Germany has a rich tradition of brewing beer. Over the centuries, distinctive styles emerged in various regions of Germany, due to the availability of certain ingredients, the composition of the water in a specific location, etc.
German brewing regions can be broadly divided up as follows:
Bavaria in the South, Franconia to the east, Rhineland and Westphalia in the west, and Northern Germany.
In this six-pack, we will be exploring some regional varieties of German beer, delving into their histories, compositions, and brewing processes.
Aecht Schlenterla Rauchbier
The first Bockbiers, brewed in the Northern German city of Einbeck in the 13th Century, were brown ales made from malted barley and wheat. Over time, wheat ceased to be used in the grain bill, and its original ale yeast shifted to a lager yeast as lager strains began to be isolated in the 16th Century. Because of the popularity of these beers, a great deal were exported, and they were therefore brewed strong to aid in preservation during travel. It is rumored that the name Einbeck gradually morphed into the phrase “Ein Bock”, “bock” being the German word for “strong”.
“Ur-“ simply means “original”, and though not brewed in the North of Germany, Aecht Schlenterla in Bamberg brews this Urbock according to the 16th Century Einbeck tradition, but they’ve added their own regional twist.
Once upon a time, ancient brewers dried their fresh malts over an open flame, imparting smokiness in the resulting beer. This traditional method was refined in Bamberg, located in the region of Franconia, and overtime became known as Rauch(smoke)bier. Today, Schlenkerla’s Rauchbiers are considered some of the best in the world. All of their beers are cold-conditioned in ancient stone cellars underneath the city. Their Urbock is available seasonally, in late fall.
Ayinger JahrHundert Bier
In the 19th Century, coal mines developed rapidly up-and-down the River Ruhr, a tributary to the Rhine. In neighboring regions, the Pilsner, a clean, hoppy lager, and the Munich Helles, a rich, malty lager, were enormously popular. In Dortmund, the largest city in the industrial Ruhr District, the two styles converged to become the Dortmunder—a generously hopped, slightly sweet, deep blonde lager. Toward the end of the 19th Century, this style gained enormous popularity among the working class, and it was brewed to a higher strength for preservation during shipping. Hence, the Dortmunder Export was born.
The Ayinger Dortmunder Export was first brewed in 1978 for the 100th Anniversary of the brewery.
Professor Fritz Briem 1809
Berliner Weisse beers were first brewed, you guessed it, in Berlin! Though its precise origins are unclear, this tart wheat beer has been brewed since at least the 1600s. It is commonly thought to be an adaptation of a brown Bohemian Wheat Beer. In modern examples, wheat comprises 20-30% of the grain bill, though in more ancient times, it is thought to have been much higher.
In the 15th Century, Germany passed a law called the Reinheitsgebot, which translates into English as “purity law”. It strictly regulated the ingredients that were “allowed” to be used in beer, the goal being, in part, to prevent brewers from competing against bakers for ingredients, in hopes of maintaining a lower cost of bread. Wheat beers did not originally meet the specifications of the Reinheitsgebot, but this was amended due to their popularity.
In addition to yeast, Berliner Weisse beers use lactic acid bacteria called Lactobacillus to create their token refreshing tartness. Traditionally, they were enjoyed “mit Schuss”—with a splash of woodruff or raspberry syrup—to mitigate the sourness.
Once the most popular beverage in Berlin, Berliner Weisse beers are protected by the appellation d’origine contrôllée, meaning that, to call itself a true Berliner Weisse, it must be brewed in Berlin. Our dear Professor Fritz beer here is brewed in Freising, Germany, but Dr. Fritz has a PhD from Weihenstephan, and specializes in brewing old styles according to tradition. It is difficult to find a better example of the style in the US. It is named 1809 after the year in which Napoleon famously dubbed this style “the champagne of the North”.
The centuries-old tradition of brewing Gose beers began in the town of Goslar, 100 miles west of Leipzig, which gets its name from the River Gose that runs through it. The river was famous for its large salt crystals, and it is believed that this tart and salty wheat beer was originally brewed from this naturally briny water. In modern Gose beers, salt is added to achieve this same quality.
Like the Berliner Weiss, the Gose uses wheat in its grain bill, often up to 50%. Lactobacillus is also used in brewing for tartness. Coriander is usually added as well.
Traditionally, Goses underwent secondary fermentation in squat bottles with long, cylindrical necks. The necks were stopped with a plug of yeast, which rose to the top as the beer carbonated.
Leipzig became the largest market for Gose beers in the 18th Century, at the height of their popularity, but by the 20th Century, the style was all-but-extinct.
Recently, the tradition of Gose brewing has been revived. The Bayerischer Gose is brewed in Leipzig itself, with the addition of cilantro.
Hops & Grain Alteration
“Alt” is the German word for “old”, and Altbiers are so-named because they are brewed in the ancient tradition of cold-conditioned ales.
Before the isolation of the lager yeast strain, most beers were brewed with ale yeast. Although the Alt style is an ancient one, it was only in the 19th Century that it distinguished itself as a style, an attempt to differentiate itself from in the massively popular lagers of the time.
Originating in Düsseldorf, our modern Alt is fermented with ale yeast (that is, a top-fermenting yeast) at the cooler temperatures that are normally conducive to the brewing of lagers. The example I’ve chosen is made right here in Austin, but it is one of the most delicious Altbiers out there, and it adheres to the style very closely.
Originating in the city of Köln (Cologne), this pale lager shares a portion of its past with the Altbier, branching off into its own style in the 19th Century, when pale malts became more readily available.
Brewing in Köln dates back at least 1000 years. In 1603, to combat the rising popularity of bottom-fermenting lager beers, Köln outlawed the brewing of lagers, and such was the lay-of-the-land for many centuries to come.
In the 1800s, French influence led to a massive push to brew bottom-fermenting beers in Köln, but the climate proved too warm to successfully brew lagers. The result was the modern Kölsch, brewed with Pilsner malt and lager yeast, and fermented at warmer ale temperatures. Like the Berliner Weisse, in order to be truly considered a Kölsch beer, it must be brewed in the city of Köln.