German beer = Lager.
One word with the emphasis (in England at any rate!) on the aaaa-ger part of the word!
That is probably what you are thinking right now as you read this, ‘there’s only lager in Germany, it is fizzy, clear, served cold and rather easy to drink!’.
Right, or wrong?
Well, right and wrong.
Before we start, there are quite a few German words which have been unwisely adapted by the English speaking world and turned into something that the original word doesn’t really mean and the word lager is one of them! So it is probably best that we really start with the actual definition of the word lager-a quick German lesson-when we are talking about lager within the context of beer then it simply means ‘cold maturing’ and no it doesn’t refer to a primary top or bottom fermented style of beer either!
Another very important definition-within this article the terms top, bottom and spontaneous fermentation is used to define the primary fermentation when beer is brewed, the use of ale and lager is just too simplistic within the context of German beer! Sorry!
It is hard to believe that in this country of 85 million people with around 1300 breweries (of which around half are in Bavaria), there are in fact over 20 different ‘styles’ of beer in Germany which can be more or less clearly defined, unfortunately the fizzy liquid which we call lager in the UK and the USA is in fact usually just a sort of a version of a style of beer called Pilsner (originating in the town of Pilsen in the Czech Republic) which swept through Europe during the 1800s and has remained here ever since! Mass immigration from Germany during the late 1800s could attribute to this and yes you’ve guessed it, the immigrants took the new Pilsner (Pils) style beer across to the USA and the rest is history! For the ‘style police’ amongst you; whereas the Beer Judge Certification Programme (BJCP) is an attempt to ‘judge’ beer, this article outlines how to ‘drink’ beer! Smile.
On the left photo you can see some Lagering tanks at Eck Brauereigasthof in the Bavraian Forest. The tanks are in a cellar dug many years ago deep below the hamlet of Eck, the temperature is held just above zero °C, wakes you up if you have had one or 5 too many the night before! Mike the brewer showed us around. Thanks Mike-awesome place!
One of the very sad facts that is within Germany it is very unusual to have more than around 3 different types of beer in a pub, there will usually be a lighter coloured beer such as a Pils or in Bavaria a Helles, a darker beer and also usually a bottled Weizen beer, in many country breweries especially in Franken, Düsseldorf and Köln there will be just one beer available!
We will now attempt to make sense of all the beer and styles of Germany so that at the end of this you will find yourself wanting to get out for a few fresh German beers yourself!
Coming up in the next installment.., part 2-a quick bit of history!