Beer & Wine Beer

The 11 Best German Beers to Drink in 2021

Germany has gifted the world with incredible brews.

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When Oktoberfest is over and the beer steins are put away, it’s easy to forget that the world owes much of its gratitude to Germany for creating some of the most tried-and-true beer styles. The mighty lager, the beer that has found a home in Michelin-starred restaurants and the dusty fridge in your parents’ garage alike, can be traced back to a corner of the globe known as Germany before Germany even existed. Budweiser is a lager, but so are the beers that grace the long tables of Oktoberfest. These ancient beers, which are distinguishable from ales by the fact that they utilize bottom-fermenting yeast that thrives at cooler temperatures, are the building blocks of any beer education.

“There will always be room for well-made lagers in the world of American craft beer, and this is being increasingly proven by more and more breweries producing them and more and more craft beer fans seeking them out,” says Rob Camstra and Nick Guyton, director of brewing operations and head brewer at Gemüt Biergarten in Columbus, Ohio. The German-inspired brewery and beer garden opened in Columbus’ Olde Towne East neighborhood in late-2019. “A big part of our focus at Gemüt is that we do not want to chase trends: clean, well-crafted lagers are a family of beer styles that are timeless.”

The spectrum of lagers is almost as vast as the spectrum of beer itself, ranging from the full yet refreshing helles to the rich and smoky rauchbier. But lagers aren’t Germany’s only claim to fame. The country that runs on beer the same way America supposedly runs on Dunkin’ also blessed us with other ubiquitous brews, including the fruity hefeweizen and crisp kölsch. While some German beer styles are seldom seen stateside, there are plenty of American breweries that have found inspiration in these traditional styles and are committed to introducing them to a new generation of drinkers. Below is a list our experts have curated to showcase the best German beers to drink right now.

Best Overall: Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier

Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier

Courtesy of Minibar

  • Region: Germany
  • ABV: 5.4%
  • Tasting Notes: banana, yeast, cinnamon

“The classic hefeweizen from the oldest brewery in the world,” says Hagen Dost, owner and brewer at Dovetail Brewery in Chicago. The brewery specializes in traditional brewing methods to make continental European-style beers, but the beer he’s talking about is Weihenstephaner’s Hefe Weissbier. This lively brew checks all of the boxes for the style, with its layers of flavors that include clove and banana as well as cinnamon and malt. “[It’s] perfect for a Sunday morning frühschoppen—early pint—with weisswurst, sweet mustard, and a pretzel.”

Best Oktoberfest: Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen

 Courtesy of Drizly.com

  • Region: Germany
  • ABV: 5.8%
  • Tasting Notes: malty, floral, bread

When you’re talking about Oktoberfest beers, you’re usually talking about märzen. Traditionally brewed in March so they are ready for the fall, these malty brews are just as well known for their rich flavor as they are for the celebration that goes with them.

Ayinger is located near the epicenter of that celebration, just outside Munich, and its Oktober Fest-Märzen embodies the flavors of the festival. This beer has a “beautiful amber and copper maltiness with caramel notes and a huge stand of off-white foam,” Dost says.

Best Hefeweizen: Schneider Weisse

Schneider Weisse

Courtesy of Drizly.com 

  • Region: Germany
  • ABV: 5.4%
  • Tasting Notes: banana, cloves, nutmeg

The hefeweizen can be a polarizing style, especially for those who are new to it. Meaning “wheat beer with yeast,” it's a hazy brew that can taste like bananas and bubblegum. If you're looking for an American option, Texas’ Live Oak makes one of the best. For a German classic, grab a bottle of Schneider Weisse. Camstra notes that it's “the best hefeweizen in the world by a fair margin, in my opinion, with a perfect balance of banana and clove notes.”

Read Next: The Best Beers

Best Kölsch: Gaffel Kölsch

Gaffel Kölsch

Courtesy of Drizly.com 

  • Region: Germany
  • ABV: 4.8%
  • Tasting Notes: biscuit, lemon, grass

Recently kölsch entered the spotlight as the thirst-quenching, impossibly crisp beer of choice during hotter months. While many American brewers have tried their hand at the style, there’s plenty of German imports available as well, such as Gaffel Kölsch.

When it comes to consuming this light, easy-drinking brew, Dost suggests a traditional method. “Do yourself a favor and pick up a traditional Kölner Stange to drink these: a 200 ml glass that, in Cologne, will keep getting replaced by a fresh glass as soon as you reach the bottom until you put your coaster on top of the glass.”

Best Bock: Rogue Dead Guy Ale

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

 Courtesy of Minibar

  • Region: Oregon
  • ABV: 6.8%
  • Tasting Notes: malt, toffee, bitter

One of the reasons more small brewers don’t regularly make lagers is because the fermentation process takes much longer than it does with ales. That’s especially true for the bock, a lager that requires additional fermentation time, resulting in a smooth and robust brew. Rogue has been making its maibock, Dead Guy Ale, since 1990 and is one of the few craft brewers to offer this style year-round.

Best Doppelbock: Tröeges Tröegenator Double Bock

Tröeges Tröegenator

 Courtesy of Minibar

  • Region: Pennsylvania
  • ABV: 8.2%
  • Tasting Notes: caramel, malt, stone fruit

Tröegenator, Tröeges’ highly decorated doppelbock (it’s won over a dozen awards, including World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival golds), is so beloved by the Pennsylvania brewery that it’s earned the nickname ‘Nator.

This food-friendly brew is a boozier version of the German bock, and shines with deep dessert tones, like chocolate and caramel, that can stand up to its malty backbone.

Read Next: The Best Beer Glasses

Best Dunkel: Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel

Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel

 Courtesy of Drizly.com

  • Region: Germany
  • ABV: 4.7%
  • Tasting Notes: chocolate, malt, bread

Despite its name, the dunkel, or “dark,” is a lager that sits in the middle of the beer color spectrum. Its trademark is the use of caramelized Munich malt, which gives the beer a dessert-like quality without being overly sweet. “This beer is over-the-top great,” Dost says about Weltenburger Kloster’s Barock Dunkel. “A category-defining dunkel: malty, full-bodied, chocolate, everlasting off-white foam served in glass tankards.”

Best Helles: Commerzienrat Riegele Privat

Commerzienrat Riegele Privat

 Courtesy of Drizly.com

  • Region: Germany
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Tasting Notes: biscuit, lemon, floral, hops

The German helles, or “pale lager,” is the beer to grab if you want something that’s full of flavor but won’t weigh you down. “Straw-yellow and slightly sweet, with just enough floral hoppiness to notice that it's there,” Camstra says of the style and, specifically, Commerzienrat’s Riegele Privat. “If you're not counting how many you've had by the litre then you're doing it wrong.”

Best Pilsner: Rothaus Pils Tannenzäpfle

Rothaus Pils Tannenzäpfle

Courtesy of Drizly.com 

  • Region: Germany
  • ABV: 5.1%
  • Tasting Notes: malt, floral, lemon

This beer is “a classic from the Black Forest region of Germany, produced by the state-owned brewery in Baden-Wurttemberg,” Camstra says about Rothaus’ Pils Tannen Zäpfle. “Definitely gives the Czech a run for their money for best pilsner in the world.” The beer has recently gained a cult following in New York, after a homesick German ex-pat, Tobias Holler, implored Rothaus for years to export the beer so he could serve it at his Brooklyn beer hall. In 2014 he succeeded.

Read Next: The Best Nonalcoholic Beers

Best Schwarzbier: Metropolitan Magnetron

Metropolitan Magnetron

 Courtesy of Drizly.com

  • Region: Illinois
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Tasting Notes: malt, chocolate, bitter

Lagers sometimes get a bad rep as the pale, watered-down stuff that you grew up watching your dad mindlessly drink. For a lager with a little more oomph, look to the schwarzbier. It’s a lager in a little black dress. Deep brown in color and with a hint of chocolate flavoring, it’s a lager for date night. Chicago’s Metropolitan Brewing has been committed to making quality lagers for over a decade and its Magnetron schwarzbier is a tribute to that commitment.

Best Rauchbier: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier

Courtesy of Minibar

  • Region: Germany
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Tasting Notes: meat, roasted malt, smoke

If you want a beer that is reminiscent of bacon or a slab of smoked brisket, the rauchbier is the beer for you. It’s an uncommon style, due to its potent flavor, which comes from smoked malt. Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier claims to be the original smoked beer. “Produced in Bamberg; the märzen variety is my personal favorite,” Camstra says. “They are neighbors with our malt supplier, the legendary Weyermann Malzfabrik.”

Read Next: The Best Gifts for Beer Lovers

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Sarah Freeman is a food and beverage writer based out of Chicago. She has been writing about, as well as frequenting, restaurants and bars for the past decade—from learning about what makes a perfect piece of cocktail ice to the exploring art of beer label design. At the moment, she doesn’t have enough room for food in her refrigerator, because it’s filled with cans of beer and bottles of wine.

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