To say that Germany has affected the American brewing industry is a massive understatement. Without Germany, there likely isn’t much of a brewing culture in the US at all. While there are a few breweries in the US that can trace their roots back to the late 1800s in pre-Prohibition America (many of which also have German roots), Germany has countless centuries-old breweries, including Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan which touts itself as the longest continuously operating brewery in the world (yes, the world) with a genesis in 1040. That’s almost a millennium of brewing tradition.
And while you can find more “contemporary” beer style in Germany, many brewers follow the German Beer Purity Law or the Reinheitsgebot. First introduced by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria, German brewers may only use water, hops, barley, and (more recently) yeast to brew beer.
Traditional German beer styles include pilsners, Helles lagers, Maibocks, bocks, doppelbocks, Eisbocks, Marzens, dunkels, schwarzbiers, rauchbiers, hefeweizens, dunkelweizens, weizenbocks, altbiers, Kolsch, Berliner Weisses, Goses, and more. Cleary, 500-year-old strict brewing rules haven’t stopped the country’s brewers from crafting a wide variety of memorable, flavorful beers.
Now that we’ve barely scratched the surface of German beer culture, it’s time to actually find some of these brews to drink. Sure, you could spend a weekend aimlessly strolling around the aisles at your local beer store, take a gander at an overwhelming amount of beer choices on an online retailer, grab a quick red-eye flight to Bavaria, or you could have the work done for you. Below, you’ll find the top ten, must-try German beers. They run the gamut of German beer styles from rauchbiers, pilsners, weissbiers, bocks, and even crisp, refreshing kölsch beers.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier – Märzen
You might know the Märzen style by its more common name in the US: Oktoberfest. This malty, rich beer style is widely popular throughout Germany. One of the best and most unique comes from Aecht Schlenkerla. The iconic brewery’s Rauchbier Märzen is a bottom-fermented smoke beer brewed with Schlenkerla’s smoke malt. If you’re lucky enough to visit the brewery, you’ll find it tapped from traditional oak casks. Sweet, malty, rich, and smoky, this is a must-try German beer.
Rothaus Pils Tannen Zäpfle
While Czech brewers invented the pilsner style, Germany made it their own. One of the best examples of this is Rothaus Pils Tannen Zäpfle. This bottom-fermented pilsner is known for its mix of spicy hops and sweet malts. The hops included at Bavarian staples Tettnang and Hallertau. Pure spring water and local barley give it the flavor profile authentic pilsner fans crave.
While you’ll see American Kölsch-style beers made by many craft brewers in the states, to truly be called a “Kölsch”, the beer must be produced in the city of Cologne in Germany. While there are many German versions worth your time, many believe the best of the bunch is Gaffel Kölsch. Made using the German Purity Law, this beer is brewed with ale yeast and lagered in cold cellars before its fit for consumption. The result is a crisp, lightly floral, hoppy beer you won’t soon forget.
Schneider Weisse TAP7 Mein Original
If there’s one style German brewers do better than most (although the Belgians might have something to say about that), it’s the wheat beer. Schneider Weisse makes some of the best wheat beers in the world. But if we had to pick one, it would be Schneider Weisse TAP7 Mein Original. Brewed using Georg I. Schneider’s original recipe (hence the name) from 1872, it’s lightly spicy with sweet wheat, dried fruits, caramel, and fruit esters. It’s the type of beer you’ll want on hand at all times.
Augustiner Brau Edelstoff
This 5.7 percent lager is a beer that’s been made the same way since the early 1300s when Monks in the Munich area first brewed it. A Munich Helles lager, it’s known for its golden color and caramel, bready malts, and floral, herbal, earthy Noble hops aromas and flavors. It’s crisp, dry, and extremely refreshing. It’s the kind of beer that you’ll wonder why you weren’t already drinking on the regular.
Bitburger Premium Pilsner
Sometimes simplicity is key. Bitburger Premium Pilsner isn’t going to wow you in the flavor department. That’s not the point. This wildly popular beer is known for its clean, crisp, refreshing flavor profile featuring floral hops and a dry, lightly sweet finish. There’s no need for anything more. It’s beer the way you imagine a great, refreshing beer tastes in your dreams. That’s all there is to it.
Bock beers were originally brewed by monks during the winter months to be enjoyed while they fasted during the Lenten season. This is why the style is so popular during the spring. Many drinkers enjoy it all year round and keep beers like Ayinger Celebrator on hand at all times. This 6.7 percent, bottom-fermented doppelbock is known for its sweet, rich, fruity, malt-driven flavor profile.
Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier
As was mentioned above, Weihenstephaner is the oldest brewery in the world. Over the century it’s been brewing, the brand has perfected some styles. This is the case with Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. It’s a classic German Weissbier with notable flavors of cloves, bananas, sweet wheat, dried fruits, and light spices. It’s arguably one of the best wheat beers in the world and one you should definitely try.
Paulaner Original Munich Lager
There are few German beer brands more well-known than Paulaner. It makes all different types of beer, but it’s best to start at the beginning. That’s why its Original Munich Lager is the way to go. One of the first ever Munich lagers to be brewed, it’s known for its malty, floral, lightly bitter flavor thanks to being brewed with Pilsner malt, Munich malt, and Hallertaur Tradition hops.