Week 16: More of the World's Major Beer Countries

A beer festival is a great place to try amazing beers from all around the world. Here in Week 16 of Beer Hawk University, we'll discuss some more of the world's most prominent beer cultures--so we all can have a better understanding of that next international tipple!

As we discussed last week, beer has played a prominent role in cultures throughout the globe. It's fascinating how, to us, it doesn't seem more than a great Friday night, yet what makes our weekends even better is actually the product of thousands of year of culture, history and geography. Let's discuss more prominent beer-drinking cultures so we can get a better idea how each time we go to a beer festival, we're actually writing history.

Germany

We here at Beer Hawk love German beer culture. In fact, many of

Week 16: More of the World's Major Beer Countries

A beer festival is a great place to try amazing beers from all around the world. Here in Week 16 of Beer Hawk University, we'll discuss some more of the world's most prominent beer cultures--so we all can have a better understanding of that next international tipple!

As we discussed last week, beer has played a prominent role in cultures throughout the globe. It's fascinating how, to us, it doesn't seem more than a great Friday night, yet what makes our weekends even better is actually the product of thousands of year of culture, history and geography. Let's discuss more prominent beer-drinking cultures so we can get a better idea how each time we go to a beer festival, we're actually writing history.

Germany

We here at Beer Hawk love German beer culture. In fact, many of us own--and don--lederhosen. What makes it so fascinating?

The Germans are serious about their beer. In fact, our beer-drinking friends on the continent were the first to write any food quality regulation: the Reinheitsgebot. This 16th century law regulated what beer could be made of--to ensure its purity and freshness--and only water, hops and barley made the grade (with yeast joining some centuries later). While this policy isn't exactly law these days, most German breweries do uphold it as a nod to its importance on German beer culture.

While this may make it sound like most German beer is the same, rest assured, it's not. Indeed, many major German cities have their own unique styles which are very different from the next. Düsseldorf is famed for their Altbiers while Cologne--a mere 30 minutes away--has its Kölsch. The tart and salty Goses of Leipzig find similarities to the Berliner Weisse but are extremely different from Bamberg's smoky, bacony Rauchbiers.

With all these different beers and breweries it comes as no surprise that Germany finds itself ranked third in the world for per-capita beer consumption. With beer festivals in every village all throughout the summer all the way through to Oktoberfest, there's always a good time to be had with plenty of friends. And pretzels.

Like many countries around the world, there is a modern movement of beer taking place in Germany. Progressive, innovative beers from Berlin, Frankfurt, Mainz and even Bavaria are finding themselves next to the historic crates of Paulaner or Aecht Schlenkerla. Yet, let's discuss some of the historic German beer styles that we still love today: 

Prominent German Beer Styles

Munich Helles

The Munich Helles was first brewed at Munich's Spaten brewery in 1894 as an answer to the Pilsener. A Helles is often crystal clear and, since the word helles means "light", is a light golden colour. A clean malt profile is balanced out by spicy/floral noble hops and a balancing bitterness.

German Pilsener (Pils)

Soft water creates a suitable platform for the spicy, herbal, floral hop character from the noble hops of Hallertauer, Saaz or Tettnanger. Expect a light golden colour with a rich, dense head. A crisp bitter finish extends beyond a lovely malt profile. Clean, refreshing and bitter, the Pi is purely pure.

Doppelbock

Doppelbocks rank among the world’s strongest beers. Rich and filling, these lagers used to sustain German monks during Lenten fasts. Deep copper-brown in colour, the doppelbock has a rich mouthfeel, slightly sweet with just enough hops to strike a balance, warming all the way down.

Rauchbier

German for “smoke beer,” this lager styles features a rich, warm smoke flavour and aroma. This speciality of the Bavarian city of Bamberg, has a noticeable wood-fire smokiness due to the malts being smoked over beechwood. Generally brewed as a Märzen, this Rauchbier has just enough bitterness and a clean, malty finish.

Märzen/Oktoberfest

These days the Märzen and Oktoberfest (Festbier) are slightly different but for all intents are purposes, they're virtually the same. A Märzen showcases rich, toasty malts with a clean, full body, moderate hop profile and average strength. An Oktoberfest is actually a Märzen that has been brewed by the six approved breweries within Munich's city limits. An Oktoberfest brewed outside of Munich is called a Festbier because it is served during a festival!

United States

To a lot of people, American beer is synonymous with, well, pretty terrible stuff. Yet even the megabreweries of St. Louis or Denver find their roots in rather interesting stories of American history.

In the years before WWI scores of German immigrants made their way to America. In fact, German Americans form the largest ancestry group in the whole country. These people not only brought their customs, skills and families, but they also brought their beer. Indeed, these new German immigrants found employment in many of the same industries that they had in their homeland: mining, steel-working or agriculture. These back-breaking occupations made for very thirsty men--and they wanted their thirst-quenching lagers. Seeking an opportunity, brewers like Capt. A. Pabst, Eberhard Anheuser, and Adolphus Busch built their own breweries. We'll let you guess which ones. These brewing immigrants are, today, credited with almost half of all current beer sales in the United States. Talk about the American dream!

We know the story of the 1920-1933 Prohibition in the US. While it was of course a dark (and boring!) time for the brewing industry, what waited on the other side wasn't much better. Prohibition forced most American breweries to close and those that diversified ultimately found survival in merging and take-overs. While brewing was once again legal, only 44 breweries remained in the United States by the late 1970's. Since the sales were found in average, mass-produced lagers, innovation was dead and the only thing exciting was finding Coors east of the Mississippi.

Nevertheless, the United States was born on rebellion and the mid-1970's and 1980's saw its first push to what we now see was the birth of today's Craft Beer movement. Frustrated with the lack of choice--and with homebrewing becoming a popular hobby--breweries like Anchor Brewing and The New Albion Brewery started something almost magical in retrospect. Microbrewing gained steam throughout the 1990's and then in 2004 the lid blew off. And exciting beer, innovation and--most importantly--choice has been overflowing, to the tune of over 5000 breweries, since.

Prominent American Beer Styles

American Pale Ale

The American Pale Ale was first created in the early 1980's and is distinguished by its American hop profile of grapefruit, pine, citrus or spice. A nice balance between malt and hops is accompanied by the typical “punchy” hoppiness and a moderately dry, bitter finish. This is a refreshing and approachable style.

American Amber Ale

One of the few styles that American brewers can legitimately call their own. Originating in California and the Pacific Northwest, this reddish-amber beer has a brings together brisk American hop flavours over a firm malty base. This style makes for a refreshing pint that is still flavourful enough to enjoy year-round.

American IPA

A direct descendent of the English IPA, the American IPA is known for being hop-forward with assertive bitterness. American IPAs generally display American or New World hops which have citrus, pine, floral or spicy characteristics. Medium-bodied with a moderate maltiness it has a clean, dry and lingering bitter finish.

California Common (Steam Beer)

Another uniquely American style is the California Common. It was first brewed out in 1800's San Francisco using the readily-available lager yeasts but, as this was before the wide use of refrigeration, it fermented at a higher temperature. The result being a copper-coloured lager with some fruity characteristics and an assertive hop bitterness. Anchor Brewing trademarked the term "Steam Beer" for their version of a California Common, so while they're the same style there's only one true steam beer.

Czech Republic

While the Czech Republic doesn't have the variety of styles that many other beery countries have, its impact on beer throughout the ages makes it a must for this lesson. Even though Czech beer consists almost entirely of the Pilsner lager (or a variant), its long brewing history and the exportation of their beer alongside the noble hop, Saaz, even as far back as the 900's explains its significance in what we see in beer today.

The Pilsner lager has long been one of the most popular beer styles in the world--and one from which many other styles has derived. The cities of Brno and Plze? were first given the right to brew their precursor to the Pilsner in the 12th and 13th centuries, respectively. While much of the early brewing in the Czech Republic was mainly based within monasteries, the Pilsner Urquell brewery first brewed what we now know as the Bohemian Pilsner in 1842.

The Bohemian Pilsner and its original versions are considered the first lagers ever made. With its immense drinkability its popularity soared throughout Europe and many other styles--the German Pils, Vienna Lager and all other World Lagers--split off from it. Apparently the Czechs think the original is the best because they have the highest beer consumption rate per capita in the world.

Prominent Czech Beer Style

Bohemian Pilsner

This style was first brewed in 1842 in Pilsen, Czech Republic and had a massive influence on both historic and modern-day beer brewing. Expect a fuller mouthfeel and a more complex malt character that is both balanced and refreshing. A strong yet unassuming bitterness boosts its drinkability.

That was interesting, wasn't it? There's a lot more to this beery world than that but we'll leave talk about what's going on in Australia, New Zealand, Italy and even Argentina for future lessons. We'll see you next week when we'll get a bit more vocabulary under our belts so we can better describe all of this interesting beer we're tasting. Cheers!