There's more to German brewing than Munich's lagers. Five delicious styles from the rest of the country to sample this fall.
I almost didn't include a Koelsch, mainly because the style has already gotten a lot of recent attention. But a colleague in Cologne scolded me that this piece would be wildly unbalanced if I mentioned Duesseldorf's Altbier without a nod to Cologne's signature style. The cities are fierce rivals and flatly dismissive of each other's brewing. You will get a scowl, at best, if you order the wrong beer in the wrong city.
Koelsch is a bit of a strange bird. It's brewed like ale, but then stored cold for a period like lager. This hybrid process yields a golden-hued, easy-drinking beer. Koelsch is sometimes dismissed as lightweight summer beer. It's certainly a fine choice on a hot day, but the bright, fruity malt flavor and subtle hop finish are welcome any day of the year.
The style is very lightly carbonated. As such, it's traditionally served in 0.2-liter tubular glasses meant to encourage swift drinking while the mild effervescence lasts. In Cologne taverns, beer servers prowl the floor armed with circular trays that have 10 round slots. They're loaded like revolvers with glasses of Koelsch, and you'll get a new one every time you empty your glass, unless you signal you're full by placing a coaster atop it.
Gose is an obscure style of beer with an unusual set of ingredients, including coriander and salt, which may sound bizarre to some drinkers. Rooted now in the charming, former East German city of Leipzig, the cloudy, unfiltered wheat beer has a 1,000-year history that almost ended in the Cold War. Communist functionaries saw no place for the odd beer in their conformist society, and the style all but disappeared in the aftermath of World War II.
Luckily, there's been a revival in recent years and a small amount of it is bottled and exported. The beer laughs in the face of the Reinheitsgebot, Germany's famed beer-purity law, which allows only water, barley, and hops in beer. The Reinheitsgebot is no longer technically the law of the land, which is good in this case, because Gose's offending ingredients are the very things that make it special.
Gose's sour taste will appeal to fans of Belgium's Gueze style. And the bready, citrusy flavor could draw fans of farmhouse beers. It's not for everyone, but it's a must-try for any serious beer drinker. Its revival is good news for beer lovers; hopefully it sticks around this time.
This last beer comes from just about as far as one can get from Munich before splashing into the North Sea. The Lower Saxony town of Jever lies more than 500 miles to the north of the Oktoberfest revelry. And it is home to an exceptionally good pilsner.
Like many beers of Germany's north, this is an especially herbal pilsner with a sharp, refreshingly bitter finish. The golden beer with its dense head is the epitome of a great pils and exposes the poverty of macrobrew pretenders like Miller Lite, which once laughably slapped "true pilsner" on its label.
These beers or any number of other great German brews are a delicious reminder that Germany's brewing culture is vast and varied, a far bigger tent than any of those pitched on Munich's Oktoberfest grounds. Those who dive into the world beyond Munich's Brobdingnagian glassware and half-dozen Oktoberfest breweries will be well rewarded for their beer-soaked exploration of Germany's regional diversity.