Clinking steins of beer, raucous singing, noisy oompah bands, plates of sausages and well-worn lederhosen: if you want to tick off German clichés then get yourself to a German beer festival because they’re all very much in evidence. These big, boozy bashes are now such a hit with fun-seekers they’re replicated the world over.
The most famous of all beer festivals, Munich’s much celebrated Oktoberfest, has strict beer entry criteria: breweries must come from the city and uphold the 500-year-old Reinheitsgebot beer purity law, meaning that booze must contain only water, barley, hops and yeast to be officially sold as beer.
Some modern brewers may curse its restrictive measures, but centuries worth of brewing experts have adhered to it and created a vast range of beer styles. Often unique to a particular town or city, each particular beer is likely to invoke a great sense of regional pride.
Only six breweries make the grade for Munich’s celebrated knees-up, but for those of you who fancy creating an Oktoberfest in your own home your only restriction is availability. And while supermarkets are well stocked with weissbiers, for a greater choice you’ll have to seek out some specialist importers.
Handily, we’ve done the donkey work for you, so for maximum German beer enjoyment you could do worse than enlist the help of this collection, showcasing some of the most popular styles throughout the country. Lederhosen optional.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen, 6%: £2.79 per 500ml, Honest Brew
Made by one of the Oktoberfest breweries, Märzen was traditionally an end-of-brewing-season beer, made a little bit stronger to help them last through to the autumn festivals and beyond.
Thankfully, this Oktoberfest special is now made all year round. It provides effortlessly smooth drinking with lightly toasted caramel flavours warmed by a comforting cloak of alcohol. Simple beer expertly executed.
Schneider Weisse Tap 6, 8.2%: £4.49 per 500ml, Beer Hawk
A legendary German beer brewed with wheat and dark malts. It’s full-bodied, subtly sweet, smooth and creamy, and peppered with spiciness from the yeast and hops. High in alcohol and big on flavour, every sip is a beery pleasure.
Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier, 5.4%: £1.85 for 500ml, Waitrose
Top notch Hefeweizens from Erdinger and Franziskaner have been readily available in British supermarkets for years, and we’ve started noticing increased shelf space for Weihenstephan’s version too.
And that’s good news because it’s outstanding, as you would hope from “The World’s Oldest Brewery”. It’s clean and crisp with delicate banana and clove notes, derived from the special yeast, and a light spice that enhances its refreshing qualities. A classic beer for any occasion.
Fruh Kolsch , 4.8%: £2.20 per 330ml, Beer Merchants
Cologne’s beer style, Kölsch, is a pale ale bordering on lager territory and Früh’s version is as refreshing as it comes.
Clean and light with a bready sweetness, some lemon fruitiness and a dry, hoppy finish. It’s so drinkable that the bottle rarely seems big enough.
Augustiner Helles, 5.2%: £2.90 per 500ml, Beer Merchants
Few countries can match Germany’s lager brewing brilliance, with the country’s malt and hops perfectly suited to the crisp, clean characteristics of a good lager.
Helles was first brewed in Munich 130 years ago as a reaction to the Bohemian pilsners, and Augustiner’s effort is one of the city’s most popular. Clear and light with delicate hopping and smooth malts it’s the epitome of a thirst-quenching beer.
Stone (Berlin), White Ghost Berliner Weisse, 4.7%: £2.49 for a 330ml can, Beers of Europe
Stone Brewing started life in California, 1996, and twenty years later their impressive growth enabled them to open a brewery in Berlin.
This German-brewed beer follows the city’s classic Berliner Weisse style, using local lactobacillus bacteria for fermentation while being brought up to date with modern German hop varieties Huell Melon and Callista.
It has the sourness and flavour of not-quite-ripe summer fruits and, just as your mouth starts to pucker, a crisp, dry graininess emerges – giving it a satisfyingly refreshing finish.
Brauerie Heller, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Fastenbier, 5.5%: £2.79 per 500ml, BeerSniffers
One sniff is all it takes to reveal a Rauchbier’s special ingredient: smoked malt. This beer, a Bamberg speciality, is chestnut brown with a good depth of malty flavours, strong bittering and a shaving of oaky maturity.
Dry and moreish, the smoky tones are always present but never dominate, acting like a distant campfire luring you in to the late night entertainment.
Uerige, Sticke Altbier, 6%: £4.49 for a 330ml bottle, Honest Brew
Altbier is a Dusseldorf speciality – a style that uses top-fermenting ale yeast and receives a long conditioning period at a low temperature, to create a brown ale that has a smoother, more lagerish feel than traditional British brown ales.
Uerige Alt is one of the more well known examples you’ll find, but we rather like the brewery’s stronger version, Sticke. It’s a bit maltier – bordering on nutty territory – and has a higher level of bitterness.
There’s a sweet creaminess that brings to mind herbal lozenges and, as the bitterness crescendos, some pipe tobacco hoppiness leads out the finish.
Fuerst Wiacek, Pleasures and Treasures, 5.5%: £4.30 for a 330ml can, Caps And Taps
You’ll struggle to find many beers from the younger German breweries in the UK, but Berlin’s Fuerst Wiacek do make the occasional appearance. Their brewing catalogue contains a large proportion of IPAs and, if this can is anything to go by, we would be keen to work our way through the list.
Dry-hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo, it pours a hazy pale gold and has a heady blend of tropical and citrus flavours. And with a light body, a not too over-the-top level of alcohol and a subdued bitterness it scores high on the refreshment chart.
It seems a little disrespectful to attempt to pick a “best beer” from a country with so many world-class brews as Germany. But if you’re looking for a taste of the Oktoberfest then the obvious choice from our list, to sit alongside your wurst and sauerkraut, is the Hacker-Pschorr Märzen. Prost!