An Introducton To German Beer

Beer (glorious beer!) is a major part of German culture, second only to the Czech Republic in terms of per-capita beer consumption, but where to start?
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Beer (glorious beer!) is a major part of German culture, second only to the Czech Republic in terms of per-capita beer consumption, but where to start?

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Understandably, the Germans take their brewing seriously and, over the years, have built some tight regulations governing the production of beer. The Reinheitsgebot or the ‘German Beer Purity Law’ originates as far back as the 16th century; it states that the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley, hops, yeast and, for the top fermenting beers, sugar too.

Although this law was officially revoked in 1987 (by which time it was the oldest food-quality regulation in the world), standards remain extremely high and are aligned to a strong sense of national pride. In total, there are around 1,300 breweries in Germany producing over 5,000 brands of wheat, pale, dark and unfiltered beer. With so many on offer, how then do you navigate through the maze to find the good stuff?

Perhaps the best place to start is by heading to the Bavaria region, where almost half of all breweries are located, and booking yourself tickets to Oktoberfest. This world famous festival is highly recommended and certainly won’t disappoint but there is also much more to explore in each major city. If it’s your first time in Germany and you’re heading there with a group of lads then it’s well worth looking at booking with an activity weekend provider like Maximise who can sort your accommodation, activities and nightlife options leaving you to focus on the most important elements i.e. beer. Here are some initial suggestions…

Berlin

Famous for its Berliner Weisse local brew, Germany’s capital city boasts a plethora of beer experiences. The Beer Bike Tour involves fifteen blokes on a bike, music blasting from the sound system, complete with 360° bar, tour guide and beer on tap. Just a couple of minutes from Jannowitzbrücke station, the bike tour is available at any time of day, but they won’t let you on unless you’re sober, so starting early and progressing to the bars later on might be a good plan.

Das Haus der 100 Biere is a bar that lives up to its name, with a whopping 119 beers from five continents on its menu. They also have a nice range of shots, wine and whisky if you feel like a change.

For those who want to take it at a more leisurely place, the ten-day “Elegant Elbe” river tour begins in Berlin and winds its way through East Germany, ending up in Prague. Along the way, you’ll sample different beers, homemade foods and European coffee. Plus, there are guided tours of local historical sites if you’re not too distracted by the culinary delights.

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Hamburg

As the second largest city in Germany, Hamburg has a big reputation to live up to when it comes to food and drink. It’s the birthplace of Alsterwasser, a beer/lemonade shandy named after the city’s river, and a number of excellent brewers have also made their homes here, most of which include tour packages for thirsty holiday-makers.

With a history dating back to the 1500s, Mälzer Brauhaus in Lüneburg is worth the 30-minute train ride from the city centre. A full menu is served from breakfast onwards, and the enclosed Schröder’s Garden at the rear is the perfect place to enjoy a locally-brewed beer outdoors.

Not to be outdone by the capital city, Hamburg’s Haus der 131 Biere does what it says on the tin, displaying a huge range of brews on its menu. Their latest spin-off, the “Bierparadies” Comic, is a 24-pack of premium beers presented in a comic book style design. This quirky Bierhaus is run by husband and wife team Wolfgang and Christl Stark, who set it up in 1983 and have been expanding the business ever since.

If you want even more selection and don’t fancy drinking in a pub, you could always head over to Bierland on Seumestrasse. The king of all off-licenses, this unpretentious shop offers over 250 beers, from local brew to international names.

Munich

Drinking in Southern Germany is a very outdoor affair, and Munich is no exception, boasting over a hundred beer gardens, most of which stock locally brewed beverages. There are a couple of tours available which will take you around the main ones, but it can be just as enjoyable to meander the streets yourself, dropping into the most popular gardens to while away the day. Topping the list are Augustiner Keller on Arnulfstrasse; Paulaner Keller, whose history dates back to 1634; and Airbräu, located in Munich airport, should you require a final pint to see you on your way.

For a historical touch, the Hofbräuhaus in Amtsgericht includes an opulently decorated restaurant which was founded in 1589 by Wilhelm V, Duke of Bavaria. Three years later, the first Hofbräuhaus brown ale was brewed there; and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cologne

Early November sees Germany’s Cathedral City come to life with Fastelovend, a carnival where the kölsch flows freely and people live life to the fullest despite the approach of winter. This is the way to experience the best of Kölnisch culture, with everyone in high spirits and the street party atmosphere only adding to your holiday fun.

Surprisingly, Cologne’s Biermuseum isn’t generally seen as the best place for beer lovers, the main criticisms being that it’s often packed full of tourists and that local brews are scarcely seen. Früh Brauhaus on Robert-Bosch-Strasse is the most highly-acclaimed alternative. Brewing for over a hundred years, Früh am Dom also features a reasonably-priced lunch and dinner menu, including some alcohol-free beers for any non-drinking members of your party.

Top 3 beers to try

Helles Schlenkerla Lagerbier

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Brewed in Bavaria in a brewery that dates back to the 15th century, this bright and refreshing beer is tinged with an aged smokiness that makes it an ideal accompaniment to a bratwurst.

Augustiner Hell

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Sounds hellish, tastes like heaven. Made by the oldest brewery in Munich, this mild, dry beer is easy to drink and is often bought by the bottle from the local Späti (late night store) by late night revellers heading to a party.

Freigeist Hoppeditz

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At 7.5% this beer, brewed with five different malts and hops, is not for the faint-hearted. Although it pours a rather ugly, murky brown, it tastes great with a tart, fruity finish.

Glossary of useful terms

  • I’m thirsty. Where can I get a good beer? Ich Habe Durst. Wo kann ich ein gutes Bier erhalten?
  • Is there a beer hall nearby? Gibt es ein Bierhalle in der Nähe?
  • Hey, I love you guys! Can I buy you another beer? Hey, ich liebe euch, jungs! Kann ich euch noch ein Bier bestellen?
  • Quick! Where’s the toilet? Schnell! Wo ist die Toilette?
  • Cheers! Prost!