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Key Nations - Germany

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Germany is world renowned for its beer culture. It is home to the most famous beer festival, Munich’s Oktoberfest, and boasts many distinctive beer styles. It is also famous for the quality and purity of its beer, thanks to the Reinheitsgebot—a set of laws set out in the 16th century to govern methods of production. The Reinheitsgebot remains a guiding principle of German beermaking today. Pilsner is the most popular beer style, and most breweries will brew a version of it.










Thurn & Taxis






Hofbräu München









The Best-known Beers in Germany

There are about 1,300 breweries in Germany today, mostly in the south. Bavaria alone has 700 breweries.

Internationally, the most famous German beer is Beck’s, which is owned by the global drinks giant Anheuser-Busch InBev. Another world-famous German brand is Holsten, which is a subsidiary of the Danish Carlsberg Group. Löwenbräu was the first German export beer to become famous after World War II; it is now part of Anheuser-Busch InBev. However, these international brands are not on the huge scale of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser in the US, nor are they the top-selling beers in Germany itself. In fact, they are relatively small in comparison with the biggest names on the German domestic market, such as Krombacher, Veltin’s, Warsteiner, and Bitburger. Most of the large German breweries produce pilsner as their main product. In terms of specialty beers, the German No.1 is Erdinger Weissbier (wheat beer), and Clausthaler is widely popular for low-alcohol beers. However, the majority of successful German breweries proudly keep themselves relatively very small, limiting their distribution to a regional market; indeed, many are home breweries that have become famous in association with a single village or even a single restaurant.

Becks (Pilsner 4.8% ABV)

Bitburger (Pilsner 4.8% ABV)

Clausthaler (Low Alcohol 0.45% ABV)

Erdinger (Wheat 5.3% ABV)

Holsten (Pilsner 4.8% ABV)

Krombacher (Pilsner 4.8% ABV)

Veltins (Pilsner 4.8% ABV)

Warsteiner (Pilsner 4.8% ABV)

All About … Malt

Beer is an agricultural product that begins its life in a field of golden, swaying grain—usually barley. After the harvest the grains are taken to a malt house, or maltings, where the commencement of the magical journey that ends in the glass takes place. In brewing lore, malt, or malted barley, was known as the “soul” of beer—a raw material that has an alchemical power to provide color and aroma, as well as the rich and distinctive array of flavors. There can be no beer without malt: it provides the sugars essential for yeast to feed on during fermentation, the by-products of which are carbon dioxide and alcohol.


Though it doesn’t tell the whole story, the color of a beer gives an indication of the malts that have been used. Black malt is used in the very darkest beers, such as stouts; amber ales will often contain Brown malt or Crystal malt; pilsner-style beers often use Caramalt for lightness and a sweet note.


The barley grown for brewing is either two- or six-row barley. Two-row is common in Europe, while American brewers have traditionally used six-row; this is partly due to cost, but also because it works well with rice or corn, common adjuncts in beers produced by the larger brewers.

Selecting the grain

There are several strains of barley. In the UK, as well as with some selective American brewers, Maris Otter is the chosen one, while others include Golden Promise and Optic. Just as beer divides into styles, barley has its variations too. In Britain and Belgium, winter-sown barley is used, because of its robust flavor, while German and Czech brewers prefer lighter and sweeter tasting spring-sown barley.


The first step of the malting process is to kick-start germination in the grains. This helps produce enzymes that break down the starch into the essential soluble malt sugars. This process involves steeping the grains in water and then laying them out to dry. The grains are turned over several times each day to ensure that the emerging rootlets don’t link up with each other. The skill of the maltster is to know when to stop the germination—after that it’s off to the kiln for drying.


Shorter kilning times produce lightly cured malts that give a golden sparkle to ale and lager. Pale malt usually forms the majority of the grain in the mash tun—this is because it has the highest levels of starch and the enzymes that convert starch into fermentable sugars. A longer rest in the kiln means darker malts and a deeper color, body, and flavor.


A visit to a brewery’s malt store will unlock the mysteries of this magical grain: expect sacks of Pale malt, Chocolate malt (so-called because it tastes like chocolate), Black malt, Rye malt, Lager malt, Brown malt, and Caramalt. You may also find roasted barley, which is unmalted and a vital constituent of Irish dry stout, such as Guinness or Murphy’s. Stewing malt in a way similar to making toffee produces Crystal malt, which adds body and a rich spiciness to beer.

Beer Styles - German Beer

Even though pilsner-style beers dominate the German market, the country has a good range of breweries that continue to produce distinctive, traditional types of beer. Altbier and kölsch are perhaps the most influential with brewers and beer enthusiasts elsewhere in the world, but the smoky rauchbier, sweet black schwarzbier, and subtle gose testify that there is much more to explore in the world of German beer.

In northern Germany, in the former industrial city of Dortmund, Dortmunder export is a style of lager drier and slightly stronger than the average pils or helles. This golden beer was popular with factory workers but, sadly, it is now becoming less easy to find.

Other hard-to-find variations on the lager theme include kellerbier, steinbier, spezial, roggen (rue beer), and zoigl, which is a communally brewed beer found in northeastern Bavaria. One of the rarest German beer styles is gose, a wheat beer flavoured with a little salt and coriander. It can only be found in Leipzig and the nearby town of Goslar, from whence the name of the beer originated.

Smoky beers

In Franconia, a neighbor of Bavaria, the beautiful and ancient town of Bamberg is the center for rauchbier, or smoke beer. Here, malt is kilned over beechwood fires to give the beer its smoky character. Despite their smokiness, these beers are very appealing, dry, and moreish, and go well with robust dishes and smoked foods.

Dark beers

German dark beers come in two varieties—schwarzbier (“black beer”) and dunkel (meaning “dark”). The former was a dying beer style until given a new lease of life in the old East German province of Thuringia. Expect a pitch-black and luscious beer, with mocha coffee, vanilla, and burnt toffee notes.

Bavarian dunkels

Bavarian dunkels are deep reddish-brown in color. One of the best examples of this style is Weltenburger Kloster’s Barock Dunkel—a firm, well-bodied beer, with chocolate and cocoa on the palate and nose.

Beer Styles - Lager

Lager beer is the drink that conquered the world. From the Baltic to the Bahamas, from Australia to Iceland, if you ask for a beer, you are most likely to be handed a German or Czech lager facsimile going under the name of pils, pilsner, pilsener, or just plain lager. However, if you went into a bierkeller in Germany and asked for a lager, you’d be met with a puzzled look. Lager in German means “to store” and the long conditioning time of German beers is called “lagering”—a process that was accidentally discovered by medieval Bavarian brewers after they began storing their beers in deep cold caves over the winter. The first golden lager—the type so familiar to us today—only emerged in 1842 from the town of Plzen .

Lager styles

In Germany and Central Europe, lagered beers come in a variety of styles: märzen, bock, dunkel (dark lagers), festbier or Oktoberbier, pilsner, helles, Budweis, schwarzbier, and Dortmunds. A true pilsner is a wonderful beer: crisp and fresh, with a rounded palate of soft, biscuity malt and a delicately hoppy, subtly bitter finish, though the north German Jever Pils has an uncommonly ferocious, bitter finish.


The fermentation process for lager differs from that of ale in that the yeast works in a much cooler temperature. It has always been called bottom-fermentation. However, as the yeast works its way throughout the whole of the fermenting liquid, it would be more correct to call it cold-fermentation.


Once the first fermentation is completed, lager beers are put into conditioning vessels, or lagering tanks, for several weeks—nearly 3 months in the case of Budvar’s Bohemian lager. This “long sleep” gives the lager a smooth, soft character.

Beer trail - Bamberg

Can there be a better place in the world to drink beer? This beautiful, baroque island city, on the banks of the River Regnitz and the Main-Donau Canal is in the Upper Franconia region of Bavaria. It is built on medieval foundations and is home to 70,000 people and 11 breweries. The city is a base for many US army personnel and their families—and they have helped, no doubt, to take the fame of this beer paradise around the world.Many of Bamberg’s beers have a smoky secret. To malt a cereal, the grain has to begin to germinate, converting complicated sugars into simpler ones, which then can be broken down even farther in the mash tun. But the process has to be stopped before it goes too far and the grain’s goodness is lost to the brewer. Heat is normally used to arrest germination, but, in Franconia, maltsters developed a smoky technique of stopping the grain’s growth. The germinating grain is heated over beechwood fires, which imparts marvelous wood fire, peaty aromas, and flavors to the finished beers.

1 Klosterbrau

Beer has been brewed at Klosterbrau since 1533. Down a cobbled street, time seems to slip away in this fairytale of a brewery tap. The range includes a schwarzbier, braunbier, weizen, pils, and a bock.

Oberre Muhlbruck 3, Bamberg

2 Old Town Hall

The river is never far away in Bamberg. The stroll to Brauerei Spezial’s passes the spectacular medieval stone-and-timbered Old Town Hall, which seems precariously balanced on the footings of an ancient bridge. Take a moment to admire it before heading on to the Brauerei Spezial’s.

3 The Brauerei Spezial’s

The Brauerei Spezial’s is very much a locals’ bar, decorated with laughter and conversations. Its Specizil Rauchbier has subtle, soft toffee flavors and even a hint of burnt straw. Spezial uses smoked malt in at least four of its other beers. By the bar is a serving hatch, where locals come to fill containers with beer for drinking at home.

Obere Königstrasse 10, Bamberg

4 Brauerei Fässla

Directly opposite Brauerei Spezial’s is Brauerei Fässla. Brewing started here in 1649. The brewery tap has a comfortable, wood-paneled, country-style room, and above it is a small hotel. The brewery’s logo—a dwarf rolling a barrel of beer—decorates the glasses and dark furniture. Fässla’s easy-drinking Lagerbier melds malty flavors with a fresh, soft bitterness.

Obere Königsstrasse 19–21, Bamberg

5 Schlenkerla

Vibrant and friendly, Schlenkerla is Bamberg’s best-known bar and restaurant. The warmth of its world-famous rauchbier, with its smoked whiskey and cheese overtones, is as warm as the welcome. Tables are often shared, and the atmosphere is highly convivial. Beer is the social lubricant and the perfect accompaniment to robust Bavarian dishes such as onions stuffed with beery meatballs.

Dominikanerstrasse 6, Bamberg

6 Ambräusianum

Opposite Schlenkerla is the Ambräusianum. Here, the brewing vessels can be seen, which makes it seem more like a modern brewpub than one of Bamberg’s traditional establishments, and it is a relative newcomer, being open only since 2004. Weekend breakfasts comprise a glass of wheat beer with three locally made Bavarian veal sausages and a pretzel.

Dominikanerstrasse 10, Bamberg

7 Weinstube Pizzini

The exterior of the Weinstube Pizzini is somewhat unprepossessing, and do not be deterred by its name—it is neither a wine bar nor a pizza restaurant. Inside this small, brown decorated and time-worn bar, there is a warm-hearted welcome and the opportunity to try Fässla and Spezial beers, as well as a dunkel from Andechser.

Ober Sandstrasse 17, Bamberg

Beer Styles - Kölsch

Although the appearance of a glass of golden kölsch might suggest the lager method of bottom- or cold-fermentation, the unique beer of Cologne (Köln) is a member of the ale family. It might have the hue of a pilsner, and spend a month in cold maturation (or lagering), but it is a beer made with top- or warm-fermenting yeast. This marks it out as a survivor from the time when Germany was home to all sorts of unusual beers, many of which would qualify as ales. It is also one of those rare beers with its own appellation: since 1985, no brewery outside the city of Cologne or a handful of nearby villages can call its beer a kölsch. It’s for this reason that American craft brewers, many of whom are keen supporters of the beers of Cologne, have to call their brews “kölsch-style”.

Naturally, the citizens of Cologne are extremely proud of their beer. Sample kölsch at its best in the atmospheric brewery taps of Früh (close to the cathedral) and Dom on the Alteburger Strasse.

Light and subtle

This is not a big bruiser of a beer: expect delicate fruit and malt flavors on the palate, with hints of berry fruit, followed by a subtle sweetness and a quick, clean finish. It’s a refreshing style of beer, easily drinkable, and normally around 5% ABV. It makes a wonderful aperitif or social drink, and is also ideal for serving at the dining table with light salads or delicate white fish.

Köbes of Köln

Just like its close rival alt, from the neighboring Rhineland city of Dusseldorf, kölsch is delivered by wandering bands of blue-apron-wearing waiters called köbes. The beer arrives in small, cylindrical glasses called stange; they are carried on round trays, with each glass sitting in its own hole.

Beer Styles - Altbier

“Alt” is the German word for old, and it’s an apt term for the altbiers of the Rhineland—not because they are aged (they’re drunk fresh) but because the “old” top-fermented style dates back to a period before lagered beers swept all before them. Düsseldorf is the home of altbier, although examples are also found in Hanover, Munster, Holland, and the US. A Düsseldorfer alt is clear copper-bronze in colour, with a bright white head. It’s a biscuity, gritty beer, closer to British bitter than to lager, but with its rough edges smoothed out by a period of cold maturation.

Diebels and Frankenheim are the big sellers, but a visit to the old town (Altstadt) of the beer’s native city reveals a quartet of small brewpubs considered by connoisseurs to be the beating heart of this venerable beer style: Schumacher, Schlüssel, Füchschen, and Uerige. Within these hallowed halls, waiters called köbes, in blue shirts and aprons, weave their way through the crowds, looking for empty glasses to be replenished. With tray in hand, topping up the thirsty (until asked to stop!), and posing for pictures, they take great pride in their profession and deserve their exalted place in the hierarchy of the pub.

Schumacher and Schlüssel

Just as with British bitter, there are subtle differences and nuances that distinguish one alt from another. Schumacher Altbier (4.6% ABV) is light amber in color, with a fruity, nutty palate. Schlüssel Altbier (5% ABV) is delicately fragrant on the nose, biscuity, and has a lingering dry finish.

Füchschen and Uerige

Füchschen Altbier (4.5% ABV) has a biscuity nose with hints of resiny hops in the background. Uerige Altbier (4.5% ABV) is richly malty on the nose, underpinned by the subtle resin of hops; it is fragrant and fruity, with a dry and bitter finish.

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