5 German Beers Worth Trying


Photo by Maggie Hoffman/Flickr CC

Consider the subtitle to this post "Mr. Risen's Presumptuous Task." Germany has thousands of great beers. How is one man--and a relatively young, lightweight man at that--supposed to pick just five? By admitting up front: This list is subjective and woefully incomplete. These are not the five best beers in Germany, just the five that, after spending two months drinking my way around the country, stood out for me--and my taste buds.

1.) Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock Technically a cousin of Bud Ice & Co., in that they all use a freeze distillation process to remove some of the water and thus increase the alcohol content. But really, they're more like third cousins twice removed: Aventinus Eisbock is a malty-sweet bomb of a beer, clocking in at 12 percent ABV--basically a doppelbock, amped up to 11. The color is almost completely black; you have to hold it to a light bulb to notice its rich brown shades. The flavor is full of bananas, caramel, and cloves. It has a strong boozy overtone that will turn off some drinkers, and it's definitely not one for session drinking. But it's a great cooler. I had my first on a hot August day in Berlin, after several hours working and walking; it not only cooled me off, but at 12 percent, it made sure I didn't notice the heat--or much else--for a good hour or so.

2.) Uerige Sticke Alt One of the more bizarre results of German localism is that this beer is one of the hardest to find inside the country, but only relatively hard to find in the States. The Uerige website even brags about how difficult it is to locate--it's only available two days a year, and only at the Uerige brewery in Düsseldorf (ugh, Düsseldorf...). "Sticke" is supposedly a shortened version of "Stickum," which was the password drinkers-in-the-know used to use to get a glass. But enterprising Americans manage to snag a few barrels every year, and unlike Germans, they don't have a problem serving it outside Düsseldorf. I had a glass recently at Churchkey, a new bar in Washington, and they've carried it at Max's, in Baltimore's Fell's Point neighborhood.

One of the beauties of Germany, and especially Berlin, is that at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday morning you can walk into a corner shop, grab a beer from the fridge and drink it right there--or on the street, or the subway, or almost anywhere you like.

Sure, some of the beer's appeal is its rarity. But it's also a fun, easy quaff. It's a well-built, medium-bodied Alt, though with a lot more going on--a robust but balanced mix of hops and malt, with caramel and raisin in both the nose and the taste. It has a thicker-than-expected mouthfeel, but it weighs in at a manageable ABV of 6 percent. Count yourself lucky if you find it on tap somewhere--and wise if you order a glass or two.

3.) Herforder Pils I was tooling around west central Germany on a story assignment, riding shotgun with Reimar Ott, a local freelance photographer. I asked him, "Reimar, it seems you've been doing this photo thing a while. Have you ever worked at anything else?" He said, "Yes--I worked there," and pointed to the Herforder Brewery, whose front driveway we were passing at that very second. That's neither here nor there as far as the beer goes; just a funny story.

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Clay Risen is an editor at The New York Times, and is the author of A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination. He has written for The New Republic, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

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