When describing German styles of craft beer, the words soft, smooth, bready, and malty are used frequently. Often, we think about German beers in the fall because of Oktoberfest—the world’s largest beer festival. Happy crowds of people with festive steins in hand are adorned in Bavarian clothing: Dirndl for women and lederhosen for men.
The best way to learn about this style is to talk to someone who has a passion for brewing and a great knowledge of German beers. John Fahrer, head brewer and co-owner of Scriptown Brewing Company, is a craft beer traditionalist at heart. Fahrer knows that for each style to be authentic, it must be crafted in the same way the original founders did.
Fahrer said the first thing about most of the German beers are that they are lagers and not ales. The difference? Ales use top fermenting yeast and can be fermented and ready for consumption in 14 to 16 days. Lagers use bottom fermenting yeast and require a minimum of 24 – 28 days to ferment. This longer fermentation at cold temps is what gives these lagers that extra smoothness.
Take for instance what most Americans know as Oktoberfest beer. The actual style name is Märzen, which comes from the German word “March.” This amber lager would be brewed in March and lagered throughout the summer. Before refrigeration, this would take place in caves to keep the temperature lower.
Fahrer added that when brewing German beers, you must get the malts from Germany, which are malted barley and wheat. The malt is typically not roasted to a high level. You can tell this by the color profile that is yellow, copper, and light brown. The exception would be a Schwarzbier that is a dark lager.
Here is a sample list of some of the top German styles of beer:
• KÖlsch: Pale-colored and originated out of Cologne. Crisp and light with some honey notes. Some have a very subtle saltiness that adds to the experience.
• Helles: Hell in German means “pale” or “bright.” The Fest Helles at Scriptown is malty and sweet with little to no bitterness from the hops.
• Altbier: This copper to brown-colored wheat ale comes from the Rhineland region. This one is not a lager though is cool fermented. Nice medium body and smooth.
• Doppelbock: This style came from the monasteries and ranges from 7 to 13 percent ABV. Typically copper to brown color and very malty.
• Dunkel: The Franconia region of Bavaria is where this all barley brown lager comes from. Nice and malty with some nutty notes.
German-style beers are a great type of craft beer if you are looking for something smooth and slightly sweet. Enjoy your own adventure with them! Cheers!