What’s not to love about Oktoberfest? Never-ending pours of Oktoberfest beers like amber-hued märzen, salt-flecked pretzel knots and more German treats—they’re all sorely missed once the official festival concludes in early October.
Regardless, just because the dulcet sounds of the oompah bands have faded into memory and the dirndls and lederhosen are once again unfashionable, there’s no reason not to continue exploring the wonderful—and more diverse than you might think—world of German beer and brewing.
Although drinkers might typically associate German beer with pale lager, the broad history and tradition of German brewing has culminated in a fantastic breadth of styles and flavors. Lagers may well make up the majority of German brewing styles—from Kölsch and Kellerbier to Helles and Hellerbock—but the fun doesn’t stop there. German brewing also includes funky sour styles like Berliner Weisse and Gose, and the country is arguably the world’s best at brewing wheat beer.
Here are some of the best beers in the German brewing canon, according to beer pros.
Best German Pilsner: Rothaus Tannenzäpfle, Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus
Rothaus’ Tannenzäpfle might not be the most widely-available or even well-known pilsner, but if you know, you know.
“I love the beer itself, the gold foil on the bottles, the label artwork and it’s just fun to say,” says Michael Graham, co-founder of Austin Beerworks. “It’s at the perfect intersection of flavor and drinkability—enough character to deeply analyze and appreciate, and little enough to ignore if you just want to have a beer.”$16 / 11oz 6-pack Total Wine & More
Best German Kölsch: Gaffel Kölsch, Privatbrauerei Gaffel Becker & Co
field_5e860b0163e91$10 / 16.9oz 4-pack Total Wine & More
Best German Weissbier: Schneider Hopfenweisse Tap 5, Schneider & Sohn
Tap 5, a hopfenweisse brewed in collaboration with legendary brewmaster Garrett Oliver to showcase the differences between U.S. and German ingredients, is a standout example of the style.
“It’s always amazed me how this beer tastes like it’s been bombed with U.S. hops,” says Joe Dick, account manager at British importer James Clay and Sons. “But is actually an amazing portrayal of [the German hop] hallertauer. Plenty of bananas and cloves kicking about to balance the books, and scarily drinkable for 8.2%.”$6 / 750ml Wine-Searcher
Best German Doppelbock: Korbinian, Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan
“There’s no other beer that makes me want to tuck in for the colder months than Weihenstephaner Korbinian,” says Jenny Pfäfflin, brewer and marketing manager at Dovetail Brewery in Chicago.
“This richly-hued doppelbock dances with ruby highlights when held up to the light, like the flame in a fireplace. It feels luxurious, with its cappuccino-colored foam, and deep flavors of boozy raisin, toasted hazelnuts and Rolo candies—but in the deftness of masterful German brewing, it never feels like it’s trying too hard.”$4 / 16.9oz Total Wine & More
Best German Helles: Augustiner Helles, Augustiner-Bräu
A common thread of debate amongst beer lovers is which is the better helles: Augustiner or Tegernseer. Both are excellent, but only one can come out on top.
“I find [Augustiner] the perfect combination of something you can think about and also switch off and not think about, because it’s just so well made,” says Jonny Hamilton, brewer at Newbarns Brewery in Edinburgh, Scotland. “Generally it’s one of the most consistent beers I can think of. It’s the perfection of helles for me, it’s what I aim to make.”$14 / 12oz 6-pack Total Wine & More
Best German Rauchbier: Helles Schlenkerla Lagerbier, Schlenkerla
Though smoked beers exist outside of Germany and Poland, these two countries are leaders in the styles, in the forms of rauchbier and grodziskie, respectively. Although numerous different breweries in the town of Bamberg, Bavaria, produce rauchbier, perhaps the most famous is Schlenkerla. Its märzen is its flagship, but the helles is outstanding, too.
“It is a perfect introduction to the style without being too ‘ham-like,’ and a really great way to appreciate a smoked helles,” says beer writer Samer Kudairi. “A much lighter approach to what people associate with this style, and definitely crushable.”$5 / 500ml Total Wine & More
What Is Pilsner?
The workhorse style of pilsner is arguably the most well-known German style, and perhaps for good reason: it’s an easy-drinking, well-rounded pale lager that’s appropriate in almost any beer drinking situation.
What Is Kölsch?
Kölsch is the subject of much debate. Though some claim it’s a lager fermented with an ale yeast, or even an ale fermented with a lager yeast, it is in fact a lagered ale. Which is to say: A light, crisp pale ale (though not in any way similar to an American pale ale) that’s slowly fermented with an ale yeast at a cooler temperature. Soft yet snappy, and crisp but nuanced, kölsch is the fantastic cousin of a pilsner.
What Is Weissbier?
Weissbier is both divisive and, paradoxically, incredibly approachable. It can serve as an excellent gateway beer, too. The relatively broad and crisp-tasting family of German wheat beer offers a diverse range of flavors: banana, clove, pepper, citrus, bread, bubblegum and more.
What Is Doppelbock?
Doppelbock seems to stretch simpler perceptions of lager. If a pale, golden pilsner springs to mind when considering lager, the rich, malty and dark fruit character of a doppelbock might come as a surprise.
What Is Helles?
Light, delightfully crisp and refreshing, this style packs a gentle bready malt character and a moreish finish.
What Is Rauchbier?
This smoky beer is produced by drying malt over beechwood log fires.
Last Updated: July 12, 2023