13 types of German beer every beer lover should try (part 3)

A glass of German beer being held at a tasting
Beer-tasting at Stuttgart's Slow Food Fair

This is the final part of James Meads’ mini-series to German beer: have a look at part 1 for his short introduction to German beer and to learn about Pils, Helles, Dunkel, Märzen and Export.  Part 2 covers Hefeweizen, Kellerbier and Kölsch.  To finish off, here’s all you need to know about…


Altbier is Kölsch’s neighbour from Cologne’s arch-rival city of Düsseldorf, just 40km downstream along the River Rhine.  Alt is the German beer style which most resembles English Bitter, though like most German beers it is higher in alcohol, coming in at around 4.5% to 5.0%.  Brown in colour, it also looks similar to Bitter and is served with a good-sized head, with a balanced taste of both malt and hops resulting in a fruity and smooth taste.

The most common brands of Altbier are Diebels and Schlösser.  Smaller independent breweries can be found in Düsseldorf’s Altstadt, or old town, which is colloquially known as “the longest bar in the world”, due to the huge concentration of bars spilling out into the narrow streets in summer.


View of Bamburg, Germany, famous for Rauchbier, smoked German beer
Bamburg, home of Rauchbier

Described by most people as an “acquired taste”, Rauchbier falls into the love it or hate it category.  Rauch is German for smoke, and this reddish-brown beer with a smoky aftertaste gets its uniqueness from exposing the malt to burning beechwood logs during the brewing process.

This beer is a geographically protected product hailing from the beautiful, chocolate-box small city of Bamberg in Franconia, around 40km north of Nuremberg.  Bamberg has 7 breweries within its city limit and is picture-perfect beer tasting territory.  Difficult to find outside of its native area, the most common brand you will find is Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier.  However, you will almost certainly have to go to a specialist beer shop to get your hands on these.  Alcohol content is 5.1%.


Although strictly defined as a lager, Schwarzbier is black in colour and tastes similar to a stout or porter, although not quite as sweet or bitter as a Guinness, for example.  It has a full-bodied taste and is best sipped slowly on a cold winter’s day.  These beers typically hail from Eastern Germany and the most famous brand nationwide in Germany is Köstritzer, hailing from Thuringia.  Alcohol content is between 4.5% and 5.0%.


A bottle of German beer (Maibock Hell) beer next to a full glass

Bock is usually dark brown in colour but can also be found in an amber variety.  It has a strong, toasted malt taste.  Bock is often prefixed with Winter- or Mai- (May) to demarcate the time of year it is brewed.  Winterbock and Maibock both have an alcohol content of around 6.0-7.0%.

Maibock is a typical Festbier and is not as common to find in the mass market.  Doppelbock is a stronger, sweeter version, almost exclusively a dark beer and usually comes in at between 7.0-8.0% alcohol content, although small-batch craft brewers do make stronger versions – which would explain why it’s often served in smaller glasses!

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Hopefully you’ve found something in this series that has made you thirsty, and encouraged you to get out there, be adventurous and try something different when it comes to German beer.  Life is too short to drink the boring, mass-market stuff.  Happy beer-tasting and ein Prosit!

Part 1: PilsHelles, Dunkel, Märzen and Export

Part 3: Altbier, Rauchbier, Schwarzbier and Bock.

James MeadsJames Meads swapped England’s postindustrial West Midlands for the beautiful German spa city of Wiesbaden in 2006.  He is both highly organised and hopelessly unpunctual, which thoroughly confuses the Germans.  James thinks in English and German at the same time, and when he suggests “going for a beer”, he means at least three – and definitely not Bitburger.  He founded and runs Live Work Germany, a website aiming to help people relocating to Germany settle in happily.  You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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