frequent the Untappd app and website place the Brauherren Unfiltered Edition of its Pils, made by the Einbecker Brauhaus in the town of Einbeck in Lower Saxony, at top spot.

Kölsch: Crisp, delicate, hoppy, slightly fruity and relatively low in alcohol, Kölsch is considered a beer hybrid in that it is a pale ale produced in the same way lager beers are made. A true Kölsch must be produced within 31 miles of its namesake city Cologne, although the style is loved well beyond city limits. In its native town, it’s served in tall, thin glasses that hold only 0.2 liters in order to keep loss of carbonation to a minimum.

Try: The most highly rated Kölsch beer on the bierbasis.de website is Päffgen, a family brewery that has occupied its same Cologne location since 1883. Germany’s best-selling brands of Kölsch include Reissdorf, Gaffel and Früh.

Zwickel: Also referred to as a Keller (cellar) beer, this lager beer is low in carbonation and is easily recognizable due to its cloudy appearance. Because it is an unfiltered beer with yeast and sediments from the brewing process remaining in place, it’s considered healthier than other beers.

Try: Best sellers of this type include Aktien Zwick’l, Alt-Bamberg Zwickl, Aufsesser Zwickl. At the 2020 edition of the Londoner World Beer Awards, Kurpfalzbräu Kellerbier was recognized as first in its class.

Hefeweizen: Another unfiltered beer, this Bavarian specialty is made with wheat and yeast, neither of which fell within Germany’s famous Purity Law, which dictated beer could only contain water, barley and hops. The style flourished regardless. The beer has flavor notes reminiscent of banana and cloves.

Try: Beer Advocate app and website users agree on one thing: All the beers in this category brewed by Weihenstephan are some of the country’s tastiest.

Dunkel: The German word for dark refers to the color of this beer, brown, copper or reddish amber, which comes about from the type of yeast used to make it. Their malty flavor comes from a special brewing technique in which a portion of the grains are boiled and returned to the mash. Other flavors present in a Dunkel are oftentimes described as coffee, toffee or chocolate.

Try: Beer Advocate site visitors place Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel Ayinger Privatbrauerei amongst their favorites.

Helles: This style created back in 1842 as a response to the Czech Pilsner is particularly popular in southern Germany. While similar in style to the brew that inspired it, the Helles will often exhibit a subtle malt sweetness and less bitterness from its hops.

Try: Beer Advocate users award Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier the highest of accolades.

Doppelbock: The beer first brewed by monks to get them through the Lenten fasting period is known as liquid bread, as it was dense, calorie-rich and quelled a hungry tummy. Although both pale and dark versions exist, the darker examples are the more common.

Try: Users of the ratebeer.com website place the Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock at the very top of all German beer brands. It’s lauded for its caramel and smoked malt aroma, molasses and treacle notes and a sweetness that’s pleasant but not overwhelming.

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