Finding what beer to drink in Germany is a very simple process. Find the nearest place that sells beer, and then drink it! You are pretty much guaranteed a good product. In this article, I will help you discover which beer you should be drinking while visiting the Mecca of beer drinkers. Germany.
There are many excellent German beers out there, and you would probably be best off drinking the local beers. Kölsch in Cologne, Paulaner in Munich, Altbier in Düsseldorf, Berliner Weisse in Berlin. There are also a growing number of craft breweries in Germany. You will not find it hard to find beer in this country!
My previous articles on the beer culture of Portugal, Poland, Turkey, Cyprus, Mexico, and Japan, have all followed a similar pattern. I’ve talked about the history of the country, the history of beer in the country, the breweries, the best beers, the craft beer scene, and some of the best bars and shops for beer.
That is not going to work with this article. German beer culture is too large a subject and the history of beer in Germany to broad to fully cover. So I’m going to change things up a bit. I will talk about the different regions of Germany and what the beer culture is like in each.
There are sixteen states in Germany, and this feels like the best way to split this article. While there may not be a specific beer for every state, there are certainly going to be a lot of beer styles that relate to many states. The sixteen states are:
Looking at the local beer and beer culture of each state in Germany is probably the best way to go about things. Obviously, Bavaria is well-known for beer which is why it always dominates the conversation. This way, you should be able to get a better idea of what beer to drink in Germany based on your location within this massive country.
I have decided to strike of Hesse, Saxony-Anhalt, Saarland and Brandenburg from the list. The reason being that they just don’t have a big enough beer scene to be worth mentioning. Hesse is much more of a wine and cider place. While Brandenburg does brew beer, none of the breweries is well-known or large enough. Unless you are visiting the area then you are unlikely to experience a Brandenburg beer.
I couldn’t find any breweries or beer history in Saxony-Anhalt. Saarland does appear to have several breweries but none of them appears to sell beer outside of the state. Also, and this really is my issue none of their websites is in English! From the photos, they look amazing. But I can’t exactly write about the area.
If by some miracle I get hundreds of comments from Germans who live in these areas and they give me enough information I will, of course, try to add them in.
Situated in the South-Western corner of Germany, and neighbour to Bavaria. Baden-Württemberg was always going to have some connection to beer. However, I was surprised to see how few major breweries were actually in this region.
The biggest brewery would be Rothaus, which is actually owned by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The brewery was founded in 1791. Rothaus was originally owned by the Dutchy of Baden, but in 1918 the monarchy was overthrown during the November Revolution and Rothaus was taken over by the state. It has stayed that way ever since. Rothaus sells five different beers, their most famous is the pilsner.
They also sell a Marzen, (I will explain what a Marzen is later), a wheat beer, a Radler (basically a shandy) and a non-alcoholic beer. I have had the pilsner quite a few times and really enjoy it. The label is iconic. It has not been changed since 1972 and features a woman in traditional dress and seed cones which are a symbol of the trees of the Black Forest.
While Fürstenberg Brewery claims to have been around since 1283, it wasn’t until the 18th century that it became a proper commercial brewery. Even so, there is a lot of history here. The main beer brewed by Fürstenberg is their Pilsner which it has brewed since 1895, the beer was favoured by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
If you are visiting Stuttgart, then this is the main beer that you will see. While the brewery itself was founded in 1872, there has been beer brewed on the site of the brewery since 1591 when monks were given permission to brew beer at the nearby monastery.
Stuttgarter Hofbräu is one of the main beers associated with the Cannstatter Volksfest, the second-largest folk festival after Oktoberfest. Stuttgarter Hofbräu’s most popular beer is their pilsner, but they also sell festival beers such as Kellerbier, Hells, and Dunkels.
Situated in Mannheim, Eichbaum Brauereien is quite a small brewery compared to the others on this list. The brewery was established in 1679 as a brewery/restaurant. The brewery has since moved (though it is still in Mannheim), but you can visit the restaurant to this day. It has a massive range of beers, with pilsner being particularly popular. There is also a good range of wheat beers and a couple of festival beers.
Without a doubt, Bavaria is the second biggest beer state on this list (North-Rhine Westphalia is number one, but also has a much larger population). I will definitely need to cover this fully in its own article. But that doesn’t mean I can’t give it a good go right now.
One thing that you need to remember when talking about Bavaria, is that Munich is just one city within a very large state. Because Oktoberfest is such a large folk festival, many people tend to associate the Munich breweries (Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Spaten, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr) with the whole state. But there are many other breweries in Bavaria.
Erdinger, Schneider, ABK, Ayinger, plus two monastery breweries that are vying for the title of the oldest brewery in the world. There were 667 different breweries in operation in Bavaria in the year 2000, making up 40% of all breweries in the EU.
Bavaria (and Munich in particular) is where the German Purity Laws (Reinheitsgebot) were formed in 1516. To this day, breweries in Bavaria follow the law that beer must have just water, barley, and hops. Yeast was not mentioned but was obviously still required.
In this section, I will first take a look at the breweries outside of Munich, before concentrating on the City itself.
This beer is the exact opposite of what most people would think of when you said “Bavarian beer”. It is also my least favourite beer on this list. Sorry to say so, but I really do not enjoy the smokey taste of these beers. Of course, this is my opinion and it should not in any way detract from the popularity and speciality of smoked beer.
Go back a few hundred years, and many beers across Europe would have tasted similar to Rauchbier. Before malt was dried on an industrial scale, drying it over an open flame was commonplace. That is how Rauchbier is still produced today in the town of Bamberg.
There are only two breweries in Bavaria that use this method: Schlenkerla and Spezial. I have only tried Spezial, I bought a bottle a few years back. I also had a pint of it at my first visit to the Great British Beer Festival. Both times I had the same reaction “Wow what an interesting taste” followed by “Okay now I’m sick of it”. This beer is definitely worth trying, as it has a marmite reaction (you either love it or hate it).
The Oettinger brewery in Oettingen has been open since 1731, but the brewery as it is today has been in operation since 1956 when the original brewery was bought by the Kollmar family. Interestingly, Oettinger beer is the most bought beer in Germany. Yet you have probably never heard of it. The beer is almost exclusively sold in shops, you are unlikely to find it on tap or in a pub. The company do no advertising, and the brewing process is so automated that only 1,100 staff members are needed.
All of this keeps the price down, and as the beer is brewed using the Purity Laws, the beer itself is as good as any in Bavaria. This combination has really helped to drive sales. If you are in the UK you can sometimes find the beers in Aldi, so check it out!
The Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren is one of the oldest breweries in the world, and also happens to be one of my favourite breweries too! For some reason, their beer is sold a lot in pubs in Nottingham so I’ve had quite a few pints of the stuff. Due to being such a large brewery, they have a huge range of beers. Their most famous (and most successful) beer is the light blue Hell. It has won several international awards.
ABK was one of the first breweries to sell Bavarian-style wheat beers when it did so in the 17th century. Kaufbeuren, where ABK is based has had its own purity laws that pre-date the Reinheitsgebot by 200 years.
If you like wheat beer, then you have almost certainly heard of Erdinger, the world’s largest wheat beer brewery. Their most famous beer is Erdinger Weißbier, but there is also a Dunkel (dark) version, a Kristall Weizen (crystal clear), as well as a festival beer. Erdinger has been around since 1886.
While I have never actually tried this beer, I thought it was important to mention it as Weltenburger Klosterbraueire may be the oldest continually operating brewery in the world. It was founded as far back as 1050. Yet even now, the beer is highly regarded. Winning multiple awards in recent years for its Dunkel.
As I found during research for my article on the oldest pub in the world, it is very difficult to work out which building/business is actually the oldest. Which is why there are two breweries in Bavaria that claim to be oldest.
Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan appears to have been brewing beer since 768, but the brewery was not founded until 1040. Making it ten years older than the Weltenberger Klosterbraueire (1050). However, this claim is disputed, and it is difficult to know which brewery is actually oldest. The Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan has been owned by the state of Bavaria since 1803. Two of their wheat beers have won medals (gold and silver) at the 2016 Beer World Cup.
Another ridiculously old brewery in Bavaria, Rhanerbräu has been operating since 1283. It’s not particularly well known outside of Germany, but its beers have won numerous awards.
Ayinger brewery is founded in Aying which is just 25 miles outside Munich. Which must feel like 250 miles when Oktoberfest rolls in and Ayinger is not allowed to join in! That being said, the Ayinger brewery wasn’t founded until 1877, which is decades after the first Oktoberfest. It wouldn’t have been allowed anyway. Ayinger is still available in Munich though, I have drunk it there. It’s a decent beer which has one many awards.
Another wheat beer company, Schneider Weisse is famous the world over for its excellence. It was actually founded in Munich but expanded to Kelheim. During WWII, the Munich brewery was destroyed. Production was moved to Kelheim, where it has stayed ever since.
While there are more than six breweries in Munich, only six breweries are permitted to sell their beer at Oktoberfest. Because of that, it makes sense to take a look at these six. It would be impossible to name every brewery in Bavaria after all.
Alphabetically and historically first, the Augustiner Brewery has been in operation since 1328 when it was founded by Augustinian monks. It was taken over by the state in the 19th century and then bought by the Wagner family. Joseph Wagner was the breweries biggest name, and was integral in the foundation of the Bavarian Beer Alliance. As such, the Augustiner beer label has his initials JW on it.
The beer itself is pretty decent, it is by no means my favourite of the six breweries, but I have some great memories of drinking this beer in Munich. Augustiner beer has been served at Oktoberfest since at least 1867, and possibly for longer.
Another very old Munich brewery, Hacker-Pschorr has been in operation since 1417. Hacker-Pschorr is perhaps the least known Munich brewery, but it is the one that is most closely linked to Oktoberfest. Joseph Pschorr (who bought the brewery from his father in law Peter-Paul Hacker) was one of the original brewers who was contacted by Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria. Meaning that his beer was the first to be sold at Oktoberfest. The land used for the festival was actually owned by the Hacker-Pschorr brewery.
Hofbräuhaus or HB is one of my favourite Munich breweries, the iconic blue and white chequered flag, the beautiful logo, and the equally amazing Hofbräuhaus am Platz beerhouse. I love it all.
When I went to Munich I visited the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl. It was amazing, originally built in 1589, the building became open to the public in 1828. The history of this building is incredible, as well as sinister.
Many of Hitler’s early speeches were held in this building, and it was the setting for the infamous fight between Nazis and communists during one of his speeches. There is positive historical links to the building too, and to be honest when you’re sitting down drinking a HB wheat beer or pilsner, you are more impressed with the history of brewing and beer serving in this place than anything else.
Compared to some on this list, the Paulaner brewery is almost young. Being founded in 1634. They were one of the original breweries used during Oktoberfest, and are the brand that I most associate with it. Their Hells beer and their Oktoberfest beer are particularly good. Paulaner are linked with Bayern Munich, which means that they always have excellent photo opportunities whenever the players visit Oktoberfest or whenever Bayern win anything.
The final brewery in the Munich Six is Spaten. My first Oktoberfest beer was a Spaten, and I loved it. Ordered four more steins. Then went to bed at about 3pm as I was so drunk. Spaten brewery has been brewing beer since 1397. For a while, I was convinced that Spaten was the German for Spartan (as in 300). But I eventually found out that Spaten means spade and refers to the shovels they use for their malt.
Spaten also sells Franziskaner Weissbier after the two breweries combined in 1922. It is a very decent wheat beer, well worth checking out.
During the research for this article I feel like I’ve learned quite a lot about German beer culture. I’m also noticing how very different the states are in Germany. There is clearly a difference in the beer culture of the Northern and North-Eastern states vs the Southern and Western states (Bavaria is South-Eastern but I’d group it with Southern).
This is partly due to geography, some states are much more focused on wine or cider due to their climate. But history has had a huge influence too. The old lands of East Germany do not have much of a beer culture. Not compared to North-Rhine Westphalia or Bavaria. Brandenburg has very few breweries, neither does Saxony-Anhalt, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has only a handful.
One of the reasons for this is the German Purity Laws, which are so often praised. In reality, they are incredibly restrictive and have harmed the beer production of many Northern and Eastern states. Fruit beers, sour beers, and many other interesting beers fell out of popularity. Replaced by pilsners, wheat beers, and Hells.
Berliner Weisse is one of the few beers to have defied this loss in popularity. Sure, it went down in popularity between the 19th and 20th centuries. But in recent times the Berliner Weisse has grown in popularity.
Berliner Weisse is a low alcohol wheat beer sour, this type of beer has been brewed since the 16th century and is a variation of the North German wheat beers. While Berlin’s breweries have declined in number, the style is very popular with craft breweries in Europe, America, and Australia/New Zealand.
When looking for what beer to drink in Germany, why not try something a little different?
There are only a couple of Berliner Weisse breweries left in Berlin, and Berliner Kindl is one of them. This brewery has been running for over 140 years, and their beers adhere to the German Purity Laws. Berliner Kindl offers their regular Berliner Weisse, a raspberry flavoured version, and a rhubarb flavoured version. All the beers are just 3% abv.
To be honest, there is not much of a brewing scene in Bremen. Though beer has been brewed here for centuries. But Bremen needs to be on this list as it is the home of Beck’s. One of the biggest breweries in Germany.
Founded in 1873 by three men; Lüder Rutenberg, Heinrich Beck, and Thomas May. Beck’s was originally called Kaiserbrauerei Beck & May o.H.G. But Thomas May soon left and the name was changed to Beck & Co, and eventually Beck’s.
The brewery has made several steps to jazz up its image. Partnering with artists and musicians, this has worked to some extent, but at the end of the day Beck’s is famous for a decent Pilsner. With craft beer flooding the music and art scene, it may struggle to stay relevant in the future.
That being said, Beck’s brews a very good beer. The brewery sponsors Werder Bremen who participate in the Bundesliga, it is also the fourth highest-selling beer in Germany.
As with Bremen, Hamburg does not appear to have too many breweries or a particularly deep beer culture. Many of the beer halls are run by Munich-based breweries. However, as with Bremen, it is dominated by one of Germany’s most popular beers … Holsten Pils.
There was a time where you could find Holsten Pils in most pubs in England. It was one of the first foreign lagers to really take off in the UK. While the Holsten brewery sells a variety of beers, their pilsner is by far their most popular. The brewery has been in operation since 1879 but really exploded in the 1950s. They have been linked to Hamburger SV for over 80 years.
Another German state that does have breweries, but not to the same degree as many others. Lower Saxony does not have particularly good soil for crop farming, which could explain the dearth of beer. Bad soil for hops means less chance of beer being brewed. This is purely a theory of mine based on 30 seconds of research, so please correct me if I’m wrong!
Founded in 1848, Jever brewery is best known for the pilsner, though they also offer a seasonal bock beer which is pretty strong (7.4%). Jever used to sponsor Borussia Monchengladbach.
Founded in 1378, Einbecker brewery is one of the first breweries to brew pilsner in Germany. Which is why their beers have the prefix “Ur” (meaning original). Einbecker offers several bock beers but is best known for its pilsner.
A brewery that has been in operation since 1868, Herrenhäuser Brewery has been brewing pilsner since 1884 their website has an in-depth timeline of their history. But honestly, there isn’t much to talk about. The beer is good, it is pretty much unchanged, and there have been a few innovations that have affected this.
After quite a lot of research, I have only managed to find two large breweries in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. If you are struggling to find what beer to drink in Germany while in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern area then check out these breweries.
The Darguner brewery was established in 1991, making it one of the more modern breweries in Germany. However, there had been brewing in Dargun since 1172 when Danish Cistercian monks settled in the area. The product line is fairly standard. Pilsner, light pilsner, wheat beer, dark beer, and a seasonal beer (Easter).
While Bavaria is, without doubt, the number one beer state in Germany, North Rhine Westphalia without a doubt deserves a mention. Technically, it is the biggest producer of beer in Germany and many of the most famous German beers are brewed here. You’ve got amazing pilsners, you’ve got the beers of Cologne, and the altbier of Dusseldorf. While Bavaria gets all the plaudits, North-Rhine Westphalia is an amazing representation of what beer to drink in Germany.
Cologne was the first place in Germany I ever visited, before going I had absolutely no knowledge of the beer scene there. I just assumed I’d be up to my neck in Paulaner, Spaten, and the like. Imagine my surprise when I was presented with a long narrow glass of Kölsch.
Kölsch beer is served in these thin glasses, and brought to your table in what is known as a wreath (imagine a large wreath with holes in it holding several thin glasses of beer). You walk into a bar/restaurant in Cologne and they will serve you this beer non-stop until you place a beer mat over your glass. It took me about five refills before I worked this out. Okay, it took me two refills, and then I just lied to my partner!
Kölsch beer is brewed to a very specific recipe, and the rules laid down by the Kölsch Konvention are even more strict than the German Purity Laws. Kölsch is warm-fermented using top-fermenting yeast. It is then kept in a cold cellar to condition.
I could have picked any of the Kölsch breweries in Cologne. There are many. But Gaffel Kölsch was the first variety that I tried. So I’ll be loyal. Gaffel Becker & Co is a Kölsch brewery that was founded in 1908, it is one of the largest breweries in Cologne.
Veltins pilsner is the fourth biggest selling beer in Germany. It is also one of my personal favourite beers. The brewery is based in Meschede-Grevenstein and has been operating since 1824. This is definitely a beer worth checking out!
There is quite a lot of Warsteiner beer floating around the UK, so you have probably heard of it. Warsteiner is very popular in Germany, it is the fifth most drunk beer. The brewery first opened in 1753 in the town of Warstein. The original brewery burned down in 1802 and was rebuilt, it then had to be repaired after sustaining damage during WWII. Warsteiner’s most popular beer is their pilsner, with their Dunkel being the second most popular.
Depending on who you talk to, Krombacher is either the most or the second most popular beer in Germany. It sells a decent range of beers, but as with many breweries, it is all about the pilsner. Krombacher Pilsner is very popular and is arguably the most popular pilsner in Germany. Krombacher brewery has been in operation since 1803.
Paderborner brewery was founded in 1852, and was bought by Warsteiner (see above) in 1990. It specialises in … you guessed it. Pilsner! With Padebroner Gold being the most popular in their range.
The German word for “Old” is “Alt”, so when you read about Altbiers it just means “old beers”. Altbier is popular in the Düsseldorf area, as well as in other towns and cities in North-Rhine Westphalia. The beer is brewed in a similar way to Kölsch, using top-fermenting yeast and warm fermentation. It is also stored in a cold cellar to condition.
The only real difference appears to be in the malt used (Kölsch uses pilsner malts, while Altbier uses a combination of pilsner malts, Munich malts, and crystal malts). This makes altbier darker and it has a slightly more hoppy taste.
Bolten-Brauerei is based in Korschenbroich and is one of the oldest breweries in the world, having been founded in 1266. It produces two types of altbier, one is filtered and one is not (so it is cloudy). It is not a particularly big brewery, but considering how old it is, I had to include it on this list.
I included Uerige as it is the only altbier that I have ever had. The brewery is based in the city of Düsseldorf and … that’s about all I can work out. Their website is quite confusing and doesn’t appear to have a history or “about us” section. Which is a shame, because the beer is great.
There are a couple of big breweries in Rhineland-Palatinate, but it is nowhere near as big of a beer producer as North-Rhineland Westphalia.
A brewery that has been running since 1689, Koblenzer is situated in the city of Koblenz. They sell a decent pilsner and a wheat beer. They also have beer shandies and other unspeakable concoctions. Koblenzer appears to have been part bought out by Bitburger recently but still seems to be brewing its own beer.
Bitburger brewery is based in the city of Bitburg. It is the third most popular beer in Germany, and is the most popular draft beer. You can also get Bitburger in the UK, and I’ve had it quite a few times. Bitburger has been running since 1817.
While Saxony has a few decent-sized breweries, the main reason why it is on this list is because of its association with Gose beer. Brewed in Saxony’s largest city, Leipzig. Gose was amazingly popular, then it almost went extinct, and now it is on the rise again. The reason? Mostly politics! Gose breweries were all closed after WWII, and as Leipzig was based in East Germany, beer production was in the hands of the Soviet Union.
The main problem Gose had though, was that it falls foul of the German Purity Laws. Though their interpretation for top-fermenting beers is open to debate, the laws are pretty clear in that you should not be adding other ingredients to your beer. Gose is made with barley, yeast, water, hops (so far so good), but it is also made with salt and coriander. This is what gives it an unusual taste.
Gose fell out of fashion between 1945 and 1995 and is only just starting to recover.
Yes, technically this is a disused translation. But it is also a brewery! One of the few breweries that brews Gose beers. If you want to try a traditional Leipzig Gose beer, then this may be your best bet.
This brewery, based in Dresden, was the first brewery in Germany to brew pilsner in the modern style. Radeberger Pilsner is the beer of choice for Vladamir Putin, who first drank it when stationed in Dresden.
Since 1436 Wernesgrüner Brauerei GmbH has been brewing beer, mostly pilsners. The brewery was very popular in Germany and the Netherlands, but when East Germany was taken over by the Soviet Union, it began to export its beers to Hungary (and other Eastern European countries) instead. The brewery was privatised in 1994 and then taken over by Bitburger in 2002.
Another ridiculously old brewery, Freiberger Brauhaus has been brewing beer since 1266, making it the oldest brewery in Saxony. The brewery is now owned by Radeberger, which is in turn owned by Dr Oetker (yes, the pizza guys). It specialises in pilsner.
I’m sure that I am missing out on a few amazing breweries here, but sadly I can only think of one that I know. Schleswig-Holstein is as North as you can go really, it, therefore, specialises in North German pilsner beers.
Flensburger pilsner is excellent, I really enjoy drinking it. The Flensburger brewery has been running since 1888 in the town of Flensburg. It is an interesting brewery, as unlike most breweries in Germany (and in the world) it has not been overtaken by a larger brewery. Of the five Flensburg families that founded the beer, two still run it to this day. The brewery brews a pilsner, a gold pilsner, and a dark beer. They also have a wheat beer, a cellar beer, and a few seasonal beers.
This is the last German state that I will be covering, and it is an interesting one. Thuringia is where black lager was first invented, and it is still brewed there to this day. The beer, known as Schwarzbier, is much darker than a Dunkel beer.
The Köstritzer brewery opened in 1543 and it is still brewing beer today. Though it is now owned by Bitburger. It is Germany’s most popular black beer, and was one of the only beers that was exported to West Germany during the Cold War.
Now that we have gone through all of the different beers in Germany, I think that it would be a good idea for me to name my personal favourites. In no particular order, here are my top ten beers. If you are looking for what beer to drink in Germany, then here is your answer.
Germany is such an interesting country when it comes to beer. On the one hand, you’ve got incredible history and excellently brewed beers. On the other, you have a huge lack of diversity in their beers. Pilsners, dark lagers, wheat beers, and festival beers dominate the beer landscape. Smaller local beers such as Gose, Kölsch, altbier, and the like have done well to survive.
I personally absolutely love everything about German beer. Sure, it may not be as adventurous as the craft beer scene in several countries, but it more than makes up for it. There is a reason why many countries hired German brewers to start their own brewing culture. Germans know beer!
If you are travelling to Germany, then hopefully you can use this article to find the right local beer for you. But if you are visiting areas that are not particularly blessed with breweries, fear not. All of the best German beers can be found throughout the country.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.