The KegWorks Field Guide to German Beer Styles

german beer styles
German & German-Style Ales

berliner weisseBerliner Weissbier

This is the perfect beer for a springtime cocktail hour. There are lots of wild, unique, fruity flavors despite the fact that this beer usually contains little to no hops. Levels of bitterness and sweetness are comparatively low while the fizz tends to be high. Pale, straw color (sometimes cloudy in unfiltered varieties) and sour, tart, acidic flavors rule in traditional recipes, while many American brewers have been concocting creative styles that showcase lemon, peach, or raspberry infusions. Bartenders who adhere to traditional service rituals might squeeze a sweet, berry-flavoured syrup into a pint to cut the bitter, acrid notes of an authentic brew. ABV is typically very low in a Berliner and range between 3% and 5%, so you can serve a couple glasses in one session alongside soft, buttery cheeses like bleu, camembert, or havarti.

Commercial Examples

Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse (Professor Fritz Briem)
Dragon Fruit Passion Fruit Berliner (J. Wakefield Brewing Company)
The Eleventh Labor (The Schlafly Tap Room)


“Dunkels”, or “dark wheats”, are popular for their rich color and bold malt texture. Acidity is usually pretty low and ABVs typically fall between 4% and 6%. Darker and more robust Dunkels offer a chocolaty flavor profile and appearance, while common, traditional varieties show notes of clove and banana. Dunkelweizens can be a nice companion for desserts like fruit pies or can stand up to main-course like a roasted chicken.

Commercial Examples

Ayinger Ur-Weisse (Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer KG)
Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel (Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu)
Shiner Holiday Cheer (Spoetzl Brewery)


Gose is a nice springtime beer for drinkers who appreciate sour, tart, salty, or fruit flavors. Like the Berliner Weissbier, your bartender might insist on squeezing a fruit or berry syrup into your glass to cut a bit of the acidity and add a floral aroma. Salt and coriander are traditionally added to a Gose’s high malt content, giving it a citrusy, lightly spiced essence with a crisp mouthfeel. Often, you’ll encounter fruit aromas like apricot in Gose recipes. Most servings fall between 4% and 5% ABV and can be a nice choice to go along with a salad or main course of fish.

Commercial Examples

Freigeist Geisterzug Gose Rhubarb (Braustelle)
Old Pro Gose (Union Craft Brewing Company)
Citra Hose (de Garde Brewing Co.)


One of the more popular German wheat beers for American palates, hefeweizens, or “yeast-wheats,” derive tart, spicy, and fruity flavor from high contents of bold, active yeast strains. Pale yellow to honey color and sometimes cloudy in appearance, hefeweizens often have a fizzy head that keeps its place throughout your session. Banana and clove flavors are definitive of the style. Usually falling between 5% and 6% ABV, this is a great wheat beer to serve alongside any dinner of poultry or fish.

Commercial Examples

Andechser Weissbier Hell (Klosterbrauerei Andechs)
Schneider Weisse Tap 1 Mein Blondes (Weisses Bräuhaus G. Schneider & Sohn)
Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.)


Light, bright, and crisp is Kölsch— a once-unique and obscure German wheat that has gained popularity with many American brewers who have put their own spin on the style. Brilliant clarity in some kölsches remind drinkers of a fizzy white wine, and some varieties offer grape and apricot esters that contribute to its appearance, aroma, and sharp mouthfeel. Ranging between 4% and 6% ABV, this popular summertime beer is a party favorite at picnics and barbeques, especially if you’re serving burgers or bratwursts off the grill.

Commercial Examples

Mühlen Kölsch (Brauerei zur Malzmühle)
Sprang (Trillium Brewing Company)
Captain’s Kölsch (Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.)

German & German-Style Lagers


Traditionally the toast of late-winter or early springtime bacchanals, the heavy, dark, and malty bock just warms the soul. Sometimes a full-bodied bock can feel almost like a meal in itself, which keeps with the old legend that Bavarian monks subsisted on bock during long spells of fasting. Weighing in between a 5% to 7% ABV, the sweet, toasty, nutty aroma and flavor is a wonderful addition to a warm holiday meal of veal, pork, or beef or as a nice companion to an earthy cheese course.

Commercial Examples

Mahr’s Christmas Bock (Mahrs-Bräu)
La Trappe Bockbier (Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven B.V.)
Samuel Adams Winter Lager (Boston Brewing Company)


Bock’s bigger, stronger, boozier brother boasts a darker, rich copper to near-black color. The flavor is in the same vein as its forebear, with a slightly more robust caramel, chocolate profile and a higher ABV that ranges from 6% to 9%. This is a beer for a feast of game meats, steaks, or meat pies served with root vegetables. Sometimes a generous pour can substitute as its own malty meal followed shortly by a nap.

Commercial Examples

Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel (Klosterbrauerei Andechs)
Weihenstephaner Korbinian (Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan)
Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock (Tröegs Brewing Company)


“Ice” bocks build a highly concentrated body, flavor, and alcohol content by freezing and removing a portion of water from the beer during production. What remains is a very dark, heavy, malty brew that is redolent of chocolate syrup, spice, or fruit. Drink an Eisbock if you have nowhere to go, as it packs a boozy punch between 9% and 15%. Serve this beer after dinner for a long-lingering liquid dessert.  

Commercial Examples

Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock (Weisses Bräuhaus G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH)
Ramstein Winter Wheat Eisbock (High Point Brewing Company)
Redhook Eisbock 28 (Redhook Ale Brewery)

dortmunderDortmunder Export Lager

Germany’s Dortmunder Union brewery gave us this beer—once made by and for the working class—a century ago. Now, we find this malty, crisp, refreshingly dry German-style lager poured in brewpubs and bars all over the United States. The appeal of a “Dort” is its aromatic flavor derived from noble hops, and its light, clean, golden appearance. Falling between 4% and 6% ABV, this is a great dinner beer for seafood, shellfish, or poultry.

Commercial Examples

Ayinger Jahrhundert Bier (Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer KG / Brauerei Aying)
Labrador Lager (Thirsty Dog Brewing Company)
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold (Great Lakes Brewing Co.)


The “Pils” might be Germany’s most popular lager export, and is easily recognizable in every local brewpub and beverage store. Ranging in color from pale straw to yellowish gold, Pilsners are notable for crisp, floral aroma and finish with a zesty, bitter mouthfeel. Its light, crisp texture make a cold pils a great summertime pick for a barbeque, and with an ABV range between 4% and 6%, this is a great session beer.

Commercial Examples

Neumarkter Lammsbräu (Organic) Pilsner (Neumarkter Lammsbräu)
Nooner Pilsner (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.)
Über Pils (Rogue Ales)

mai bockMaibock / Helles Bock

The perfect spring beer —the name, translated, means “May” bock—is the lightest and most sprightly of bocks. Medium-amber to light copper in color, hops are the main character that slightly overpowers a Maibock’s malty finish. With an average ABV between 5% and 8%, serve one at a springtime cocktail party or at dinner alongside pasta dishes, salmon, or shellfish.

Commercial Examples

Hofbräu Maibock (Hofbräuhaus München)
Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock (Einbecker Brauhaus)
Maibock Hurts Like Helles (Jack’s Abby Brewing)

oktoberfestMärzen / Oktoberfest

The favorite for Fall revelers, Märzen has traditionally been brewed in March to be enjoyed at festivals starting in September. With a clear, copper to reddish brown appearance, the Oktoberfest’s toasted, malty mouthfeel offers a robust, mildly hoppy lager that rounds out between 4% and 7% ABV. Since you’ll be enjoying a Märzen in the fall, you may as well drink one alongside rich German dishes like grilled knockwurst, game meats, or schnitzel.

Commercial Examples

Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen (Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu)
Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen (Paulaner Brauerei GmbH & Co.)
SurlyFest (Surly Brewing Company)

Munich dunkelMunich Dunkel

Munich malts contribute to the Dunkel’s dark, roasted textures of chocolate and fresh-baked bread. It’s a beautiful beer with a dark amber to brown complexion, and its German noble hops infuse a slight, refreshing, full-bodied finish without being overly sweet. With its dark, heavy complexion and ABV between 4% and 6%, you’ll want to drink a Dunkel alongside sausages or an earthy cheese course.

Commercial Examples

Beck’s Dark (Brauerei Beck & Co.)
Spaten Dunkel (Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu)
Harpoon Dark (Harpoon Brewery & Brew Hall)

hellesMunich Helles

Munich’s other popular lager, the Helles, will be much brighter and lighter than the Dunkel (“Helles” means “pale”) with a crisp finish that is comparable to a Pilsner. The Helles is a cool, refreshing, everyday beer that pairs well with salads, shrimp, or fish. Like the Dunkel, Munich Helles usually fall in the range of 4%- to 6% ABV, making it a nice session beer for a warm day.

Commercial Examples

Augustiner Bräu Lagerbier Hell (Augustiner-Bräu Wagner KG)
Weihenstephaner Original (Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan)
Summer Helles (New Belgium Brewing Company)


Schwarzbier will surprise your palette a bit if you’re expecting its rich, dark, robust appearance to give you an overly bitter, roasted malt flavor typical of other near-black beers like stouts and porters. Schwarzbier translates to “black beer” and gets its dark appearance from long-roasted malts. Despite its appearance, it has a lighter-than-expected flavor profile and “twang,” the latter of which is likely due to its roast-based acidity inside of a relatively thin body/malt profile. You will definitely taste notes of chocolate within this malty brew, but without any harsh, burnt aftertaste. Typical ABVs come in on the low end, falling between 4% and 6%. Schwarzbier’s light, bubbly head make for a brilliant appearance in a flute or other tall vessel, and this cold weather beer is best enjoyed alongside heavy, homecooked German sausages, game meats, or pastries.

Commercial Examples

Mönchshof Schwarzbier (Kulmbacher Brauerei AG)
Duck-Rabbit Schwarzbier (The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery)
5 O’clock Shadow Double Black Lager (Grand Teton Brewing Co.)





  • Mucha August 20, 2017 @ 11:34am

    This was an absolutely fantastic summary. Only knock, no mention of altbier? Yikes! Otherwise great work!

  • gabe September 13, 2017 @ 2:55pm

    Beer gut

  • Pam December 29, 2017 @ 12:15pm

    Great! Thank you. On my way to a Bavarian restaurant. Don’t want the group to think I’m totally stupid about German biers, though I am. 😉

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