Lonely Planet's top five German beer destinations
A Munich hall glows from the elation of beer devotees during Octoberfest. (Krystof Dydynski/LPI)
A trip to an atmospheric Bavarian beer garden or a Cologne beer hall is a rite of passage, but with more than 1,200 breweries in the country, it is hard to know where to start. Famed for location, age, popularity, atmosphere or sheer number of beer-related sights, here are our top five beer destinations in Germany (with bonus beer glossary). Prost!
Of course, Munich. No visit to Munich would be complete without a visit to a raucous beer hall or family beer garden and there are plenty of places to choose from. The Hofbräuhaus is Bavaria's (and possibly the world's) most celebrated beer hall. Bury your head in an enormous stein before checking out the medieval vaults and pretzel-shaped postcards.
Pour over old brewing vats, historic photos and some of the earliest Oktoberfest regalia at the Bier & Oktoberfestmuseum, housed in a 14th-Century timber-framed house, this museum provides a potted history of Germany's national tipple.
The 16-day extravaganza of Oktoberfest is held from mid-September to the first Sunday in October and draws more than six million visitors. A special dark, strong beer (Wies'nbier) is brewed for the occasion and Müncheners spend the day at the office in lederhosen and dirndl in order to hit the festival right after work.
2. Bavaria, beyond Munich
The most tempting tour offered by the Bamberg tourist office is the self-guided Brewery Trail that showcases the Franconian Brewery Museum and includes beer vouchers and a souvenir stein in the price. While in Bamberg, also check out Klosterbräu, a beautiful half-timbered brewery - the oldest in town.
For a fascinating look at the brewing process, head to the enormous Maisel's Brauerei-und-Büttnerei-Museum, just outside Bayreuth. A tour takes you into the bowels of the 19th-Century plant, with atmospheric rooms filled with 4,500 beer mugs and amusing artefacts.
Klosterschenke Weltenburg has been brewing its delicious dark beer since 1050 and is the oldest monastic (now state-of-the-art) brewery.
Lore has it that Alpirsbach is named after a quaffing cleric who, when a glass of beer slipped clumsily from his hand and rolled into the river, exclaimed: All Bier ist in den Bach! (All the beer is in the stream!). A prophecy, it seems, as today Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu is brewed from pure spring water. Two beers are thrown in for the price of a brewery tour ticket.
Beer reigns supreme in Cologne where more than 20 breweries produce the local variety called Kölsch, which is served in skinny glasses called Stangen. At Brauhaus Peters drinkers knock back their Kölsch in a web of highly individualistic nooks; Früh am Dom is a warren of a beer hall; and Päffgen has been pouring Kölsch since 1883.
Half of Germany's breweries are found in Bavaria and not the north but one brewery in particular has long washed beyond the shores of Germany to establish itself as an international brand. You can see where the wares come from during a two-hour tour of the Beck's brewery.
Thanks to the tradition of the Reinheitsgebot, German beer is supposed to be unique in not giving you a Katzenjammer or Kater (hangover). However, party-goers downing 5 million litres of the stuff at Munich's Oktoberfest must surely disagree!
A German beer glossary
Alkoholfreies Bier: Nonalcoholic beer.
Altbier: A dark, full beer with malted barley from the Düsseldorf area.
Berliner Weisse: With around 2.8% alcohol content, draught (Schankbier) is mostly brewed in and around Berlin. It contains lactic acid, giving it a slightly sour taste, and a blend of malted wheat and barley. Top fermented, it is often drunk mit Grün (with green or woodruff syrup), or with a dash (mit Schuss) of raspberry (Himbeeren) syrup.
Bockbier, Doppelbock: These two strong beers are around 7% alcohol, but Doppelbock is slightly stronger. There is a "Bock" for almost every occasion, such as Maibock (usually drunk in May/spring) and Weihnachtsbock (brewed for Christmas). Eisbock is dark and more aromatic. Bock beers originate from Einbeck, near Hanover.
Dampfbier (steam beer): This originates from Bayreuth in Bavaria; it is top fermented and has a fruity flavour.
Dunkles Lagerbier (dark lager): Dunkel (dark) is brewed throughout Germany, but especially in Bavaria. With a light use of hops, dunkel is full-bodied with a strong malt aroma. Malt is dried at a high temperature, lending it a dark colour.