Germany's unique beer tradition

Beer reigns as one of the recognized and popular characteristics of German culture. The nation is home to approximately 1,300 breweries, second only to the United States’ 1,500. The German beer market stands independently from the rest of the world’s beer market due to the German brewers’ adherence to the Reinheitsgebot, or “purity order,” instated in 1516 that requires all German beers to be made only with water, hops, and barley-malt. The law also requires any beers not using barley-malt, such as what and rye, to be top-fermented (warm-fermented). The Germans fall only behind the Czechs and Irish in their per capita consumption of beer.
Germany brews a wide variety of beers. Germany’s top fermenting beers include Weizen, Weizenback, Roggenbier, Berliner Weisse, Leipziger Gose, Altbier, and Koelsch, which range from 2.5 to 8 percent alcohol by volume. Germany’s bottom-fermenting, or cold-fermenting, beers include Helles, Schwarzbier, Pilsener, Export, Spezial, Dunkel, Rauchbier, Bock, Dunkler Bock, Doppelbock, Eisbock, and Muerzen. These varieties are commonly found on tap throughout American bars and range from 4.5 to 15 percent alcohol by volume.
German beer tradition includes leaving some beers unfiltered. Kellerbiers, German for “cellar beer,” are unfiltered lagers conditioned in a similar manner to cask ales. Strength and color will vary, but Kellerbiers most commonly appear a deep amber color with an approximate 5 percent alcohol content.
Zwickelbiers take their name from the traditional practice of the brewery boss taking a sample from the barrel with a special pipe tool called a “Zwickelhahn.” Zwickelbiers are an unfiltered lager like Kellerbier, though with a slightly different conditioning process that gives the lager more carbonation. Zwickelbiers tend to be younger, lower in alcohol content, and less hoppy than Kellerbiers. Many US breweries will use the terms Keller of Zwickel to market unpasteurized beer. German whet beers, Weissbier, are available in unfiltered, Hefeweizen form, or filtered, Kristallweizen form.