German Beer Styles Defined

Just when you think you’ve nailed down all the different variations of beer, the distinctions between strains of hops, malts and yeasts, and sampled the flavors that make each beer-making region of the world unique to every other, a style pops up that you’ve never heard before… but that’s been around for ages.

That’s the kind of experience that humbles even the most learned and erudite beer drinker, stumbling upon undiscovered beer country and realizing that you’re still a tourist no matter how many different brews you can claim to have conquered.

Our upcoming GermanFest on April 16th will test a few palates with flavors heretofore unknown, so we thought a little guide might help aid the journey and shine a little light on unfamiliar territory. Listed below is a sampling of some of the more obscure styles of beer represented at our fest along with a little information about what your taste buds can expect.

Roggenbier– A Bavarian style rye beer that utilizes the same yeast strain as a hefeweizen. As rye lovers well know, the substitution of rye for barley (not a complete substitution mind you, but a substantial one), allows for a drier, darker and spicier beer. Rye roughens your beer up, raking the tongue a little as it goes down. This more abrasive malt combined with the fruitier banana and clove esters of a hefeweizen yeast should result in a well balanced and complex brew that is nevertheless fairly light bodied and low in alcohol. This style all but died out after rye shortages in the 15th century forced brewers to return to barley to fill their malt bill.

Kellerbier– Literally, “cellar beer,” this beer style typically refers to a lager that is cellared in a wooden cask at cool temperatures and is intentionally unfiltered, allowing more of the yeast to remain in the brew. This results in a cloudier beer with more yeast esters present. Malt-wise, the recipes can vary, resulting in a beer that ranges from light golden to amber. For a fully authentic kellerbier experience, Germans will drink these directly from the casks they were aged in and without the addition of CO2, preferring the natural carbonation produced during the fermentation process.

Gose– We’ve had this beer style on a good bit at the bar, and it never fails to raise a few eyebrows and elicit some questions. First of all, it’s pronounced GO-ZUH (think Gozer the Gozerian if you can’t remember), and its unique name hails from the town where it originated, Goslar. Like its name, its ingredients are way out there, especially for a German brew. It’s a sour-style wheat ale with coriander and salt, resulting in a tart and zesty brew that is nevertheless refreshing and low in alcohol. The style has had a tumultuous history, disappearing and reappearing throughout history.

Berliner Weisse– Also a sour wheat beer, the Berliner Weisse distinguishes itself from the Gose by being drier, cleaner and more aggressively sour. At 3% alcohol, it’s not only the lightest sour beer available, but also one of the lightest beer styles out there. Of course, that’s not to say it lacks flavor; what hops do for IPAs, sour fermentation does for the berliner weisse. The more sour, the better! In fact, these beers are often served with fruit flavored syrups to add a counterbalance of sweetness.

Alt– The precursor to the lager, the alt is a beer that wants it both ways. It wants to be clean and crisp like a good light lager, but still retain some of the body and fruitiness of an ale. Back in the old days, lager yeast hadn’t yet been discovered, so everyone was drinking ales, which usually only ferment at higher temperatures. German brewers in search of something lighter and cleaner got the bright idea to gradually introduce their ale yeast to colder temperatures over a longer period of time and the result was the alt (aka “old”) bier. The opposite of the altbier is the steam beer (ala Anchor Steam), which is a lager brewed at warmer ale temperatures.

Check back soon for more details about the GermanFest!

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