Drinking Beer in Germany
Few people are aware that beer in Germany is very localized. Because of the number of breweries, and in particular the number of breweries per capita, Germany is pretty well saturated with beer on a local level.
German beers from the north, west, and east
One generalization about beer in Germany that seems to hold up is that drier, hoppier beers can be found in the north, while maltier, sweeter beers are found in the south. That leaves midrange beers in the middle.
Two other beer styles of notable exception in west central Germany are Kolschbier and Altbier. First, these two hybrid brews are about as close as German brewers get to producing ales. Second, you’re unlikely to find Altbier very far outside the region near Düsseldorf, and good luck trying to find Kolschbier outside Koln’s (Cologne) city limits.
Heading south to Bavaria for beer
Of the estimated 1,200 breweries in Germany, most are in the southern state of Bavaria and the region of Franconia, centered near Munich and Bamberg.
Munich alone is home to a dozen brewers of various sizes, some of whose brands are easily found in the United States: Spaten, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Hofbräu. Each of these six breweries also operates beer halls in Munich; all are outstanding places to sample the local fare (Muncheners consume more beer than just about any other group of people).
During the hot summer months, entire families flock to the many refreshing beer gardens; and at some, you bring your own food. Even better are the local, small breweries scattered mostly throughout Bavaria. The entire experience is much better than you can ever find back home (wherever that is), just in case you need another excuse to go.
German beer shrines, festivals, and museums
Although you can find many well-known brands of German beer within Germany, try the local brewers’ products wherever you go, regardless of the name. You can be sure liquid treasure is just waiting to be found.
Here are some beer shrines to visit in Germany. Note that you can’t taste all Munich’s beers at one place: Each place either has its few favorites or is a tied house, which is owned by one of the breweries and features only that brewer’s brand. Good guides list the beers served at each location.
The Hofbräuhaus (court brewhouse), Munich: This is the oldest and most famous beer hall in all of Germany (and thus, probably, the world).
Zum Uerige, Düsseldorf: This brewpub of local renown is said to brew the finest Altbier in all of Germany.
Köln: Any one of the dozens of small local brewhouses (P.J. Früh is a tourist favorite) serve the local delicacy, Kölsch beer.
Villages: Some small villages boast their own breweries, each with a distinctive recipe. Try the local stuff: The perfect liter may await you (and modern ways make these small-fries somewhat endangered).
Germany has no shortage of festivals at which you can enjoy the local brews. To attend one is to experience what Germans call gemütlichkeit, a distinctly German easy-going, genial good time.
Fasching (Bavaria), February: The German equivalent of Mardi Gras.
Starkbierfest (Munich), March: Referred to as Munich’s secret beer festival, the Starkbierfest is every bit as big and rowdy as the Oktoberfest, but it’s devoid of stark commercialism and drunken tourists (but not necessarily drunken Muncheners).
Schützenfeste (Hanover), July: This beer festival is held throughout Germany, but the most notable one is held each July in Hanover.
Oktoberfest (Munich), September to October: All Oktoberfests began as harvest-time country fairs, but Munich’s Oktoberfest bears little resemblance to a country fair today.
Cannstatter Volksfest (Stuttgart), October: Bavarian locals are more likely to do their celebrating here. The Volksfest begins just about the time Munich’s debauch comes to a close.
Museums dedicated to beer
Because beer is so much a part of German history and culture (and because museums are great places to learn more about local history and culture), you can’t be a true beer trekker in Germany without visiting a few beer museums:
Brauerei Museum (Dortmund): This beer museum is located in what used to be part of Kronen Beer Works.
Brauereimuseum (Lüneburg): Located in a building that served as a brewery for more than 500 years, the centerpiece of this museum is a large stein collection.
Schwaebisches Brauereimuseum (Stuttgart): If you’re in the area, be sure to check out this museum of brewing history as well as current brewing techniques.