The essential German beer styles you need to know

Most people on Earth know that beer is big business in Germany. So much so, in fact, that the northern European nation is responsible for a number of signature styles, from helles to hefeweizen. It’s the moss-soaked land of Oktoberfest and loud breweries, after all.

Whether you’re planning a trip to Bavaria or down the German aisle at your favorite bottle store, it’s worth learning a bit more about the top categories in this beer-loving country. You could spend a lifetime studying the number of styles and their differences based on history, region, etc., but you probably don’t have time for that. So get your mugs ready, here is 101.

Here are eleven of the most popular styles you should know about.


This wheat beer has made a comeback lately, especially among those looking for low-alcohol options. This is a pale, crinkled number, ideal for those who appreciate sour beers.


This mighty Munich beer is basically an imperial version of the standard bock. In its formative years, beer was nicknamed “liquid bread” by the brethren when they fasted. These rich, malty beers can exceed 10% blood alcohol, show candied fruit flavors and offer very little hop influence.


A dark lager, dunkel means “dark” in German. Munich malts give beer its dark hue, but the ABV remains quite concentrated, often around 4-6% by volume. These are the popular dark beers that reach the northern and western corners of Germany during their dreary winter months.


Another popular wheat beer in Germany, hefeweizen is incredibly refreshing. In many ways, this is OG Misty Beer, an unfiltered, yeast beer with a very light and bright color. It is fermented in a way that can often produce ester flavors like banana or even chewing gum.


Pale malted from Bavaria, helles are generally refined and immensely drinkable. Golden in color, these beers are balanced, round and floral. And with a fairly moderate ABV (usually around 5%), you can enjoy it all day.


Purists will tell you that the real kolsch can only come from the Cologne area. It’s technically true, but brewers make great riffs all over the world, especially here in the United States. It’s a beer with a crisp palate and a crisp build. It’s also a bit of a hybrid, top-fermented like a beer, yet finished cold a bit like a lager.


A pale, stronger beer historically brewed in the spring, maibock is also known as helles bock or heller bock. It’s generally around 7% ABV and lighter in color and a bit more hoppy than most of the bock family beers.


The Oktoberfest toast, this malty lager is medium bodied and comes in a spectrum of colors. It is a Bavarian classic, usually a little fuller, sweeter and less hoppy, which is akin to a Amber beer.


Germany can’t take credit pilsner, but he certainly developed his own take on the style. It is the most popular beer in Germany, a pale and sometimes cloudy beer (when not filtered) that tends to be a bit more bitter compared to other pilsners, like the Czech style.


A close relative of stout, schwarzbier is a brown lager made from roasted malt. It tends to be around 5% ABV and offers notes of cocoa and coffee. It was first documented in the 14th century in Lower Saxony.

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