German Beers: History, Reputation and How to Properly Enjoy Them
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German Beers: History, Reputation and How to Properly Enjoy Them

Beer is by far the most popular alcoholic drink in the world, and Germany is often considered the place with the best and biggest variety of beers, no matter whether lager or ale. If you have a friend who’s a beer snob, they may ask you to go to a Biergarten more often than they’d like to admit. The Biergarten in question will probably have wursts, pretzels or spaetzles, along with a dozen different German brews. Granted, those brews are likely the most commercialised ones, and they probably aren’t top-shelf beers as you might expect. While you should probably go to the Biergarten just to get a taste of the food, don’t expect too much of the beer.

The reason why German beer is considered the best in the world is that Germany has a 500-year-old beer purity law, which is a series of regulations on the ingredients, which were adopted in Bavaria in the 1500s. Basically, these regulations state that beer should be made of hops, barley, yeast and water. If it contains other ingredients, it’s going to be confiscated. While the laws may be less stringent nowadays, they’re still enforced in one way or another. Germans claim that this was the world’s first food safety law, which it probably isn’t, and they like to say that it guarantees that German beer is of superior quality as a result. However, this is mainly used as a marketing tool.

According to experts, these laws were passed with another thing in mind – to prevent rye and grains are used to make bread rather than beer. Some experts think that this has strangulated German beer culture. After all, besides the packaging, bottles and sponsors, there’s little to no innovation in the beer itself. As a result, many German beers went instinct, except for pilsners. But that does lead to the conclusion that most German beers are bad? The majority of beer drinkers would say no. While German beer may have its issues, they’re still a staple in the beer industry. Why is that, though?

The Case for German Beers

German Beers

There are thousands upon thousands of different German beers. You could probably drink a different German beer every day for over 10 years. Even though the 1516 Reinheitsgebot (beer laws) permit only yeast, hops barley and water to be used for brewing beer, there are over 100 different types of hops, 200 yeast strains and 40 types of malt. So, the possibilities are endless. Even the water can significantly change the taste of beer.

The oldest brewery in the world is located in Germany, and it still operates! That’s just a testament to German beer culture. The Weihenstaphan monastery in Bavaria started brewing beer over a thousand years ago! It obtained its license and started officially selling beer in the city of Freising.

The Weihenstaphan monastery in Bavaria

Just a few months ago, I travelled through Leverkusen, Dusseldorf and Cologne, and I was fortunate enough to try dozens of different types of German craft beers and pilsners. However, although Dusseldorf and Cologne are just an hour’s drive from each other, they’re worlds apart when it comes to their beers. The two cities are rivals in almost any way possible. Cologne residents pride themselves on having a rich history, and they’re considered some of the most laid back and easy going Germans. Dusseldorf residents, on the other hands, are modern, and they deem themselves ritzier and smarter. These characteristics can be noticed when drinking their trademark beers – the Kölsch and the Altbier.

The Kölsch is a light lager, whereas the Altbier, on the other hand, is darker and more of an ale. But believe it or not, these two beers are quite alike in flavour more than both Cologne and Dusseldorf citizens would like to admit. There was a study published recently, where Cologne and Dusseldorf beer fans were blindfolded and had a taste of both beers. Most of them couldn’t tell the Kölsch and Altbier apart!

The Devil is in the Details

While most people enjoy drinking beer right out of the bottle, they’re missing out on an important part of the experience. Drinking beer from the right glass is key to catching all of the aromas. Furthermore, the temperature of the beer also plays an important role. Typically, lagers are best at 4-6°C, whereas ales are best at 8-12°C.

Beer Glassware

Wheat beer is generally served in a tall glass, as it needs a bit more room to “breathe”. These glasses feature a wider shape at the top, so that you get the spice aromas, and you get the creamy textures and flavours accentuated on your palate.

Pilsner is also served in a tall glass. However, unlike glasses for wheat beer, pilsner glasses are thinner in shape. These glasses feature a narrow “waist” and a more fluted base to maintain a fresh head. The sides are straight, allowing the grassy, earthy noble hop varieties to dominate your taste buds.

Lagers are best served in straight-sided glasses that feature a wide mouth. They’re ideal for fresh, unassuming styles.

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