Beer to Germans is like rice to Asians – it’s a dietary staple. Germans are third in the world in per capita beer consumption, slightly behind the Czechs and the Irish.
From 1516 to 1988, German beer was brewed in adherence with the Reinheitsgebot, or “German Beer Purity Law”. The law stated that the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. Beers not exclusively made with barley-malts, such as wheat beer, had to be top-fermented. Since 1993, the production of beer has been governed by the Provisional German Beer Law which allows a greater range of ingredients and additives.
Weißbier, or Weissbier (“white beer”), also known as Weizenbier (“wheat beer”), is a Bavarian specialty beer in which a significant proportion of malted barley is replaced with malted wheat. By German law, Weissbiers brewed in Germany must be top-fermented.Specialized strains of yeast are used which produce overtones of banana and clove as by-products of fermentation.
Weissbier is so called because it was, at the time of its inception, paler in color than Munich brown beer. It is well-known throughout Germany, though better known as Weizen (literally, “wheat”) outside Bavaria.
Kölsch is a local beer specialty brewed in Cologne, Germany. It is a clear beer with a bright straw-yellow hue, and it has a prominent, but not extreme, hoppiness. It is less bitter than the standard German pale lager. Kölsch is strictly defined by the Kölsch Konvention, an agreement between the members of the Cologne Brewery Association. The beer is pale, hoppy, clear, top-fermenting beer with an original gravity of between 11 and 16 degrees
Kölsch stands in direct competition to Altbier, which is generally produced in Düsseldorf. The difference between the Altbier and Kölsch is slight, with Altbier being fermented at slightly higher temperatures than Kölsch and using dark malt, harder water and far more bittering hops, resulting in a nuttier, firmer and drier taste. The rivalry between Cologne and Düsseldorf was bitter in the past, and is often expressed by the preference of either Altbier or Kölsch . Ordering the wrong kind of beer in the wrong city has resulted in abuse and even violence in the past, but today usually all that will happen is a couple of jokes about being an immigrant or foreigner. There is a deal between the breweries that no Kölsch will be sold with any of the extra titles that are popularly used with other German beers, like “Premium”, “Special”, “Extra High Quality”. Kölsch waiters (Köbes) in traditional pubs are encouraged to speak the local dialect of “Kölsch” as well as to use rough, unrefined language, including crude jokes with customers (I experienced this in the Fruh brewery / restaurant in Cologne).Köbes in traditionally styled pubs will continue to exchange empty Kölsch glasses with new ones until customers leave their glass half full or place the beermat upon the glass to signal that they no longer wish to be served.
Hell is the German adjective for “light,” and Helles is a noun used to describe “a light one.” The light designation does not refer to the beer’s caloric or alcoholic strength, which is a substantial 4.7 to 5.4 percent by volume, but instead to its colour.
Pilsener (also known as Pils) is a pale lager with a light body and prominent hop character. This style accounts for nearly 2/3rds of the German beer market. It takes its name from the city of Pilsen, Bohemia, which is in the Czech Republic, where it has been developed since 1842, when a bottom-fermented beer was first produced. Until the mid-1840s, most Bohemian beers were top-fermented. The taste and standards of quality often varied widely, and in 1838, consumers dumped whole barrels to show their dissatisfaction. The officials of Pilsen founded a city-owned brewery in 1839, called Bürger Brauerei (Citizens’ Brewery – now Plzeňský Prazdroj), brewing beer using the Bavarian style.Bavarian brewers began experiments with the storage of beer in cool caves using bottom-fermenting yeasts, which improved the beer’s clarity and shelf-life. A modern pilsner has a very light, clear colour from pale to golden yellow, and a distinct hop aroma and flavour. Czech pilsners tend to have a lighter flavour, while German ones can be more bitter or earthy in flavour.
Altbier means old beer, and it refers to the pre-lager brewing method of using a warm top-fermenting yeast. Over time, Alt yeast adjusted to lower temperatures, and the Alt brewers would store or lager the beer after fermentation leading to a cleaner, crisper beer than is the norm for some other top-fermented beers. The Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law) of 1516 did not affect brewers of the Rhineland so the brewing traditions in the area developed differently. For example, brewing during the summer was illegal in Bavaria, but the cooler climate of the Rhineland allowed Alt brewers to brew year long and to experiment with storing fermented beer in cool caves and cellars. Alt is a dark, lagered, top-fermented beer that has some of the lean dryness of a lager but with fruity notes. Altbier is usually brewed in the Dusseldorf area – see the Kölsch post about the rivalry between Cologne & Dusseldorf over their beer preferences.
Märzen has its origins in Bavaria, probably before the 16th century. A Bavarian brewing ordinance decreed in 1539 that beer may be brewed only between 29 September and 23 April due to the increased danger of fire during the warm and dry summer months. Historically, the beer was kept in the cellar until late in the summer, and remaining bottles were served at the Oktoberfest, making Märzen a popular Oktoberfest beer in modern times. In order to last so long, either the original gravity and alcohol were increased or the hopping was strengthened.The style is characterized by a medium to full body, a malty flavour and a clean dry finish. In Germany, Märzen covers beers which vary in colour from pale (Helles Märzen), through amber to dark brown (Dunkles Märzen). Other names commonly used for Märzen include Märzenbier, Wiener Märzen, Festbier, and Oktoberfestbier.
I have not tried many German Dark beers, but varieties such as Schwarzbier, Dunkles, Dunkler Bock and Rauchbier are available, though not as commonly as the Wheat Beers and Pale Beers discussed above.
Keller Bier – 5.3% ABV – This beer is a deep orange / copper colour, with a slightly hazy body. The aroma is malty and nutty, with herbal hoppy notes. The flavour is quite bready, with a nutty malt and earthy hop flavour. There is a slight bitterness and a dry finish, but this is a very tasty Kellerbier that I would certainly buy again.
Altbier – 4.8% ABV – The beer is a clear dark amber with light red highlights. It smells of malt, roast, and a bit of metal. Flavor is quite mild with malt, roast, and dark bread, but I did taste a bit of metal on the finish. This is a pretty good Alt, and could be a session beer, but due to the metal smell and taste often found in alts, it probably wouldn’t be my first choice.
Kolsch – 4.8% ABV – This Kolsch is bright gold and perfectly transparent, making it look delicious for a summer day. The beer has a fresh aroma, with hops (lemon, wet grass), and with a hint of tart grape. The beer tastes of light malt, with a bit of grain and biscuit. There are some fruity and hoppy notes, but these are very light. There is also very little bitterness. One of my favourite examples of Kolsch and my beer of choice at Carnival! I also enjoyed their restaurant / brewery in Cologne, where I had the most delicious example of Fruh.
Pils – 4.8% ABV – I’m not a huge Pils guy, but did enjoy this one. The smell is clean with some herbal hops mixed in – I tend to dislike the skunky aroma of pils, but I could detect very little with this beer. The taste is of flavourful hops, but it is well balanced with a malty sweetness. Though I’m not a big Pils guy, I would reach for this one again.
Dunkel Lager – 4.8% ABV – This beer is brown with at thin head. It smells of cloves, gingerbread, and perhaps a hint of coffee and caramel. The taste is quite good, with flavours of chocolate, caramel, and espresso. This is not a session beer, but a good taster on a fall evening, especially from their stubby bottles.
Hefeweizen – 5% ABV – The beer is a burnt orange or copper color, with a slight cloud to it. The aroma is quite light, with a scent of bananas, citrus, and honey. I love the taste of this beer. It’s smooth, and light, with a banana taste throughout and a nice creamy finish that leaves your taste buds ready for more. My #2 German beer, I could drink it as a session beer, or as a treat out on the patio.
Pilsner – 4.9% ABV – I’ve read great reviews about this beer, but to me it was as skunky and flavourful as a Heineken. I’ll have to try it again another time, but given my preference for Kolsch and Weißbier over Pils, that may not happen any time soon.
Hefeweizen – 5.4% ABV – This was a pretty good Hefeweizen, but still not as good as Paulaner or Franziskaner in my opinion. The beer smelled of wheat malt, bread, applesauce, and a light yeastiness. The malt was quite dominant in both smell and taste, with the taste also presenting light banana, lemon and clove flavours. I found this beer more malty than other Hefeweisens, and therefore a little heavier. It still had that great creamy smoothness of most Hefeweisens, but I’d still reach for a Franzikaner or Paulaner before buying another Kapuziner.
Dunkel Lager – 5.1% ABV – This beer is a typical dark wheat beer, but is smoother and tastier than others I’ve tried. It tastes of caramel, and molasses. This is certainly not a session beer, but one of my favourite Dunkels.
Kellerbier – 5.4% ABV – This beer had a light grainy sweetness with notes of pears and cherries on the nose, and a bread /grain flavour accompanied by light fruit and yeast. This is a rich, tasty, kellerbier!.
Hefeweizen – 5.4% ABV – A decent example of a Hefeweizen, the aroma is pleasantly of wheat malt, along with banana, yeast, and light vanilla, orange peel, and clove scents. The taste opens with sweetish wheat malt, and then gives way to malt and banana esters. On some sips, I could also detect the taste of cloves, bubblegum, and mild hops. The aftertaste is of sweet bananas and yeast, which I enjoy, but not to the same extent as the Paulaner reviewed below.
Hefeweizen – 5.5% ABV – First off, I love this beer. It’s widely available, and freakin’ delicious. Perhaps I’m a bit slanted because I loved the Paulaner tent in Oktoberfest so much, but I think anyone would recognize this as a great brew. The beer is a nice cloudy amber color and smells of wheat and lemon. The taste is smooth and fruity, with hints of banana and clove, along with a solid malt backbone. I find this beer incredibly smooth, even though it is moderately carbonated. I could drink this as a session beer, or as a nice treat on a hot summer’s day. My #1 German Beer!
Dunkelweizen – 5.30% ABV – Though not as amazing as the Paulaner Hefeweizen reviewed above, this is also a tasty brew. It has a nice medium brown color with a cream coloured head. The beer smells of ripe sweet fruit and yeasty bread. It tastes of dark bread and banana, with hints of citrus, earth and herbs. The taste is sweet and light, but because of the bread flavour comes across as a heavier beer. Not a session beer in my mind, but a nice brew to enjoy in hot or cold weather.
Hefeweizen – 5.4% ABV – This beer smells of wheat and banana, and tastes of sweet wheat malt with a fruity yeast character and a dry finish. There are also taste notes of banana, cloves, bubblegum, and spice. Mouthfeel is thick and smooth, but seems a little flat. This is a good beer, but given all of the amazing Hefeweizens availabl in Germany, this would not be my first choice.
Hefeweizen – 5% ABV – This beer has the aroma of wheat, banana, light fruit and clove, which seems typical for Hefeweizens. The taste is of wheat with light malt, and citrus flavours. The finish is a bit dry compared to other Hefeweizens I tried, with light citrus, hops and clove. The wheat dominated a bit for me so this wouldn’t be one of my favourites; I like the fruitier Hefeweizens.
Hefeweizen – 5.4% ABV – This is the #1 rated German Beer on BeerAdvocate.com, and the Weihenstephan Brewery can trace its roots at the abbey to the year 768, making it potentially the oldest working brewery in the world. The beer pours a cloudy gold color with fluffy off-white head that lingers and laces extremely well. The aroma is consistent of other hefeweizens, with clove, banana, and great floral aroma. The flavour of the beer is of bread and wheat, but with a subtle hint of all the flavours from the nose. I certainly think this is an amazing hefeweizen, but still prefer Paulaner and Franziskaner myself. If you want less of the banana and clove flavour than offered in those brands, perhaps this is the beer for you!