Clinking steins of beer, raucous singing, noisy oompah bands, plates of sausages and well-worn liederhosen: if you want to tick off German clichés then get yourself to a German beer festival because they’re all very much in evidence. These big, boozy bashes are now such a hit with fun-seekers they’re replicated the world over (us Brits can swig and slap our thighs at the Oktoberfest East event in London), enhancing Germany’s reputation as one of the greatest beer nations.
The most famous of all beer festivals, Munich’s much celebrated Oktoberfest, has strict beer entry criteria: breweries must come from the city and uphold the 500 year old ‘Reinheitsgebot’ beer purity law, meaning that only booze containing water, barley, hops and yeast can officially be sold as beer. Some modern brewers may curse its restrictive measures, but centuries worth of brewing experts have adhered to it and created a vast range of beer styles. Often unique to a particular town or city, each particular beer is likely to invoke a great sense of regional pride.
Only six breweries make the grade for Munich’s celebrated knees-up, but for those of you who fancy creating an Oktoberfest in your own home your only restriction is availability. And while supermarkets are well stocked with weissbiers, for a greater choice you’ll have to seek out some specialist importers. Handily, we’ve done the donkey work for you, so for maximum German beer enjoyment you could do worse than enlist the help of this collection, showcasing some of the most popular styles throughout the country. Liederhosen optional.
1. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen, 6%: £2.45 per 500ml, Beer Merchants
Made by one of the Oktoberfest breweries, Märzens was traditionally an end-of-brewing-season beer, made a little bit stronger to help them last through to the Autumn festivals and beyond. Thankfully, this Oktoberfest special is now made all year round. It provides effortlessly smooth drinking with lightly toasted caramel flavours warmed by a comforting cloak of alcohol. Simple beer expertly executed.
2. Schneider Weisse Tap 6, 8.2%: £4.20 per 500ml, Beer Gonzo
A legendary German beer brewed with wheat and dark malts. It’s full-bodied, subtly sweet, smooth and creamy, and peppered with spiciness from the yeast and hops. High in alcohol and big on flavour, every sip is a beery pleasure.
3. Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier, 5.4%: £1.80 per 500ml, Sainsbury’s
Top notch Hefeweizens from Erdinger and Franziskaner have been readily available in British supermarkets for years, and we’ve started noticing increased shelf space for Weihenstephan’s version too. And that’s good news because it’s outstanding, as you would hope from ‘The World’s Oldest Brewery’. It’s clean and crisp with delicate banana and clove notes, derived from the special yeast, and a light spice that enhances its refreshing qualities. A classic beer for any occasion.
4. Fruh Kolsch , 4.8%: £2 per 330ml, Beer Merchants
Cologne’s beer style, Kölsch, is a pale ale bordering on lager territory and Früh’s version is as refreshing as it comes. Clean and light with a bready sweetness, some lemon fruitiness and a dry, hoppy finish. It’s so drinkable that the bottle rarely seems big enough.
5. Augustiner Helles, 5.2%: £2.70 per 500ml, Beer Merchants
Few countries can match Germany’s lager brewing brilliance, with the country’s malt and hops perfectly suited to the crisp, clean characteristics of a good lager. ‘Helles’ was first brewed in Munich 130 years ago as a reaction to the Bohemian Pilsners, and Augustiner’s effort is one of the city’s most popular. Clear and light with delicate hopping and smooth malts it’s the epitome of a thirst-quenching beer.
6. Ayinger Urweisse, 5.8%: £3.10 per 500ml, Beer Gonzo
Add a dash of roasted malt to a hefeweizen mix and you have a deeper-hued dunkelweiss. Ayinger’s is a cracking brew with sharp wheat mingling with banana and toffee flavours and some apple freshness. The finish is tantalisingly dry, fruity and a little bit toasty, begging you to dunk your chops in for another swig.
7. Brauerie Heller, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Fastenbier, 5.5%: £2.90 per 500ml, Beer Gonzo
One sniff is all it takes to reveal a Rauchbier’s special ingredient: smoked malt. This beer, a Bamberg speciality, is chestnut brown with a good depth of malty flavours, strong bittering and a shaving of oaky maturity. Dry and moreish, the smoky tones are always present but never dominate, acting like a distant campfire luring you in to the late night entertainment.
8. Bayerischer Banhof Original Leipziger Gose, 4.6%: £2.39 per 330ml, Beers of Europe
Gose has become one of the in-vogue styles for brewing hipsters, but most of them stray from the original recipe in ways that would make a German choke on his schnitzel. This one is how it’s supposed to be done. It has a peachy perfume and leans towards the sour side of the taste spectrum, but it’s the Gose key ingredients that really stand out: coriander’s citrusy spice and a few pinches of salt piercing through the dry finish. An unusual beer brewed by Gose experts.
9. Ayinger Kellerbier, 4.9%: £2.39 per 500ml, Beers of Europe
Another lagery offering, this straw coloured liquid is unfiltered and naturally hazy, as befits the kellerbier style (it means ‘cellar beer’ and would traditionally be cask conditioned, much like British ales). It has a lemony fragrance, is silky smooth and possesses a fuller flavour than most lagers, with a bit of breadiness to the malt and a dry finish. Best served at cellar temperature, accompanied by salty snacks, it’s an ideal lager for the real ale drinker.
10. Freigeist Kopenickiade, 3.5%: £2.20 per 330ml, Hippo Beers
Low alcohol ‘Berliner Weisse’ was once Germany’s most popular beer style before falling dramatically out of fashion. It’s now undergoing a revival, often used as a base for unusual flavours. This beer’s twist is ‘vineyard peaches’ which are subtly present in the aroma and more obvious at the finish. It’s dry and slightly sour with prickly fizz accentuating the funky yeast flavours. A refreshing change from boozier brews.
It seems a little disrespectful to attempt to pick a ‘best beer’ from a country with so many world-class brews as Germany. But if you’re looking for a taste of the Oktoberfest then the obvious choice from our list, to sit alongside your wurst and sauerkraut, is the Hacker-Pschorr Marzen. Prost!
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