If you have been to Germany and drunk the beer commonly served in bars, or have partaken of the German brews generally served at Oktoberfests you may have come to the conclusion that Germans can only brew pisswasser. Not so! The most common beers in Germany are pilsners. These are light on flavor. They are brewed specifically to be downed in great quantity. A litre at your morning break, a litre at lunch, a litre at afternoon break, a litre after work, a litre with dinner and then several more after... The goal here is quantity over quality. What many may realize is that all beer-loving countries tend to have something similar - mass produced beers designed specifically to be drunk in quantity. Budweiser calls it's beer "The Great American Lager." The "Great" is clearly indefensible, but it is a lager - a pale lager, or German-style pilsner to be precise. Pisswasser. Pisswasser brewed with rice in it. But I digress...
And continue to digress for a moment. As I noted above, all beer-chugging nations have their mass-produced pisswasser. Germany has its pilsners (or pils), Australia is the land o'lagers (but not necessarily pilsners), England has ales, the US pilsners and other lagers, and so on. Quantity over quality. Mostly, but not necessarily all, forgettable stuff. Bottom line: don't judge a country's beer quality by it's mass-produced dross.
Back to Germany. If all you have sampled from this country are its pilsners then you have missed out. There are bocks (strong lagers), doppelbocks (double bocks), wheat beers (but not necessarily the yeasty Belgian kind), dunkels (amber to dark ales) and even rauchbier. Below I will briefly discuss some of my favorites and others I have sampled.
The goal when brewing any dunkel (or amber ales in general) is to aim for a balance of the malt, hops and yeast flavors. That might sound like all amber ales will be pretty much alike, but that's not the case. Even within the restriction of balance there's a lot of variation available to the brewer. A good amber ale is a refreshing beer with a noticeable, but not strong, hops flavor. A good German one is Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel.
It would be a mistake to lump these in with the common mass-produced lagers. These have higher alcohol (7-12%) and are much maltier. I'm a big fan of hoppy beers, but really enjoy a good doppelbock on occasion. Originally brewed by monks to consume during their fasts,* doppelbocks have a malty, slightly sweet, almost toasty flavor. The names of these often end with "-ator" (pronounced "ah-tor" - channel your inner-Arnold Schwarzenegger when ordering one). My personal favorite is the Ayinger Celebrator. Good toasty flavor. The Spaten Optimator is another good choice.
As is obvious from the name, wheat is used in the brew. Many of you have likely tried the yeasty Belgian wheat beers. These tend to be a little sweet with a citrus undertone. German wheat beers are not necessarily the same. Belgian brewers like to highlight the yeast, Germans more the grains and hops. I'm not a huge fan of wheat beers in general, but do like Erdinger Pikantus - a dark wheat beer. Yes, a dark wheat beer. This has a good toasty flavor.
Rauchbier means smoke beer. Before brewing any beer the malted barley is dried in a kiln. Over the centuries brewers have experimented with different levels of drying from just barely dry up to roasted malts (more about those next week). The brewers at the Brewery Tavern Schlenkerla in Bamberg tried something different - smoked malt. Yes, smoked like you would smoke meat. And that's what this interesting brew, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, tastes like. It has a very strong smoked flavor. In fact that's all you taste with the first sip. And the second. By the third you begin to notice the malt a little, and perhaps the hops on the fourth sip. To be honest, I didn't get past the fourth sip. It's like drinking this. Not pisswasser to be sure, but not drinkable either. Might make a good marinade though.
That's it for today. Your assignment for this week is to go taste a non-pilsner German beer and report back in the comments.
Next week: Stouts. More than just Guinness.
* I always imagine two monks solemnly approaching each other in the darkened cloisters.
"Brother," the first nods at the other.
"Brother," he replies.
"The Lent fast approaches."
"YYYYEEEESSSSSSS!!!!!!" they yell together while high-fiving and belly-bumping.
Then off they go in their solemn way.