A Guide to Bavarian Beer Styles

The German region of Bavaria has had centuries to hone the art of brewing, and we take you on a guided tour of seven of their signature styles.
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Excuse the Bavarians if they scoff a bit at America’s newfound craft-beer obsession. It’s just, they’ve been doing this for a while. They started codifying beer styles and production in 1516, with purity laws that are still in effect. And the state’s capital, Munich, is home to Oktoberfest. Here’s your cheat sheet to getting to know some of the classic German styles, as well as their American craft counterparts.

Rauchbier

Jack's Abby Smoke & Dagger“Rauch” is German for smoke, and this beer, native to the Bavarian town of Bamberg, has plenty of it. The malt for this beer is dried over wood fire, imbuing it with such a strong smoky flavor that it’s sometimes called “bacon beer.” It’s been around since the 1500s or earlier and was probably one of the original malt beers.

Traditional: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen

American Craft: Jack’s Abbey Smoke & Dagger

Hefeweizen/Weissbier

“Yeast wheat beer” or “wheat beer,” respectively, is not made exclusively in Bavaria, but it is made particularly well and prolifically there. A large proportion of malted wheat, instead of malted barley, makes this cloudy, light-colored beer sweet, creamy and refreshing.

Traditional: Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse

American Craft: New Glarus Dancing Man Wheat

A Fresh Guide to Hops in Beer

Helles

On March 21, 1894, Munich’s Spaten Brewery put its first cask of helles on a boat to Hamburg, and a new style of beer was born. Its name means “light one,” and this beer is a light, clear gold color. It’s crisp and dry, with little aroma or aftertaste, and a mildly malty flavor.

Traditional: Spaten Premium Lager

American Craft: Surly Brewing Co. Hell Lager

Pils

pivo_bottleAlthough it’s named after Pilsen, Bohemia (which neighbors Bavaria and is now part of the Czech Republic), Pils or Pilsner was invented by a Bavarian brewer. Effervescent, with a hoppy bite upfront that mellows into a dry finish, it’s one of the most commonly drunk beers in the world. Stick to the Bavarian or American craft bottlings and avoid the mass-market products brewed with adjuncts like corn.

Traditional: Pilsner Urquell

American Craft: Firestone Walker Pivo Hoppy Pils

Dunkelweizen

This dark (“dunk” is German for dark) ale has a malty flavor with little of the bitterness, fruitiness or toastiness traditionally associated with dark beers.  It’s made with mostly barley and was the first German beer style to be codified and regulated.

Traditional: Hofbräu Dunkel

American Craft: Von Trapp Dunkel Lager

Kellerbier

Of all the Bavarian beer varieties, this one is hardest to find in North America. Its name means “cellar beer,” because it’s cask-conditioned in cool, dark places. Amber in color, with little to no carbonation, they are unfiltered, with rich, aromatic hops and malt and a clean finish.

Traditional: Weihenstephaner 1516 Kellerbier

American Craft: Samuel Adams Alpine Spring

Doppelbock

troegs_troegenator_doublebockSweet, malty and high in alcohol, this “double bock” was invented by monks to sustain them through Lenten fasts. Bock was invented in Einbeck, in nearby Saxony. When the Bavarian monks got their hands on it, they pronounced the region “ein bock,” which translates to “a goat,” so you may see goats on the labels. They brewed it in a lager style and made the signature, stronger double.

Traditional: Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock

American Craft: Tröegs Troegenator Doublebock

Published on October 28, 2016
Topics: Beer Guides
About the Author
Layla Schlack
Senior Editor

Schlack has written and edited stories about cooking, dining, spirits, entertaining and travel, as well as developed recipes, in various editorial roles at Fine Cooking and Hemispheres. Her writing has won a NATJA award. When she’s not editing Wine Enthusiast’s food, spirits and entertaining stories, she can usually be found clanging around her Connecticut kitchen, beverage in hand, trying to re-create some tasty meal she’s had over the course of her travels. Email: lschlack@wineenthusiast.net




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