Germany has a long history of producing and enjoying high-quality beer and wine.
- See also: Breweries in Franconia
The Germans are world-famous for their beer (Bier), and have exported its production and consumption around the world.
For centuries, beer-making in Bavaria has been governed by the Reinheitsgebot (purity law) that was made national policy with the unification of Germany in 1871, which states that German beer may be made only from hops, malt and water (yeast was still unknown back then). Modern day national laws remain strict, but have been adjusted for industrial brewing. Nowadays, the laws allow the use of hops powder and other extracts instead of whole flowers. Only when brewing with top-fermenting yeasts, grains other than barley may be used to prepare the malt and certain types of sugar may be added for taste and coloring. Finings can be used to clear the beer as long as they aren't found in the end product. When referring to the Reinheitsgebot on the label, no food additives other than carbon dioxide and nitrogen gasses are allowed to be used. Due to European integration, many of these restrictions do not apply to beer imported from (or to) other countries – much to the dismay of many purists, who consider anything but the "holy trinity" of hops, malt and water (plus yeast) a disgrace.
The domestic beer market is not dominated by one or only a few big breweries. Even though there are some big players, the regional diversity is enormous, and there are over 1,200 breweries with most of them serving only local markets. Usually bars and restaurants serve the local varieties that differ from town to town. However, the North has less variety than the South, and localities that aren't specialised in beer are more likely to have an unexciting mass-produced Pilsner on tap. In the South, a local beer is almost always an option, and often the only option. If you truly want to experience German beer, try sticking with smaller brands, as they don't have to appeal to a mass market and are thus more "individual" in taste.
Tap vs. bottle
In most pubs and restaurants, you will find one or two types of beer on tap, accompanied with a few more choices of bottled brews. There are three main reasons for beer to be on tap. One is that the owner or operator likes this beer best, in which case you should at least sample one to judge whether they're right. Another is that it is a small brewpub and it is "their own" beer. In that case, the beer on tap is obviously the best (and often the only) choice. This is still very common in Franconia, but otherwise rather rare to find. The third and most common reason is that the proprietor has an exclusive deal with some brewery made largely for economic and not necessarily taste reasons. In those cases, the "good stuff" might be hidden in the bottled section.
Beer on tap is usually cheaper in the South than bottled beer, but north of the Main river this rule is not as easily applicable. Beer on tap loses quality if it sits in the tubing for too long, so you should be wary of places that have dozens of barrels on tap at the same time.
Vessels and sizes
Beer from the tap is always served with plenty of head, as a lot of foam is considered both a sign of freshness and quality. The liquid level being well below the top of the glass is thus perfectly normal — but of course, Germany being Germany, all glasses are required to have volume marks for the critical souls. For the same reason, sharing a large pitcher of beer among friends in a pub is virtually unheard of.
The drinking vessel of choice can vary considerably and depends on the region, type of beer and occasion. The famous Maß is one litre of beer served in a stoneware (Steingut) or glass stein (Krug). They are a common view at Oktoberfest and similar festivals in the south where big crowds consume huge amounts of beer. In most other places and situations, people prefer a steady flow of fresh beer in smaller vessels.
The default size of beer in the south is half a litre, both for bottles and beer from the tap. However, some restaurants have switched to 0.4-L beers as their default to offer prices that appear lower as most patrons won't get out their calculator to figure out how much half a litre would cost at that price.
In the Rhineland around Cologne (the beer of choice being Kölsch) and Düsseldorf (the typical beer being Altbier), glasses normally hold 0.2 L. Here, empty glasses will automatically be replaced without further asking, until the guest covers the glass with a beer mat. You can also order a Kranz (wreath) which will be about 10-18 0.2-L glasses.
In other places, you may be asked whether you want a "large" or a "small" beer. Large means 0.4 L or 0.5 L, small between 0.2 and 0.3 L. Due to the special kind of glass it requires, wheat beer will almost always be 0.5 L anywhere in the country.
Specialties include Weizenbier (or Weißbier in Bavaria), a refreshing top-fermented beer which is popular in the south, Alt, a kind of dark ale that is especially popular in and around Düsseldorf, and Kölsch, a special beer brewed in Cologne. "Pils", the German name for pilsner, is a light-gold beer that is extremely popular in Germany. There are also seasonal beers, which are made only at particular times of the year (such as Bockbier in winter and Maibock in May, both containing a greater quantity of alcohol, sometimes double that of a normal Vollbier).
Mixed beer drinks
Germans are not afraid to mix beer with other drinks (though the older generation may disagree). Beer is commonly mixed with carbonated lemonade (usually at 1:1 ratio) and called a "Radler" (or cyclist, so named because it is commonly associated with a refreshing drink a cyclist might enjoy in spring or summer during a cycling excursion) (or "Alsterwasser"/"Alster" (after the river in Hamburg) in the north); "Cocktails" of Pilsener/Altbier and soft drinks like Fanta, a "Krefelder"/"Colaweizen" cola and dark wheat beer is another combination that can be found. Pils mixed with cola is very popular, especially among younger Germans, and goes by different names depending on your area, such as "Diesel", "Schmutziges" (dirty) or "Schweinebier" (pigs beer). Another famous local delicacy is "Berliner Weiße", a cloudy, sour wheat beer of around 3% abv. that is mixed with syrups (traditionally raspberry) and is very refreshing in summer. These beer-based mixed drinks are widespread and popular and can be bought as pre-mixed bottles (typically in six packs) wherever regular beer is sold.
There is no equivalent term to the English beer festival commonly used in German. That is because unless you find yourself in a particularly wine-heavy region, any kind of folk festival almost inevitably involves the consumption of large volumes of beer anyway. Beer is an important part, but almost never the primary theme of these events, so the variety of beers served may be considerably lower than you'd expect from a dedicated beer festival. Look out for events called Schützenfest in the North and Kirchweih/Kirwa/Kerw/Kirb/... in the South. In southern Germany, especially Bavaria, the names of such festivals vary from city to city and town to town, for example Augsburg hosts the Plärrer, Erlangen the Bergkirchweih and several folk festivals are also called Dult.
Munich's Oktoberfest is the world's largest beer festival, lasting for 16 to 17 days and usually ending on the first Sunday in October. Large tents accommodating about 10,000 people are hosted by the major breweries. Each tent serves its brewery's own beer, with incredibly strong barmaids hoisting ten or more huge Maß ('Mass') one-litre glasses of beer - those glasses are heavy even when empty! Musicians lead the crowd in popular drinking songs, and there's food. There's at least one wine tent, carnival games, amusement rides, and other entertainment.
- The Beer and Oktoberfest Museum (Bier- und Oktoberfestmuseum), Sterneckerstraße 2, 80331, Munich. This museum explores the history of beer and the Munich Oktoberfest.
Other festivals include:
- The Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart
- The Gäubodenvolksfest in Straubing
- The Bergkirchweih in Erlangen
- The Hanover Schützenfest
- The Freimarkt in Bremen
- The Augsburger Plärrer in Augsburg
- The Nockherberg Starkbierfest in Munich
- The Volksfest in Pfaffenhofen
There are 13 different wine-growing regions in Germany, the map shows the location of the wine-growing regions. As a rule of thumb, wine is a traditional beverage and both affordable and of high quality in traditional wine growing regions. Where wine does not grow, beer (and in the north spirits) are more traditionally drunk, but there are of course connoisseurs of either beverage in the "diaspora". The cheapest wines sold in cartons are generally derided as the province of cheapskates and alcoholics, but apart from that there is little stigma in having a wine for less than €5 a bottle from Aldi. Of course the price range knows no upper limit and you can get quite a pricey wine at a specialist shop if you want one. Wine producing areas are:
- Ahr is the paradise of German red wines. It is the largest closed wine-growing area for red wine with 84.7% red wine and 15.3% white wine, and it is densely populated with "Gaststätten" and "Strausswirten". A saying goes: whoever visited the Ahr and remembers that he was there hasn't actually been there.
- Baden with c. 15,500 hectares of wine yards and a production of 1 million hectolitres, Baden is Germany's third biggest wine growing area. It's the most southerly German wine growing area and is Germany's only member of the European Wine Category B together with the famous French areas Alsace, Champagne and Loire. The most important grape variety is Pinot Noir. Baden is more than 400 km long and is split into nine regional groups: Tauberfranken, Badische Bergstraße, Kraichgau, Ortenau, Breisgau, Kaiserstuhl, Tuniberg, Markgräflerland and Bodensee. The Kaiserstuhl and the Markgräflerland are the most famous areas for wine from Baden. One of the largest wine cooperatives is the Badischer Winzerkeller in Breisach.
- In Franken (Franconia), in the northern part of Bavaria, wine is mainly cultivated in the valleys of Main, Wern, Fränkische Saale and Tauber. The main grape varieties are Silvaner, Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, most commonly as dry white wine. Some wines produced in Franconia are sold in a special bottle called "Bocksbeutel".
- The Bergstraße lies on the western edge of the Odenwald. It is divided into Hessische Bergstraße and Badische Bergstraße. Hessische Bergstraße on the slopes of the Rhine valley is a quiet small wine producing area and wines are usually consumed within the area in and around Heppenheim.
- The area of Mittelrhein (Middle Rhine Valley) extends from the mouth of the Nahe near Bingen am Rhein to the Siebengebirge near Bonn.
- Mosel-Saar-Ruwer: the steepest vineyards in Germany can be seen when driving in the Mosel valley from Koblenz to Trier.
- The wine-growing region of Nahe stretches from the mouth of the Nahe to shortly before Kirn, with the centre Bad Kreuznach and is known above all for its Rieslings.
- Pfalz: biggest wine producing area in Germany. Has some excellent wines to taste and a lot of nice villages embedded in vineyards. Tasting wine in Deidesheim is a good idea and several prime producers of German wine are on the main road. Want to see the biggest wine barrel in the world? Then go to Bad Dürkheim.
- Rheingau: is the smallest wine producing area, but it produces the highest-rated Riesling wines in Germany. Visit Wiesbaden and make a trip on the Rhine to Eltville and Rüdesheim.
- In Rheinhessen (Rhenish Hesse) 20% of the area is planted with vines, therefore it is the area with the least forests in Germany. It is also the largest wine-growing region in Germany, with over 6,000 winegrowers producing more than 250 million litres of wine a year. In Nierstein is the oldest documented (in 742 AD) vineyard of Germany, the Niersteiner Glöck. Visit Mainz and make a trip on the Rhine to Worms, Oppenheim, Ingelheim or Bingen.
- The area of Saale-Unstrut extends along the river Saale from Jena to Burgwerben near Weißenfels and along the river Unstrut from Laucha to the mouth of the river Saale near Naumburg. Owing to its northern location, early ripening varieties such as Müller-Thurgau, Weißburgunder and Silvaner thrive above all. It is the most northern wine producing area in Europe.
- The wine-growing region of Sachsen (Saxony) — along with parts of Saale-Unstrut — is the northernmost in Germany and lies almost exclusively around Dresden. Only in this area the Goldriesling is cultivated. Sachsen is one of the smallest wine regions in Germany, nestled along the Elbe River near Dresden and Meissen.
- Württemberg: As was mentioned before, here the rule that the best wine is consumed by locals, strictly applies; wine consumption per head is twice as high as in the rest of Germany, regardless of whether it's red or the white wine. Württemberg is famous for its red wines. The most common grape varieties are (red) Trollinger, Blauer Portugieser and Dornfelder, (white) Riesling, Silvaner, Kerner and Müller-Thurgau.
According to the German wine law there are four quality classes (sorted according to increasing quality):
- Wein, formerly it was called Tafelwein
- Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete, from specified regions (QbA)
- Prädikatswein, Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP). This stage is subdivided again according to the must weight in degrees Öchsle (density of the unfermented fruit juice, proportion of dissolved substances, mainly sugar). The wines become sweeter and more expensive with each step.
- Kabinett, the must weight is 67 to 83 degrees Öchsle
- Spätlese, grapes harvested after the main harvest at 76° to 90° Öchsle.
- Auslese, damaged, diseased or unripe berries are sorted out at 83° to 95° Oechsle, red wine at 100° Oechsle.
- Beerenauslese, overripe and noble rotten grapes, individually selected, with 110 to 128° Öchsle.
- Trockenbeerenauslese, noble rotten grapes with 150° to 154° Oechsle.
- A special feature is the Eiswein (ice wine), the berries must be frozen during the harvest, it takes place at -6 °C or colder. The water freezes and does not enter the must when the grapes are pressed. The juice is concentrated with 110 to 128° Öchsle. This is obviously the most weather-dependent of all types of wine and in some years there is barely any usable crop due to the frost hitting at the wrong time.
- Trocken, a wine with a maximum residual sugar content of 9 g/l is called "dry". Classically dry allows only 4 g/l, with less than 2 g/l it may say on the label: Suitable for diabetics.
- Halbtrocken (Semi-dry) is a wine with 9 to 18 g/l unfermented sugar.
- Lieblich, Halbsüß it's called from 18 g/l to 45 g/l.
- Süß it is sweet if the residual sugar content is more than 45 g/l.
The following information must appear on the must wine label: quality grade, geographical origin, bottler, alcoholic strength, nominal volume, type of wine, contains sulphites. The following information may be indicated: Vintage, grape variety, taste, place and location of the wine and additional information such as drinking temperatures and recommended food.
During the fall you can buy "Federweisser" in south-western Germany. This is a partially fermented white wine and contains some alcohol (depending on age), but tastes very sweet. It is also available from red grapes, being called "Roter Sauser" or "Roter Rauscher".