Celebrate Oktoberfest 2020 with the best German beers from Waitrose, Beer Hawk, Beer Merchants
Some Germans have probably been sobbing into empty steins over lockdown, with their celebrated Oktoberfests cancelled (including Munich’s vast knees up), and nowhere to clink glasses while cavorting to the brassy bellowing of their beloved oompah bands.
And lockdown has also put a hold on such festivities in the UK, where Oktoberfests have become increasingly popular as Brits develop a taste for beer from one of the great brewing nations of the world.
Unlike some countries, Germans are sticklers for adhering to style guides, and thanks to the proliferation of retailers importing German beers we can now experience more of those styles in our own homes.
If you’re in the mood for a home-staged festival, we’ve put together a list of ten German beers to give you a taste of the kind of flavours you can expect from the real thing, each one an exemplary example of its style.
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Stock levels of some German beers on sale in the UK can fluctuate, so we’ve tried to pick out those that are more readily available. If one has run out then persevere and we’re sure you’ll be able to track one down before too much of a delay. After all, you can’t leave those steins empty forever.
With some, such as Helles and Pilsner, the differences can be subtle; others, like the smoke-infused rauchbiers of Bamberg, are more unmistakable.
Augustiner lagerbier hell, 5.2%
Helles is a lager style developed in Munich that relies on quality ingredients and brewing brilliance to lift a seemingly simple beer into something outstanding. Augustiner-Bräu’s helles is at the pinnacle of lager excellence, a smooth brew with light malts and a muted hop bitterness. In the mouth it feels soft with a perky effervescence and is so easy going that you’ll be tempted to do as many Munchners do and drink it all day long.
Schonramer gold festbier, 5.7%
Style: Marzen / festbier
Every German Oktoberfest should have a marzen or festbier in its line-up, a lager traditionally brewed in March and kept cool through summer until the festivities begin. This pale golden drop is a fine stein-filler, looking resplendent with its white-with-a-hint-of-cream frothy head, and is dangerously gluggable. Touches of toasty malt and a slight grassy, lemony hoppiness give it a boost of flavour while the clean lager character will keep you refreshed until the festival’s end.
Paulaner weissbier, 5.5%
Excellent weissbiers from Erdinger, Weihenstephan, Franziskaner and Paulaner are becoming a familiar sight at British retailers while a bit more rummaging online will quickly unearth more top brews from the likes of Schneider Weisse and Ayinger. We’ve picked out Pauliner for this list, a typically hazy golden beer with a rapidly rising head and the familiar banana and clove flavours that the style demands. Bready malts, a light fizz and a hint of lemon give some extra character to what is an effortlessly drinkable and unfussy beer.
Schlösser Alt altbier, 4.8%
Dusseldorf’s beer speciality, altbier, is often described as being close to a traditional English beer due to its malty character and use of ale yeast. Schlösser, a brewery dating back to 1873, produces a typical example of the style – a clear amber brew with some toasty, nutty malt flavours, a fair amount of earthy bitterness, and a clean, smooth feel that makes it distinctly Germanic.
Ayinger celebrator doppelbock, 7.6%
Lots of German breweries produce a stronger, meatier version of their lager known as “bock”, and some increase the strength a notch further with a “doppelbock.” Ayinger’s rich, malty lager has the kind of dried fruit and caramel aroma that you get from numerous strong, dark boozes, and is super smooth to sip, with a sweetness and chocolate toastiness that adds extra comfort to the alcohol’s alluring warmth.
Fruh kolsch, 4.8%
Kolsch is Cologne’s answer to Dusseldorf’s altbier, a pale beer that uses top fermenting yeast more commonly associated with ales, but has been cold-conditioned like a lager. Fruh’s version follows the Kolsch Konvetion’s strict production guidelines and epitomises the style, with sweet bready malts and restrained floral and grassy hops. A superb sessionable beer.
Jever pilsener, 4.9%
If you’re looking for a beer to tick the boxes marked “clean”, “refreshing” and “full-bodied” then a German pilsner might be just the thing you need. This North German brew from Jever has all of those characteristics in abundance with a dry finish and a considerable grassy and herbal bitter bite for good measure. One of the hoppiest, and most refreshing, German pilsners you’ll find.
Aecht Schlenkerla rauchbier marzen, 5.1%
Bamburg is to beer as Islay is to whisky: both places like their booze to be smoky. But whereas Islay uses peat to smoke its malt, this Aecht Schlenkerla rauchbier come from burning beech. This marzen has a full waft of smoky goodness and some flavours you might associate with whisky, such as leather, oak and charcoal – but beneath all of that lies a mighty fine, malty lager beer.
Weihenstephaner hefeweisse dunkel, 5.4%
If you want an increased amount of roasted malt to your German beer then go dunkel (dark). The “world’s oldest brewery” Weihenstephaner has done just that with this weissbier, delivering touches of caramel and cocoa to the ripe banana notes. Those toasted flavours may give it something of wintery appeal, but it’s still as gluggable as a lighter weisse.
Schofferhofer grapefruit radler, 2.5%
For those who want to keep a watch on their booze intake, a radler – the German version of a British shandy – could be the thing. This radler is a marriage of hefeweizen and grapefruit and, like the best marriages, both parties get an equal chance to shine. So besides the sweet, sharp grapefruit you’ll also get some banana, clove and crisp wheat freshness – and with only a fraction of the full strength beer’s alcohol content.
The verdict: German beers
While not all German styles are to everyone’s liking (some of the smoked and strong beers can be an acquired taste) we don’t think there will be many folk who would turn down the outstanding Augustiner helles.
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