Zum Wohl!: Beer and Wine in Germany

I’m far from being an expert on alcoholic beverages of any kind, but who can write about Germany and not mention a few of them? Kneipen (bars) and Biergartens abound throughout German cities and towns. Beer, “liquid bread” as some locals call it, is part and parcel of the country’s culture. While the Germans are well-known for their beer-making, we found that they make some good wines as well.

Although they make and drink a lot of beer, Germans are not the world’s biggest consumers of the beverage. They come in third worldwide after the Czechs and the Irish. Still, one finds a brewery, in nearly every German town (around 1200 total apparently) and many excellent ones exist. People tend to be loyal to the brew from their local area: in Berlin locals opt for the Berliner Weisse, Pilsner, or Kindl; in Dresden we saw Radeberger everywhere, though one resident suggested we drink other brands; in Munich tourists head for the Hofbrauhaus, but for the locals the Münchner Helles is often the beer of choice. This devotion to the home-style beer can lead to serious intercity rivalry, like a celebrated one between Cologne and Dusseldorf. In Cologne one does not even ask for “a beer” but “ein Kölsch.” To do the same in neighboring Dusseldorf is a highly risky venture! German beers come in many types: light and dark, lagers, ales, wheat, and smoked beers, to name a few. All are controlled by the Reinheitsgebot, a law that serves to preserve the purity of German beer, much like the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) does for wine in France. One thing I know for sure: it’s so refreshing to take a “beer break” mid-afternoon and relax after hours of sightseeing.

From our first trips to Germany, we were sure that we would find good beer. But who knew that Germans would also produce some tasty wines? The country is, in fact, the eighth largest wine-producing country in the world. When our son got married near Würzburg in 2006, we discovered Franconia (or Franken) wines from along the river Main. For over a thousand years, this region has been producing mainly white wines (only 20% reds), immediately recognizable because of their unique, rounded bottles.

While it is primarily a white-wine producing nation, Germany also has several good red wines, as we discovered this year. At Faustus restaurant in Erfurt we tasted a lovely red wine from Naumberg in Saxony. The southwestern region of Ellerstadt has been producing wines since as early as the eighth century; we had a good one from this area at the suggestion of our waitress at Alte Meister in Dresden called Ursprung by Schneider.

I hope this introduction to the beers and wines of Germany gets you to give them a try. Prost!

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