There are plenty of countries with great beer, but if you’re going to fly halfway around the world for a few days of drinking quality brew, Germany is your destination. While the notorious drunken revelry of Oktoberfest is the hottest beer tourist attraction in the world, Germany has much more to add in terms of brewing history and diversity of styles than those served under a tent in the fall.
Don’t get me wrong, the six classic breweries of Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu and Staatliches Hofbräu-München all make excellent beer, but I'm focusing on some of the breweries and regions that don’t get as much love.
You may have heard of the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law of 1487, which mandated beer to be made of only malted barley, water and hops (yeast hadn't been discovered yet). While many breweries still proudly conform to the purity law, it’s been a major source of controversy, as it led to the demise of many historical beer styles and most recently the “Brandenburg Beer War” of 1990, which forbade the beverage to be called bier because it contained sugar.
Back to those lost styles for a second. Thanks in a big part to the interest of American craft brewers, those brews are coming back in a huge way with rising popularity of Gose, Berliner Weisse and Lichtenhainer. Another regional specialty from Bamberg is the Rauschbier, which uses smoked malt that imparts meaty flavors in the beer, a characteristic so specific and desirable some American brewers even import the smoked barley straight from Bamberg. Yes, there is remarkable diversity in German beers, so much more than you’ll get from tents with steins, boots and schlager music. Here are 10 of our favorite German beers you can’t get at Oktoberfest. Prost!
1. Klosterbrauerei Andechs: Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel
Andechs monastery (yes, German monks brew too!) just started distributing in the U.S. in 2013 but this classic doppelbock is already winning over scores of new fans with its complexity and richness. It’s got tons of bready and sweet malt and is just dripping with sticky caramel and dark fruit flavor. The 7.1% ABV is blended so well it’s practically unnoticeable. It stops just short of being the definitive doppelbock, as contested by Ayinger’s Celebrator, but make no mistake, this is holy stuff.
2. Brauerei Heller-Trum: Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier
For those who love their bacon as much as their beer, this is the brewery to visit. This helles lager is the most restrained of their smoky brews, and a nice changeup from the often overwhelmingly smoked yet ever-popular Marzen and Ur-Bock styles. It’s an easy-drinking brew at just 4.3% and exhibits typical grassy and grainy flavors with mild hop presence, but that touch of smoke adds dimension and complexity to a style which generally lacks variety.
3. Brauerei Heinrich Reissdorf: Reissdorf Kölsch
You can find this beer just about anywhere, but that is no excuse to pass it up. Kölsch is one of the most drinkable styles in existence and at 4.8%, this one goes down smooth without skimping on flavor. The hops add a delicate, crisp element to the beer along with a touch of fruitiness. There’s some malt, but the grain and grass notes dominate it. Simply put, this is a great-easy drinking beer and I can see why this is what the natives of Köln turn to on a hot day.
4. Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
Founded in 1040 AD, Weihenstephaner claims to be the oldest brewery in the world. With a beer this good, I don't doubt it. Weihenstephaner may be a mouthful of a name, but their Hefeweissbier is simply the best. The yeast does special things here, giving off incredible aromas and notes of banana, clove, citrus, sweetness and a bit of bready wheat. I completely condone an entire stein of this, along with a bratwurst hot off the grill at your local biergarten.
5. Brauerei Göller: Freigeist Bierkultur Abraxxxas
Freigeist isn’t down with the Reinheitsgebot, but we’re definitely down with this smoky, sour beer! Abraxxxas is a Lichtenhainer, another near-lost style of beer similar to Poland's Grodziskie, which has a distinct mouth-coating smokiness along with sour lemon and green apple flavors. This particular example is an imperial version at 6% ABV, which is much higher than this normally low-alcohol style. Hence all the x's.
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