German Beer & The Beer Law

Article courtesy of Robert Easton

Beer is a very important part of life for many Germans. Germans have the third largest annual consumption of beer per head in Europe, beaten only by the Czech Republic and Ireland.

There are a vast variety of German beers, some of which are popular worldwide, and inter-brewery competition within Germany is fierce, so the standard is very high.

Despite hundreds of years of innovation though, German beer’s characteristics and flavour have remained relatively unchanged, thanks mainly to the oldest food regulation in the world, Germany’s famous Reinheitsgebot.

According to one survey, 78% of Germans consider going to drink beer their favourite leisure activity, and 79% drink beer regularly. 73% of those beer-drinkers prefer draught beer to bottled and half of Germans have a “Liebingslokal”, a favourite place to drink where they know people and feel at home.

In Germany each region brews its own distinctive types of beer, from the yeasty, opaque beer of Hefeweizenbier of Bavaria, to Bamberg’s smoky Rauchbier or Kölsch, the pale ale of Cologne.

If you want to get to know some German beers, the best thing to do is to make your own trip to a few small breweries and take your time. The alternative is to join the scrum in festivals like Oktoberfest in Munich where you may be surprised to find that only about six beers are available.

German beer accounts for about 10% of the worldwide market, and German breweries employ about 65,000 people. There are about 1,200 breweries which manage to produce a whopping 5-6,000 varieties, all the more impressive for the fact that the Reinheitsgebot, Germany’s Beer Law, restricts brewers to just four basic ingredients (water, barley, yeast and hops), and forbids flavouring beer with any other additives.

The first beer law was put down in 1487 by Duke Albrecht, who decreed that “a quart of winter beer shall cost one pfennig, a quart of summer beer two pfennigs”, and further added that brewers “shall take only barley hops and water for the beer, boil it in a proper fashion, and add nothing else nor permit anyone else to add anything”.

At that time they relied entirely on the yeast in the air for fermentation, so yeast was not added. In Bavaria on April 23rd 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV made a similar decree from which the modern law directly descends. Now people mark that day by celebrating German Beer Day on 23rd April every year.

Many Germans believe that the Beer Law makes drinking beer ‘purer’ and safer because they know exactly what is in their beer. Most people would agree it makes sense that something without too many additives will probably be healthier.

In fact beer is quite healthy in some respects: one litre of beer contains 45% of the recommended daily allowance of magnesium, 20% of the RDA of potassium, and less calories than the same amount of whole milk or grape juice.

Beer can also keep your hair healthy, giving it shine and volume, and some researchers found that hops can help stop the build-up of carcinogens in the body.

It isn’t everybody who’s happy with the Beer Law though – one brewer called Helmut Fritsche is facing a fine of up to $25,000 for persisting in labelling his product as beer even though it was flavoured late in the brewing process with a sugar-syrup.

He says that the Beer Law infringes on the creativity of small brewers, and added “It’s like taking a cup of tea, or coffee, and adding milk or sugar to it, some people drink it black, and some people take it white – it’s a small difference in taste”.

Traditional German Beer Steins.

However the authorities disagree and his case is before the highest court in Germany. Ironically, EU law means that beers from other countries which are imported into Germany are not subject to the Beer Law. If Fritsche’s brewery was just a few miles further East, in Poland, he could brew any kind of beer he liked and sell it all over Germany.

For the benefit of anybody fortunate enough to visit Germany, here are the beer-drinker’s vital phrases:

  • “Kann ich ein Bier haben?” = “Can I have a beer?”
  • “Prost!” = “Down it in one”.
  • “Diese Bier ist sehr gut” = “This beer is very good”
  • “Lass uns anstossen” = “Cheers”, or “let’s drink”

Say it when you clink glasses.

German Agricultural Society (DLG)

The following information was kindly provided by the German Agricultural Society (DLG)

What is the difference between a weizen beer and a pils? Are there regional differences? How do I order? These questions and many others will be asked by football fans visiting Germany in a few weeks for the World Cup.

The DLG, Germany’s independent drinks and food testing society, can explain. This year, it quality-tested over 500 beers from 158 breweries as well as several “beer gardens” in Germany, awarding points for taste, “head” quality and many other areas.

“The foam is the ultimate proof of a beer’s quality,” explains Dr. Heinz-Michael Anger, DLG Director of Beer Tests. “How long it lasts, how tall, how it looks – all of this is measured during our quality assessement of beers. Obviously, the beer’s colour, the overall taste and smell are also among the many other factors that give a full picture,” he adds.

With the World Cup coming up, the DLG has picked out the best local beers it tested in 2005 and 2006 from around the 12 World Cup venues. To help international football fans further, it has also compiled useful beer definitions and beer ordering terms in Geman. English, however, is spoken everywhere.

Germany is the country of beers. No other nation has such a wide choice of beer products, breweries and brands. And judging by the number of German breweries sponsoring football teams, beer and football are a match made in Germany.

The most popular beer types which a football fan is likely to come across are:

  • Weizenbier or weissbeer: The name literally means wheat beer. Most beers are based on barley, but weizenbeer includes wheat and a special yeast giving it a spicy and fruity flavour. Weizenbier, available in dark or light colour, requires skill to pull in order to create the decorative head served in a tall conically shaped glas. Weizenbier is mainly brewed in Bavaria. To order: “Ein Weizen bitte!” sounds like: [ eyen vaitsen, bitter].
  • Kölsch is closest in taste and look to the type of lager often found in Britain but it is not a lager. Clear and golden, refreshing and subtle, less bitter than a Pilsner, Kolsch is the beer for matches in Cologne as only beers brewed around the area of Cologne may bear its name. Don’t let the small glass and quantity put you off.
  • Pils is the most popular beer in Germany and is also the one with most taste variations. With its light golden-colour, this beer has a strong hob and a fine creamy head. A good pils from the tap takes three minutes to prepare. The foam needs to settle following several refills before a beautiful head results. A pils tastes best at eight degrees celcius and is acceptable with a five-course meal. To order: “ein Pils bitte” sounds like: [eyen Pills, bitter].
  • Altbier is a German style brown ale. Altbier is a typical speciality from Duesseldorf and the lower Rhine region but is available everywhere. Altbier has longer conditioning which makes it a fruity, smooth and delicate brew. The color ranges from amber to dark brown, with a great balance between malt and hobs. The football venues closest to its home are Dortmund and Gelsenkirschen. To order: “eyen Altbier bitte”, sounds like [eyen arltbeer, bitter].
  • Berliner Weisse comes from Berlin and is included here since this location is a world cup venue. Berliner weisse is dark yellow and has a lightly sour taste. Refreshing and sometimes drunk with a shot of fruit sirup, Berliner Weisse is an excellent drink for the summer and can even be drunk with a straw. To order: “Ein Berliner weisse, bitte” sounds like [eyen berlina vyisa, bitter].
  • Non-alcoholic beers. German brewers were amongst the first to introduce non-alcoholic beers some 20 years ago. The popularity of this alternative has been immense. Non-alcoholic beer today is often associated with fitness, being a good source of a wide range of minerals and vitamins. Indeed research has shown that non-alcoholic beer is the ideal drink following exercise. Non-alcoholic beer is available in many of above beer types. To order: “ein alkoholfreies bier, bitte” sounds like [eyen alcohol fryers beer, bitter].

12 World Cup venues and DLG-recommended beers


  • The Lindenbräu Brewery with its own pub and biergarten is located at the heart of Potsdamer Platz – where once east met west. The Lindenbräu brewery was awarded the DLG Gold award in 2005 for the quality of its beer which is made from wheat.
  • The Berliner Kindl Brewery prides itself with the slogan “only the best quality beer” and rightly so. Four beers have DLG Gold-award status. Try Berliner Kindl Weisse for a typical Berlin beer or the Potsdamer Rex Pils.


Kolsch is the beer of Cologne and no visit to Cologne is complete without trying the “one metre beer” – a stick measuring one metre serves around 12 small 20 centili-ter glasses of beer. Try a Sion or Küppers Kölsch, both DLG quality-awarded. To order in German simply say “ein Meter Kölsch bitte.”

Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen

Both venues are located around 20 kilometres apart. DLG quality-awarded two breweries in this area: Ernst Barre and Moritz Fliege. Neither a Barre Weizen nor Moritz Fliege Pils will disappoint as they both received Gold.


  • Bad Homburg is one of the poshest suburbs of Frankfurt and also houses both brewery and pub restaurant called Kronenhof Hell (Note “Hell” means “light”). This year Kronenhof Hell was awarded DLG Gold for its beer quality.
  • For a non-alcoholic beer with a Golden DLG seal of approval, try a Clausthaler Hefeweizen available all over Frankfurt and Germany.


In the Hamburg the two DLG Gold-awarded beers, Flensburger Dunkel and Dithmarscher Pilsener are widely available in restaurants and pubs alike.


Gilde brewery was awarded Gold last year for its Gilde Raskeller Premium Pils. This pils can be ordered almost anywhere in Hanover.


The Reudnitzer Brewery based in Leipzig was awarded Gold for its Reudnitzer Pilsner Premium, a pils widely available in this area.

Munich, Bavaria

Arriving by plane, visiting fans are able to satisfy any thirst for quality beer directly on the doorstep. The DLG awarded the pub/restaurant “Airbräu” with a Gold award. Take you pick between FliegerQuell and Kumulus. Airbräu is located between terminal one and two.

Tucher Brewery was awarded Gold in 2005 for its Tucher Helles Hefeweizen, a weizenbier served in many pubs in the region.


The Löwenbräu name is internationally famous with a number of breweries by that name in this region. Several Elzacher Löwenbräu were DLG-awarded in 2005, including Elzacher Löwenbräu Der Weiße Löwe.

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