It's easy to assume that all German beer is lager. In fact, there are many different styles of German beer — not just lagers (of which there are many excellent and distinctive types) but top conditioned warm-fermented ales, wheat beers, smoked beers and spontaneously fermented beers. Different beers are suited to different occasions, and each style of beer has its own distinctive character. Discovering the different styles of beer is a joy, and that's the whole point of this website.
Germany has one of the world's highest per-capita consumption rates of beer (123 litres per person in 2003) after the Czech Republic (162 litres) and Ireland (146 litres). German breweries employ about 65,000 workers, and German beer accounts for more than 10% of the worldwide market. Production is over 115 million hectolitres per year (1 hectolitre = 176 pints). For more German beer data, see Ron Pattinson's German Beer Statistics
There are around 1200 breweries in Germany, many brewing several different beers, so it's very difficult to derive a clear estimate of the total number of different beers. There is at least one brewery in almost every town, and Germans' loyalty to their local brew can perhaps be claimed to help slow the penetration of bland, poor quality international beers but it may also inhibit exploration of beer styles from elsewhere in Germany and elsewhere in the world. Foreign beers are derided by some as being "not Reinheitsgebot", but there is no German equivalent to CAMRA, and those familiar with the Great British Beer Festival may be surprised to find that only 6 beers are available at the Oktoberfest. Whilst you will often find in Belgium shops and bars that stock hundreds of beers from all around the country and representing all of its beer styles, these stores are much rarer in Germany.
The Reinheitsgebot is assumed to be a guarantor of quality, but it also limits the styles of beer brewed. Belgian fruit beers or spiced beers, whilst undoubtedly making a welcome contribution to the world of beer, would fall foul of the Reinheitsgebot, and the extension of the Reinheitsgebot when Germany first unified helped to force the decline of one of Germany's unique and distinctive beers: Gose.
The comforting presence of the Reinheitsgebot tends to suggest that all is well in the world of German beer but, in reality, German breweries are just as susceptible to takeovers, amalgamations and shifting of brewing to other breweries as those of any other nation. International brewing conglomerates such as Carlsberg and Interbrew are beginning to take over German breweries while the German Brau und Brunnen conglomerate swallows more and more German breweries. Big is not necessarily bad, but big companies are more likely to skimp on quality for the sake of profits than small, independent brewers who have a pride in their product.
Small brewers can also be tempted to cut corners and sacrifice quality, using cheaper, inferior ingredients such as hop extract (Hopfenextract). If the quality of German beer is to be preserved, German drinkers need to have an informed appreciation of the qualities of beer and the way it is made. On the other hand, if it prevents the dominance of beers brewed with preservatives, stabilisers, etc. or rice, maize and other flavour destroying adjuncts then the reinheitsgebot has some good points. But enough griping — the range of German beer styles is well worth exploring.
See also: Ron Pattinson's guide to extinct German beer styles.
Use the menu below to check out the different styles of German beers.
Last updated: 27th September 2004
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