Beers to Try When Visiting Germany
Thankfully, beer drinkers don’t have to learn German and travel all the way to Europe to enjoy a fine German beer. But if you’re a true enthusiast of German beers, that’s exactly what you’ll do anyway.
What makes German beer so special? For one thing, history. Germans have been brewing beer for centuries. Any beer that’s passed your lips in the United States has a lot to owe the venerated German brewing traditions. Further, many German brewers still make their beer according to the Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law) of 1516. The Reinheitsgebot states that beer may only be made with water, barley and hops, with no additional chemicals, additives, or artificial flavorings allowed. Even adding yeast, sugars, or malts will violate this “purity law,” proving that if nothing else, Germans are serious about their beer.
Here are some of the must-try brews to sample while in the country that made beer famous.
Pilsner stands out as one of the “youngest” beers out there. It got its start in the Czech Republic, when the city of Pilsen began brewing it in the 1840s. Pilsner is a pale lager with a light, clear color and a strong, distinct hop flavor. Pilsner goes great with all kinds of food, especially meat, making it a great companion for meals.
If you happen to be in Berlin during your trip to Germany, make sure you sample a local beer while you’re there. Berliner Weisse is a light, refreshing beer that sometimes comes served with flavored syrups, like raspberry or woodruff flavoring. This beer has a lower proportion of wheat compared to many other beers, which often gives it a sour flavor that may be unusual or even alien to foreign palates. While the sourness might not be to everybody’s taste, you owe it to yourself to try it.
Dunkel (German for “dark”) is, as you would expect, a dark beer with a heavy and smooth malt flavor. Dunkel comes in two sub-types: wheat beer, or dark lager. Dunkel beers have not generally been as popular Stateside, so a trip to Germany is a great time to sample what the locals have to offer — you may not be able to spot any in your local supermarket.
A hefeweizen is a common spring or summer beer, made with a larger-than-usual proportion of wheat. “Hefe” means “with yeast,” and it’s yeast which gives the hefeweizen its characteristic cloudy appearance. Hefeweizen actually represents a large family of wheat beers and sub-types, including lambic, kristalweizen, weizen-bock, and more. Hefeweizen often has clove or citrus highlights in the taste and smell, and hefeweizens are often less bitter and hoppy than their counterparts.
Brewed by Erdinger, German’s largest wheat beer brewery, Kristall is one of the most popular and well-known beers in Germany. Kristall is unique in its “crystal clear” color, which it gets from a special filtration process. Lack of color doesn’t mean lack of flavor, however — Kristall is a perfect summer beer, with a crisp flavor.
“Rauchbier” is German for “smoked beer,” so-named for the distinctive flavor derived from drying the malt barley over an open flame. Many modern beers are made from kiln-dried malt, which doesn’t impart any particular flavor, but Rauchbier banks on the smoky flavor that flame-drying gives to the beverage. The tradition of smoked beer once all but vanished from the brewing world, but a few German breweries continue the tradition. Rauchbier might be a little tricky to find, but you owe it to yourself to seek it out.
These are only a few of the incredible array of beers available in Germany. You could never hope to try them all while on vacation or even an extended stay, but that shouldn’t discourage you from trying.
Photo credit: Julie Corsi