Just last month, Germany was crowned the best country in the world, according to an annual index ranking Western countries by a variety of ideas (like culture, creativity, investment, national perception, and social equality). The best way to celebrate, of course, is to raise a pint — but however do you choose from the endless options? Here’s what beer to order in each of Germany’s biggest beer cities. Bottoms up!
Berlin — Berliner Weisse
Sour, tart, fruity, sprtizy: Berliner Weisse holds a distinct flavor that most either love or hate. Like Kölsch in Cologne (below), Berliner Weisse is brewed only in the German capital. It’s ordered as “red” or “green” — referencing whether you want a shot of raspberry or woodruff syrup, to cut the tartness. We know, it doesn’t sound like everyone’s cup of tea (not to mix beverage metaphors here), but it’s a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.
Cologne — Kölsch
Kölsch is the only beer brewed in the city of Cologne. Served in small, thin glasses — think elongated shot glasses — and meant to be consumed very quickly, this beer is light and smooth, perfect for summer days.
Dortmund — Dortmunder Export
Soft and similar to a Pilsner, Export represents a beer of the past. It was, after all, the most popular back in the late 19th century. (For something similar stateside, try the Dortmunder by Cleveland-based Great Lakes Brewing Company.)
Düsseldorf — Altbier
Altbier is like Kölsch’s darker cousin — though you’d never order a Kölsch in Düsseldorf (or Altbier in Cologne) if you want to fit in. Altbier refers to an old style of brewing, the oldest continuously brewed in the world, in fact. It’s easily the most popular beer in this city, though it’s hardly consumed elsewhere in Germany. Note: It also seems like you’re required to drink two at a time…
Hamburg — Holsten
In the 16th century, nearly 600 breweries centered in Hamburg, exporting bock beer throughout Germany, Sweden, and even Russia. Today, only two of these old breweries remain, the most popular of which is Holsten. You can actually find it around the globe, now that it’s owned by Carlsberg, but now you’ll know that you’re getting a taste of old Hamburg with every pint.
Leipzig — Leipziger Gose
Gose is a 1,000-year-old beer. But it’s long history isn’t even the most interesting tidbit — it’s that the beer is brewed with salt water… and then it’s finished off with hops and coriander, a spice technically forbidden in beer by the German Beer Purity Law. Since the Middle Ages, the beer’s maintained a tumultuous history from massive popularity to obscurity when the Soviets controlled East Berlin. Today, the beer continues to come back, much like Leipzig, from the fall of the wall.
Munich — Helles
Munich is the epicenter of German brewing. Bavaria’s home to the most breweries in the country and features favorites like the Oktoberfest Hofbräu, Paulaner, and the Hefeweizen. But Helles is the original. Meaning “light” in color, the beer is Munich’s first blond lager. You can find a cheap Augustiner at any shop for a little over a Euro, and the surprisingly high alcohol percentage will give you a buzz quicker than you think.
Bonus: Other Local Alcoholic Beverages
Frankfurt — Apfelwein
This is just the German take on a proper alcoholic cider. Translated literally as “apple wine,” it can be found predominantly in Frankfurt where it’s consumed copiously in the city’s numerous Apfelweinwirtschafts. (Yes, that’s all one word — don’t try to say it after having too much apfelwein.)
Heidelberg — Heidelberg Tun
Located in the in the cellars of Heidelberg Castle is the world’s largest vat of wine, holding, oh, roughly 60,000 gallons of wine. Of course, you’re welcome to indulge in a glass, or maybe five. What’s five glasses out of 60,000 gallons, after all?
Hannover — Lüttje Lage
Hannover isn’t known for much beyond the home of the second largest Oktoberfest, some Napoleonic conquests, ‘80s band The Scorpions, and a peculiar obsession with English royalty. But Lüttje Lage is a sort of ritualized drink for true drinkers. It consists of a wee glass of Schankbier (draft beer) and a shot of Korn (just a grain alcohol). The trick with the Lüttje Lage is that, to drink it, you hold both glasses in the same hand and drink from both simultaneously. It takes serious dexterity and a willingness to stain your shirt.