April is just around the corner, and with it, our first annual GermanFest on Saturday the 16th. We thought the Germans were overdue for a little appreciation, especially here in the Northwest, so we lined up some of the best local brewers and compiled an ambitious list of arcane German style brews not usually found on these shores. In some cases, the master brewers did us one better by coming up with styles we hadn’t even heard of!
It’s possible that these brewers, like us, have noticed a growing misconception in the beer attitudes of the typical Northwest drinker. For some reason, a few myths have perpetuated about German beers, and this festival is our attempt to dispel some of these myths and foster a newfound appreciation for little known styles. Here are just a few of the nastier rumors going around today:
Myth #1: German beer consists solely (or at least predominantly) of light, thin lagers with very little flavor.
If someone from another country approached you and said the above statement about American beer, you would probably get a little riled up until you realized that all they probably know of American beer is what’s available from the macro giants like Budweiser or Coors in their country of origin. You would then take that misguided soul on a tour of real American breweries and show him or her the vast difference between a Bud Light and a barrel aged Imperial Stout from your brewery of choice. The same misconception plays out for the American drinker who supposes that just because the only German beer they’ve had here tastes pretty bland, that all German beer must be the same. Remember that just because a beer is fermented using a lager yeast doesn’t mean it has to be light, clean and forgettable. Just like ales, you can add hops, dark roasty malts, and raise the ABV high enough to cripple a liver.
Myth #2: Germans only brew lagers.
People forget that authentic Bavarian Hefeweizen, which is far different–and in this beertender’s humble opinion, far superior–from the American interpretation, is brewed using an ale yeast. Similarly, other wheat beer variations like dunkelweizen and berlinerweiss, are customarily brewed with an ale yeast.
Myth #3: Because the Germans follow the Reinheinsgebot, the law allowing only barley, wheat, hops, yeast, and water in their beers, they can’t properly explore more flavorful and creative brewing options.
It’s true that the Germans limit themselves to traditional ingredients, but that can be a good thing. Consider how many breweries use extra ingredients as a crux rather than a legitimate contribution to a brew. What makes the German brewers so remarkable is how much flavor they can achieve using standard ingredients; it’s far more challenging to achieve the levels of flavor, subtlety and nuance that German brewers excel at.
Myth #4: Ales are a better medium for the extreme flavors that craft beer lovers appreciate so much.
Lagers can be just as extreme, if you want them to be. A Dopplebock is a dark, rich, full bodied and potent brew. A Schwarzbier can showcase an aggressively bitter roast. A true Pilsner can be almost as hoppy as an IPA (albeit with different kinds of hops). Consider that the kinds of ales we appreciate today have little or no resemblance to their British ancestors, which were far milder and meeker. It is just as possible to take a lager yeast and turn around a beer that will kick your teeth in. A few brave American breweries have already started down this path: the Bruery’s Humulus Lager, Lagunitas Fusion V, and Heater Allen Mediator are just a few examples.
Myth #5: All German Beer Tastes the Same
There’s actually a remarkable amount of variety across the board for German style beers. Consider the puckering tartness of a Berlinerweisse and then contrast that with the floral, dry cleanliness of a Pilsner; take a fruity, creamy Hefe and then check out a boozy dopplebock; sit down with a smoky Rauchbier and then settle in with the light caramel maltiness of a proper Marzen.
The unfortunate truth is that as beer lovers we don’t get exposed to very much German style beer and the versions we do find are often lacking because they come from the larger German breweries where flavors are watered down for a mainstream audience. While most American craft brewers have adopted the ale yeast rather than the lager yeast, this usually has more to do with production demands rather than a bias against lagers. It is simply much faster to ferment an ale than a lager, and most small brewers can’t afford to keep all their tanks full of unfermented beer for additional weeks or months.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be pulling the curtain back on some of the particular beers present at this year’s GermanFest and exploring some unfamiliar styles and what they’re all about. In the meantime, be sure to check out our pre-order page to get your ticket and then read up on my favorite German style brew, the mighty maibock.