The end of September marks the start of Oktoberfest in Munich, and beer-lovers around the globe celebrate by sipping on what are considered to be some of the best beers in the world, German beers. While beer-making predates Germany, the Germanic tribes played a role in popularizing the beverage, and it was in Bavaria in 1516 when Duke of Bavaria William IV began regulating the quality of beer in what might be the longest standing food purity law in history. The law, called Reinheitsgebot in German, dictated that beer could only be made from water, hops and barley, and German breweries followed this practice until 1993.
German beer — Photo courtesy of Bernt Rostad
Today, more than 1,200 breweries craft over 5,000 types of beer. A few of the popular varieties include pilsner, Hefeweizen. Kölsch, bocks and doppelbocks.
When you think of German beer, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a light-bodied German pilsner. This pale lager actually originated in the Czech Republic, but the Germans modified it into a slightly more bitter beverage. Beck's and Bitburger, two of Germany's top-selling beers, represent the pilsner style.
Bitburger — Photo courtesy of Hallenser
Hefeweizen literally means "yeast wheat," and the world's best hefes come from Bavaria. With more breweries than any other region in Germany, Bavaria cranks out a variety of cloudy top-fermented wheat beers with flavor profiles ranging from fruity to spicy. You can usually distinguish a German hefeweizen from a Belgian one by the clove and banana taste produced by the Bavarian-grown hops. The Weihenstephaner brewery has been producing this style longer than anyone else in the country.
Pouring a hefeweizen — Photo courtesy of Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan/Facebook
If you want a good Kölsch, you have to get it from Cologne, as by law only beers brewed there can bear the name. This pale brew is slightly sweeter than a pilsner with less of the hoppy after bite and is often mistaken for a lager outside of Germany. Kölsch should be served in a tall, thin, cylindrical glass.
Reissdorf kölsch — Photo courtesy of Salim Virji
Bocks are a medium to dark brown strong lager that exhibit a pleasant balance of hops and malt sweetness. Doppelbocks have a higher alcohol level and are usually darker in color and a bit sweeter. If you've ever sipped on a Paulaner Salvator, you've tried a doppelbock.
You may also notice many breweries from Germany and abroad marketing a seasonal Oktoberfest beer during the autumn season. The name isn't soley based on the festival, but on the timing of the beer-making process. Oktoberfest beers are brewed in March and served in October. They're usually a dark red color with a slightly higher alcohol content and just enough hops to keep the beer from tasting sweet.