Mr Porter Drinks
Seven Incredible German Beers To Drink This Oktoberfest
The lagers and wheat brews that are the toast of the world’s biggest beer festival – and beyond
We’re living through a beer revolution. Mass market is out. Big flavour is in. Craft beer is all about authenticity and individuality, we’re told, a pushback against decades of mediocrity foisted on us by multinational beverage conglomerates. Germany has been eyeing our excitement wryly. Its beer revolution started centuries ago with the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot (aka the purity law), which decreed that beer could only be made with water, malt and hops (yeast was supplied by nature) and none of the chemical additions used by some companies today. It also pioneered innovations in brewing technology and discovered the flavour advantages of using hops years before anyone else.
The result – a consistently tasty product – meant beer became Germany’s national drink and never needed an artisan-led resurgence to be popular. Even though the Reinheitsgebot’s more relaxed these days and upstart young brewers create hoppy US-inspired IPAs and out-there sours, Germany still has a traditional beer culture to be proud of. Annually, it produces 95 million hectolitres of 20 or so distinct styles, from sour, cloudy Berliner weisse to malty altbier from Düsseldorf and salty gose from Leipzig.
This week, the mayor of Munich will ceremonially tap a keg to kick off the world’s biggest beer festival, Oktoberfest, which is mimicked everywhere, but best in Bavaria. Over 18 days, 7 million revellers will pack into 34 tents in Theresienwiese in Munich and knock back 7 million litres of beer. Pretzels will be eaten, tubas will be tooted, tables will be danced on. Oktoberfest has its roots in an 1810 wedding, when Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen and invited Munich residents to join him for a right royal knees-up. Local breweries got involved and it grew into the extended beer bath it is today.
Oktoberfest is part of the reason most people think of Bavaria when someone mentions German beer. The lederhosen, oompah bands and armfuls of foaming glasses may be clichés, but they’re effective mascots. However pervasive the influence of Oktoberfest is, the rest of the country holds its own. Here are seven German beers to say ja to all year round.
01. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen
Photograph courtesy of Paulaner Brauerei Gruppe
Type: Oktoberfest bier
Where it’s from: Munich
Perfect for: merrymaking under canvas
Six breweries are permitted to serve beer at Oktoberfest. Hacker-Pschorr is one of them and this is the beer it makes for the occasion. Märzen refers to the month in which it is brewed. In Munich, brewing was banned over the summer, so this biscuity, amber drop was started in March (März) and aged until autumn. It’s served by the litre all day, so you’ll be glad to know that it’s pleasantly smooth to drink, although the 5.8 per cent ABV is enough to get anyone feeling festive in no time.
02. Schneider Weisse Tap 6 Unser Aventinus
Photograph courtesy of Schneider Weisse
Type: weizenbock (winter wheat beer)
Where it’s from: Kelheim, Bavaria
Perfect for: cold-weather fireside cosiness
This is where German beer gets technical. Bock is a strong lager that’s stored cold for months to mellow it out. Doppelbock is a stronger-still iteration and weizenbock is made with wheat as well as the usual barley. The only information you really need is that this powerful beer is just about perfect – rich, boozy and cakey as a Christmas pud, with an assertiveness that demands respect. In fact, Christmas would be a fine time to open a bottle.
03. Jever Pilsener
Photograph courtesy of James Clay & Sons
Type: pils (pale lager)
Where it’s from: Friesland, Lower Saxony
Perfect for: instant, reliable refreshment
You know lager. You probably grew up drinking it. And you probably know German lager is better than most. But this is better still. Originally, Bavarian brewers took inspiration for this style from Czech pilsner, which was invented in the mid-19th century. It’s the clean, pale, refreshing beer that took over the world. Bavaria still gets the props when it comes to pils in Germany, but from the northern state of Lower Saxony comes this ultra-dry, extra bitter, all-out-hoppy version. Its grassy and herbal intensity will make it hard to return to supermarket special-offer stuff.
04. Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier
Photograph courtesy of Schlenkerla
Type: rauchbier (smoked beer)
Where it’s from: Bamberg, Franconia
Perfect for: pairing with smoked food – take it to a barbecue
The old Fraktur font on the label is a giveaway. This is a beer with a past. The brewery was founded in the pretty town of Bamberg in 1405 and has been in the same family for six generations. The first sip of a rauchbier is a revelation. It’s mashed using malts smoked slowly over beech wood to create flavours of campfires and smouldering cigars, and Schlenkerla’s is best in class. Its heft means it stands up well to strong foods, so get it chilled for dinner.
05. Reissdorf Kölsch
Photograph courtesy of B United International
Type: kölsch (Cologne-ish; brewed within 30 miles of Cologne)
Where it’s from: Cologne
Perfect for: sunny-day sessions
The liberal and vibrant Rhenish city of Cologne is famous for its Gothic cathedral, perfume and idiosyncratic beer. Kölsch is its answer to Bavarian pilsner, although it is made in the top-fermenting style, like ale, which gives it a mellow fruitiness that lager lacks. It’s light, pale and crisp with low alcohol and minimum effervescence, which makes working your way through a few of them effortless. So does the serving style. In Cologne, waiters bring wave after wave of thin 200ml stangen (“poles”) of Kölsch. Say you’ve had enough by sticking a coaster on your glass or it could be a long night.
06. Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
Photograph courtesy of Branded Drinks
Type: hefeweizen (wheat beer)
Where it’s from: Freising, Bavaria
Perfect for: sipping through a summer lunch
German beer has pedigree and this has more than most. Weihenstephan claims to be the oldest brewery in the world, first mashing in 1040. This is its signature brew, a beautiful hefeweizen made with copious amounts of wheat alongside the barley, for a hazy body and silky mouthfeel. It has the style’s concomitant characteristics by the barrel-load – snow-white cumulus head, huge carbonation, low bitterness and that singular clove-banana-bubblegum taste. No additional flavourings here, though. It comes from the distinctive yeast used in the fermentation.
07. Kulmbacher Eisbock
Photograph courtesy of Kulmbacher
Type: eisbock (ice beer)
Where it’s from: Kulmbach, Franconia
Perfect for: when the weather outside is frightful
Forget those awful American ice beers you might have taken to a party in the 1990s. German eisbock is the real deal. After brewing, it’s frozen in barrels in the old-fashioned way. The ice is removed to leave a concentrated bock, ruby red and 9.2 per cent ABV. The careful sipper will be rewarded with flavours of plums, juicy raisins and melting demerara. It’ll sit confidently on the dinner table, too. Try it with a Sunday roast.