Beer or Bier, by any other name would it taste the same? This
page tries to explain a little about the mystique of beer in Germany. You can learn
about the beer types and see a discussion about top and bottom fermentation. Additionally,
we have included a discussion about the German beer law called "Reinheitsgebot"
and some of the issues surrounding the trend to consolidate the brewing industry.
No discussion of Germany would be complete without touching on the one drink
for which this country is famous. OK, sure Germany produces wine too but its beer
is more respected, at least by Americans. You can read a lot about their wine on
the German Wine page.
Beer consumption per capita has dropped slightly in recent years. This is perhaps
a function of more disposable income in the working class ranks and they are buying
wine instead of beer. Or, it could be that the 3 million or so immigrants who have
come to live there are not buying the local brews like the natives.
But nothing has dampened the country’s thirst. Germans consume almost 224 pints
of beer per man woman and child. When you take into consideration that babies drink
milk and the very old drink the German equivalent to Geritol. That leaves the German
Beer drinker (by my estimate, 60% of the population) to drink over 30 gallons of beer
a year. Men probably drink twice as much as women but in general they seem to be up to the task. We try to help where we can – it’s the least
we can do as guests in Germany. The quality of the beer is great. This is less due
to the laws governing the production of beer in Germany, Reinheitsgebot,
as the pride and skill of the German brew masters. Germany is second to the
Czech Republic in beer consumption per capita. Also, half of the beer
consumption in Germany is Pils style beer, see
below. This paraphrased data is as of 2014, per April, 2016 of dbmobil.de.
The taste of the different beers varies widely and no German of drinking age
is without his or her preferences. Most can write dissertations comparing and contrasting
the different regional offerings. Wherever you are, try the local brew. Try the
two most common styles; Pils and export. Then try wheat beer, Weizenbier,
made with wheat instead of barley malt. Learn the difference between hell,
There are many others types including smoked beer, geräuchertes, and
a sweet beer, Berliner Weisse. There is also Bock and many more.
In all there are 30 different types of beer to choose from. Watch out though, in
Germany, the beer can be slightly more alcoholic than in the USA. German beers vary
between 3.5% and 6% while most American beers top out at 4%.
Perhaps you would like refreshment without the headache? Try an Alster
(or is it Alsterwasser?). These are beers mixed 50/50 with lemonade or
7-up. You could order a Diesel too. If you do so in a restaurant, you'll get
50% beer and 50% coke. If you do so in a gas station, ... well, it just will not
taste the same, you know.
Since 1999, German beer production is down almost 6%. German consumption of German
beer is down over 8% and the Per capita is down over 9%. But German consumption
of beer from other countries is up over 2%. And, their exports of German beer are
up almost 45%. The brewing companies are now only 1,274 down from about 19,000 in
the late 19th Century. The total production was 106.19 hl or 2.8 million US gallons.
(Source: Deutscher Brauer-Bund; Stand: 28.07.2005). Sadly these statistics are from
2004. I have asked three times for updates but I am ignored. Ahh, the tyranny of
By the way, the statistics were provided by Holsten-Brauerei AG, and are for
1999. Perhaps consumption is up this year even more. Their web site is
www.bier.de -- what else? Don’t leave Germany without
sampling the wine either.
Types of German Beer: This is not an exhaustive list because there are currently
(2010) more than 30 different types of beer in Germany. So I want to focus on the
few larger, better known types. They are Pils, Weizenbier, Altbier, Kölsch,
Schwarzbier, Märzen, and Berliner Weisse. Additionally, I will discuss
another concept sometimes referred to as beer cocktails.
is my personal favorite, or was until I stopped with alcohol in 2013. I know some of the beer aficionados who read this page
will say, "But you have not tried ale, or smoked beer." I have tried probably
20 of the 30 or so types of beer. I keep coming back to simple Pills style
as my preference. The photograph on the right is by a reader in Seattle and is Härke
Pils. It is made in Peine. That reader tells me that this is one of his five favorite German
beers. Germans drink twice as much Pils beer as all other types of beer
The name "Pils" has a little history. It is a derivation of
the name of a city in the Czech Republic,
Plze. When that country
was called Bohemia, the city was called Pilsen. All beer of any type from that city
is called "Pilsner." The shortened term Pils has been
in use so long that my brother-in-law was surprised to learn it came from Pilsen.
Pils beers account for two thirds of all beer consumed in Germany. All
Pils beers are bottom fermented beers. More on top and bottom fermentation
The story goes that the good citizens of Pilsen (Pilzn or Plzeň
- you choose) wanted a better beer after the beer they brewed in 1838
had to be poured onto the street because it had become undrinkable. That beer was
a top fermented ale type of beer that did not age well. So to get a better beer,
they hired Josef Groll, a famous Bavarian brew master from Vilshofen on the Danube
in Baveria to move to Pilsen and improve their beer. He did. By combining the
lightly roasted malt that Pilsen citizens had perfected with the local hops and
local soft water, he used bottom fermenting yeast from Bavaria to make a better
beer. Using the bottom fermenting yeast the beer would
store longer in the cool caves in the vicinity. While nearly all the beer produced
in Europe at that time were ale style beers that used top fermentation. Josef already
knew a lot about lagering (storing) beer. Bavarians had been brewing lager
ales for decades. The beer Josef made came to be called Pilsner Urquell and has
since become world famous. What does the word Urquell mean? In German,
a spring where water bubbles up from the ground is a "Quell."
And something that is very old is prefixed with an "Ur." The
two terms smashed together make Urquell; a very old spring. Get it? Germans
do that kind of word smashing a lot.
Groll released the first batch of Pilsner Urquell on a holiday called Martinstag
in 1842. The citizens loved the taste. They sold their excess to surrounding communities
and the business prospered. Soon, other breweries were copying the brewing method
and producing their own Pils style beers. The practice spread and many
of the beers, even the nasty ones in America like Miller Lite and Bud Lite, are of the
pils type (bottom
Pils is marked by a foamy head, a clear yellow color, and a slight taste
of hops. It is normally served at about 8ºC or 46ºF, which is a little cooler than
Some purists say that it takes 7 minutes to pour a good Pils beer, but
the Germany Beer Institute
debates that and says that if poured in 3 minutes, it maintains its freshness, carbonations
and will not lose any taste for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink fast brothers and sisters.
The beer industry and your local pub depend on you.
Where are the best Pils style beers produced? I think the answer is
in the northern German city of Jever. But that is just me. In northern Germany,
where the small town of Jever is located, the locals preferred a hoppier, or bitterer,
beer and many northern German Pils beers are much hoppier than Bavarian
style Pils. Some in my extended family think the best beer is produced
in Bavaria where they have little if any herby taste.
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or wheat beer in English came originally from Bavaria. Like Pils style
beers, that type of beer is produced all over the world today. One popular producer
in Germany is Schöffenhoffer who bottles the beer in Frankfurt am Main.
Weizenbiere are cloudy yellow in color. Made from wheat instead of barley
malt, they have a distinctive effervescent taste admired by many beer drinkers.
When pored correctly, they produce a large foamy head. They are typically served
cooler than Pils style beers so think 6 or 7ºC which translates to 43ºF
Alt beers are similar to ales,
so they are bottom fermented. As the name implies, they are the old type of beer.
This is my second favorite type and they resemble the ales from the micro-breweries
in America. Amber in color and clear in appearance, they should be served warmer
than the other beers. They can be severed at room temperature but they are better
served at cellar temperature or about 13ºC and 55ºF.
Kölsch came originally from
Köln or Cologne in English. This is a clear yellow beer in appearance but with more
hop flavor. In truth, I have yet to experience this beer so I am at a loss as to
what to say about it. Maybe one of you readers can help me.
This is a dark beer and there is
quite a variety of tastes. Schwarz means black. It is not bitter and can be on the
sweet side. It is the perfect accompaniment for red meat and especially game meat.
But then I have had wonderful experience with Schwarzbier and a bratwurst.
The name comes from the month of March.
In March, brew masters make stronger (higher alcohol content) beers so they will
store longer. This is a winter beer from Bavaria, but it can be served through September.
Märzen has a clear light amber appearance that develops a good foamy head.
It taste more of barley malt than of hops. Drink it as cold as Pils, about
8ºC or 46ºF.
Obviously an invention of the
folk in Berlin. It is a light beer, which means lower in alcohol, primarily because
of the added syrup. Classically, the syrup added is either green (wintergreen) or
red (raspberry). When you order it, you should specify the color or the flavor;
Waldmeister = wintergreen or woodruff, and Hinbeer = raspberry.
This beer is sweet, colorful and fun. It is refreshing on a hot day. Without the
syrup, Berliner Weisse is sour or acidic. That taste comes from the distinctive
yeast used in the brewing and the wheat used. The type of glass used to serve beers
is important; in the case of Berliner Weisse, the glass is a short, stubby stemmed
glass about the size of a small cereal bowl. You will see people drinking this beer
not only in Berlin but also in sidewalk cafes all over Germany.
This is not a type of beer; a
beer cocktail is a drink based upon beer. In some ways Berliner Weiβe is
in this group but the mixture is closer to an 80/20 mix of beer and syrup. A beer
cocktail is a 50/50 mixture of beer with juice, water, soft drink, or syrup.
Since beer cocktails are made at the bar when you order it, the 50//50 mixture
can become 25/75 or the other way around. Mixing these drinks as they are ordered
reduces necessary to stock different drinks. You could say it is sort of a "Just
in Time" approach to the drink inventory problem. Beer cocktails go by several
different names. A Radler is a mixture of lemonade or 7-Up type of soda
drink with beer. (A cyclists is sometimes called a Radler in German.) The
same drink in northern Germany is referred to as an Alster or an Alsterwasser.
A Diesel which is a mix of cola and beer. A variation of the British Shandy is orange
pop and beer. In stores, these beer cocktails are sold side by side on the shelves,
apart from the real beers even though they are made in the same breweries. The grouping
also includes energy drinks that may not have any alcohol but loaded with caffeine
and other chemicals that cause a buzz.
Many breweries have entered this market as a sideline and sales are skyrocketing.
Perhaps this is a move toward a more sober and health Germany. In my humble opinion,
such drinks are sacrilegious to the beer culture. Although, on a hot day, they are
refreshing and I will admit to partaking in the heresy once in a while.
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The above list could be extended
to include other frequently found types such as Export, Hell, Bock, Diet, and
Malz. Additionally, there are a wide variety of seasonal beers, of which
Märzen is one. One does not know where to stop but I stopped here.
The two fermentation
styles are top and bottom. Why is this important to the topic of German beer? A
good question. In 2010, we toured the Hütt Brauerei, a brewery near Kassel,
Germany. I asked the tour guide if a particular beer was a top fermented style or
a bottom fermented style. He had been well trained in this company's beer styles
and brewing methods. He could quote temperatures and durations of each step in the
process. However, he did not know top from bottom fermentation and he had never
heard of the question before. So, one can conclude that to this German person, the question of fermentation
style is not important at all, only the taste is important. When you think about
it, he is probably right.
Nevertheless, I think it is important. The style of fermentation speaks to the taste, the
length of time a beer can be stored or Largered, and perhaps to the alcohol
content as well. Sure, it is a bit technical but to some, it
is interesting too.
Both top and bottom fermenting yeasts are fully suspended in the wort (wort is
an English word and is similar to "must" in wine making; it is the liquid
blend of ingredients and water that yeast will eventually turn into beer - mostly,
with a little waste). Yeasts are tiny biomasses that make their short livelihood
busily converting sugars into alcohol. And at the end of their process, they both
settle to the bottom of the fermenter (fermenting tank). However, the foam created
by dead yeast and carbon dioxide floats to the top in the top fermenting type and
appears as if it is doing its work from the top. Science has proven that appearances
are frequently deceiving.
The two different yeasts are most active at different temperatures and typically
impact the storability of the beer differently.
While most ales are top fermented, it is not true of all ales. Some beers are
hybrids using a yeasts that act like both varieties. Also, nearly all lagers
including Pils style lagers are
bottom fermented but again, not 100%. The secret of what yeast does what is why
brew masters spend years learning their trade and why the best of the lot are highly
In the old days, the yeast a brewer used occurred naturally, floating in the
air or one of the micro-organisms on the grains or fruit used. Today there are several
types of special brewer's yeast. As mentioned under the Pils heading,
a bottom fermenting yeast only came into wide use in the 19th Century.
was first established on April 23, 1516; just over 500 years ago. The word
itself means "Purity Law." Ron Pattinson's
dissertation on the subject of Reinheitsgebot can be found at
is interesting. His discussion on German beer can be found at
and he is liberally paraphrased in my discussion on Reinheitsgebot and
industry issues below. Ron's website is one of the most in-depth sources for
European beer information I have found.
The Reinheitsgebot is the law governing beer making in Germany. It is
not in force elsewhere in Europe, only Germany but some in Germany have proposed
it be an EU standard. There is much resistance to that change. At least until the
Reinheitsbegot is brought up to today's standards of beer making.
In fact, there is resistance today to even changing the law although it has been
slightly altered since 1516. The resistance comes not from logic but from the
concept of "brand." Many German beer makers want to preserve the brand even at
the expense of reality. The law is seldom strictly enforced and at times, mostly
during wars, was not even enforced at all. Germans in general are very proud of their Reinheitsgebot.
or purity law. However, there are so many exceptions allowed that
the end result isn't pure nor consistent. One example is the manufacture and
use of hops extract instead of real hops. You can find an English translation of
the law on Ron's website referenced above.
The law originally only applied to the state of Bavaria (which at
the time included a large chunk of present day Austria). Around 1900 when the unified
country of Germany was new, the large and more populace state of Bavaria was instrumental
in getting a version of the law enacted for all of Germany. Why? Because the Bavarian
breweries were facing tough competition from breweries in northern Germany that
did not have to toe the line like the breweries in Bavaria. It was thought that
the new law leveled the playing field in the same way that anti-trust laws did in
This new level playing field was also a hindrance to creativity and meeting local
market demand. Brewers who previously had produced widely accepted beers were forced
to drop all those products that did not meet the ridged requirement of the law.
Except in the eastern provinces of Germany like Berlin and Brandenburg. In those
area, brew masters happily continued making the beer their customers wanted because
the Reinheitsgebot was only enforced where there was no war happening.
So, from 1900 to 1914 (WW I) they were under the law but it was not enforced again
until 1930. Along came WWII, and from 1938 to 1949 or so, they were again free to
make popular beers. See Berliner Weisse, above.
There was a great deal of publicity, or if you prefer propaganda about how wonderful
the law was and why you should buy only beer made under compliance with the law.
This propaganda was largely promulgated by those who complied with the law, or mostly
Other famous beer producing countries with excellent reputations for their beers
do not even try to comply with Rheinheitsgebot. I refer to countries like
the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, and England. Not to say that wonderful beers
cannot come from almost any country in the world; they do. I am just saying that
those four countries have reputations to be envied. Note, the United States is not
among that list, but some of the American micro-breweries do produce great beer.
(I would say "craft beer" here but that term is currently the subject of debate.
Can a large brewery organization like AB InBev make a craft beer? Many say that
is a terminological impossibility. I agree.)
For the best history of Pilsner beer I can find, see the article by Peter A.
Ensminger in the Brewing Techniques Magazine entitled The History and Methods of
Brewing Pilsner Urquell.
One last note from yours truly. As I correct this page in 2016 because of a comment
from a Seattle reader, I am drinking an "Alkoholfrei Bier" from
Einbecher, a brewery on the Leine River in Germany. I decided to give up drinking
alcohol in 2013 because I wanted to have a longer life and have enough
liver left to bicycle the Radwege (cycle paths) in Germany when I am 85
years old, 17 years from now. I still love beer, I just don't drink the kind
that has much alcohol any more. So, here's to your health; zum Wohl! or Prost!
as they say in Germany.
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