German Beer Styles

   

Major beer styles of Germany

 A brief description of the main types – for more technical detail consult books by Horst D Dornbusch or Michael Jackson. 
But don’t feel that you have to know how the experts define a beer, or what esoteric processes are used in its production.  Remember that the definition of a good beer is a beer you like, and just keeping a note of the ones you have enjoyed is all you need to do!  And try this page to get an idea of which styles go best with particular foods.

Germany brews dozens of types of light and dark beers, from the smoky Rauchbier of Bamberg, to the yeasty, opaque Hefeweizenbier of Bavaria, to Kölsch, the pale ale of Cologne, to the raspberry syrup-sweetened Berliner Weisse of the German capital, just to name a few.  Find detailed reviews of individual brands at  The Oxford Bottled Beer Database

Click on a style below to jump to its description
ALT/ALTBIER BERLINER WEISSE BOCK HELLES BOCK/MAIBOCK
DOPPELBOCK EISBOCK DORTMUNDER/EXPORT MUNICH DUNKEL
SCHWARZBIER GOSE WEIZENBIER/WEISSBIER HEFE-WEIZEN
DUNKEL WEIZEN WEIZENBOCK KÖLSCH MÄRZEN/OKTOBERFEST
HELLES PILSNER RAUCHBIER  

ALTBIER - German ale associated with the city of Düsseldorf. "Alt" is the German word for old. The Alt style uses a top-fermenting ale yeast, but then is cold-aged. Some wheat may be used in variations. Lacks hop aroma, low hop flavor but has medium to high bitterness, especially in the finish. Restrained fruitiness, dry, clean, bittersweet flavor. Rounded maltiness that is nonetheless not overpowering. Light to medium body. Cleaner, smoother palate, less fruitness, less yeastiness and less acidity than a classic British ale. The color is bronze to copper-brown. Some ales called Amber are actually in the Alt style.  STICKE is a stronger version of Altbier but rarely seen

BERLINER WEISSE
- This tart, refreshing, thirst-quenching beer can only be brewed in Berlin, Germany, although a few brewers in Northern Germany brew wheat beers in a similar style. Often called the Champagne of beers. Anywhere up to 75% malted wheat is used and results in a characteristic foamy large white head which tends to die quickly due to a lack of protein structure. The ale-type yeast and up to 20% lactic combination produces a light body which is dry, tart, and almost sour. Very pale, effervescent, modest alcohol content, no bitterness and low fruity notes. May be mixed with sweet syrups.

BOCK
- A very strong lager, originally from Einbeck, Germany, but now the name is used to denote any strong lager. Strong in alcohol with very malty-sweet character. It is the water and the malt that give this style some special characteristics. The bock beer is full bodied with a prevalent malty sweetness that can include some chocolate undertones. It is traditionally dark amber to dark brown and uses just enough "noble-type" hop flavour to balance the malt. Bitterness is low. No hop aroma. By German law, bocks must be of at least 1.064 gravity.

HELLES BOCK or MAIBOCK
- These bocks possess the same characteristics of traditional bock except for the chocolate undertaste and they are lighter in colour, gold to light amber. Medium to full bodied, it has predominantly malty taste.

DOPPELBOCK
- Stronger version of bock which must have a gravity of at least 1.072. By tradition, dopplebock names end in "ator". Very full bodied. Can be pale or dark, very sweet or balanced with bitterness. Malty sweetness evident in aroma and flavour can be intense.

EISBOCK
- The strongest type of bock. Very alcoholic. A doppelbock is chilled till ice is formed. The ice is removed, leaving behind a beer with a higher concentrated amount of alcohol. Very full bodied with increased sweetness and warmth. Colour amber to dark brown.

 DORTMUNDER / EXPORT - Strong pale lager from Dortmund, brewed a bit stronger than other light lagers in order to travel well for export.  Characterized by more bitterness and less maltiness then helles, but less bitterness, sweeter, stronger and more malt body than German pilseners.  Neither malt or hops are distinctive, but both are in good balance with a touch of sweetness, providing a smooth yet crisply refreshing beer.  The water in Dortmund is quite hard, and this, combined with a special malting process, contributes to the final unique taste. Alcoholic warmth can be evident. Straw to medium gold, Light to medium body.

MUNICH DUNKEL
- A product of the German brewing tradition. Distinctly toasted (not burnt) chocolate-like malt sweetness in aroma and flavor. Medium hop bitterness. Low to moderate alcohol and medium body. Colour ranges from dark amber to dark brown. At its most sophisticated, this style combines the dryish, coffee and licorice notes of dark malts with the roundness and cleanness imparted by a lager yeast. The best examples have a spicy maltiness that is neither sweet nor roastily dry, with a clean roundness

SCHWARZBIER (BLACK BEER)
- Judicious amounts of roasted malts so as to not impart a burnt flavor. Moderate bitterness from hops and roasted malt. Medium body, malty aroma and low sweetness in aroma and flavor. Should have a distinctive bitter-chocolate palate. Colour dark brown to black.

GOSE
takes its name from the town that originated it, Goslar. It became very popular in the nearby town of Leipzig but almost vanished in the mid twentieth century, and. is now undergoing a revival after an absence of over 30 years.  Gose is a top-fermented wheat beer, sometimes including oats, with the addition of coriander and salt. The inclusion of coriander and salt is contrary to the ridiculously strict beer purity law ("reinheitsgebot"), but as the law was a Bavarian one, and Gose originated in Prussia, this wasn't a problem until the unification of Germany and the introduction of the law to Prussia. Gose was traditionally spontaneously fermented, with fermentation being initiated by natural wild yeasts carried in the air but today yeast is added rather than using spontaneous fermentation.

WEIZENBIER (OR WEISSBIER)
- Wheat beers of southern Germany. Light to medium bodied, lightly hopped, yeasty, highly effervescent, slightly sour and suggestive of cloves and bananas. They are, above all, a summer beer. At least 50% wheat malt. Some cloudiness is acceptable in this style since a mash of up to 60% wheat can add haze from protein. Fermented as an ale by unique yeast strains.

HEFE-WEIZEN
- Overall the profile of this beer is similar to Weizen. This is a real ale style that is conditioned in the bottle or keg and will contain some yeast sediment. Lager or ale yeast may be used to condition the beer

DUNKEL WEIZEN
- Dark version of Weizenbier and can be a bit stronger. The colour is deep copper to brown. Chocolate-like maltiness is evident. Medium to full bodied beer with an emphasis of dark malt. It usually has a little less of the characteristic clove-banana aromas. The combination of wheaty tartness and the lusciousness of dark malts makes this style full of flavour and complexity.

WEIZENBOCK
- Stronger and more robust than Dunkelweizen. A medium- to full-bodied beer, it is made from 40-60% wheat, but the palate emphasis is on the malt. Hop flavour and aroma are very low, but the clove and banana flavour and aroma are still evident. Can be either light or dark. Alcoholic strength should be evident.

KÖLSCH
- Can only be brewed in the area of Köln (Cologne), Germany. Kölsch is a blond Alt-style beer with a light to medium body. Light, fruity, acidic, dry wine like brew. Low hop flavor and aroma and medium bitterness. Has a soft palate and a delicate dryness in the finish. As pale as a Pilsner, but with the fruitiness of an ale. Kölsch is noted for its delicacy rather than for any more robust distinctiveness. Kölsch is very pale and is clean-tasting (all-malt), remarkably light-bodied, soft and drinkable, only faintly fruity, with a slight acidity and a restrained but definite hoppy dryness, often slightly herbal-tasting in the finish. Can be an ale or a lager.. Bottle conditioned examples may be called "weiss".

MÄRZEN / OKTOBERFEST
- A lager produced in Munich with an assertively malty sweetness, toasted malt aroma and flavour. Origin credited to the famous brewer Gabriel Sedelmayer. The style is an adaptation of Vienna that was found to better suit the Munich water. The body is medium. Sharp but not lingering hop bitterness. Quite strong in alcohol. Colour is amber to deep copper or light brown.

HELLES
- Mildly hopped, malty beer from Munich. The medium malt sweetness, often described as almost a caramel, is the mark of this beer. Part of the malty flavour comes from the unique Munich style of malting. The body is a bit heavier (medium) than a Bohemian pils. Pleasingly low bitterness that does not linger at all. Colour is pale to golden.

PILSNER
- More bitter, drier, less malty, simpler, cleaner and from a lower extract than Czech Pilsner. The distinctive characteristic is the flowery, medium hop bouquet and flavour from "noble" hops and its dry finish from a more thorough fermentation. Light gold to medium gold. Crisp flavour with prominent high hop bitterness. Low maltiness in aroma and flavour. Light to medium in body.

RAUCHBIER
- Smoked-flavoured beer in the tradition of Bamberg, Germany. Oktoberfest style made with malts that have been dried over moist beechwood log flames to give this beer its assertive smoky aroma and flavour. The beer presents a full body and a generally sweet, malty taste beneath the smoke. The color is dark amber to dark brown. Hop bitterness and aroma is low to medium. Intensity of the smoke is medium to high.
 

Click on a style below to jump to its description
ALT/ALTBIER BERLINER WEISSE BOCK HELLES BOCK/MAIBOCK
DOPPELBOCK EISBOCK DORTMUNDER/EXPORT MUNICH DUNKEL
SCHWARZBIER GOSE WEIZENBIER/WEISSBIER HEFE-WEIZEN
DUNKEL WEIZEN WEIZENBOCK KÖLSCH MÄRZEN/OKTOBERFEST
HELLES PILSNER RAUCHBIER  

 

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