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BlogTravel tipsGuide to German beer: What to know about Oktoberfest & the best beer to try in Germany
close up of people cheering beers in steins
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Guide to German beer: What to know about Oktoberfest & the best beer to try in Germany

May 16, 2022 by Nick Patterson

Germany’s Oktoberfest celebration is the undisputed king of brew fests and has cemented the country as an authority on beer culture. Returning after a two-year hiatus, the festival will be back and better than ever in 2022. “Every beer drinker should make it to Oktoberfest at least once in their life,” said traveler Glenda. In honor of the legendary celebration, here are the different types of German beer you can try on tour to make the most of Oktoberfest.

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Oktoberfest by the numbers

  • Six million people attend Oktoberfest every year
  • The festival grounds cover the size of about 16 soccer fields
  • There are 19 tents in total—14 big tents and 15 small tents
  • About 7.9 million liters of beer are sold (this doesn’t include wheat beer, wine, or soft drinks)
  • Not a beer drinker? No problem! About 95,000 liters of wine are sold (there are also wine tents that exclusively sell wine)

What to know about beer in Germany

Various reports list Germany somewhere around second and fourth in the world when it comes to per capita beer consumption. Germany produces over 5,000 brands of beer out of 1,300 breweries, and the highest density of breweries in the world is reportedly found just outside Bamberg. From the 16th century until 1987, beer in Germany was strictly regulated by a purity law, the Reinheitsgebot, which stated that water, barley, hops, yeast, and sugar were the only ingredients that could be used in German-style beers. Today, regulations are a bit more lax—but that doesn’t mean that Germans are any less serious about their brewing.

How do you order German beers at Oktoberfest?

The most important question to ask. Here are some things to know about ordering at Oktoberfest:

  • Beers typically cost about €11.40
  • Most tents accept cash only (but there are ATMs available)
  • Tipping is encouraged and typically rounded up (tip €12 for an €11.40 beer)
  • If you’re with a group, you can tip in advance (you’ll have the same waiter or waitress the entire time you’re at your table)
  • Once you finish your glass, leave it at the table (you can’t take the glass out of the tent!)

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Famous German beer traditions at Oktoberfest

Warm up those vocal cords! One of the biggest Oktoberfest traditions is singing Ein Prosit, which translates to “a toast to coziness.” Ein Prosit gets sung about every 10—20 minutes and always ends in a cheers (so pace yourself!). When going in for a cheers, be sure to hold the beer with your fingers completely wrapped around the handle. If you have your fingers on the glass, you might accidentally hit them on your cheers partner’s glass.

Here are the best beers to try in Germany

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Helles

Always wondered what people were drinking in those giant mugs (called steins) at Oktoberfest? It most likely is Helles, one of the top German beers at Oktoberfest. Helles is brewed specifically for the event and is from Munich breweries only. It even has a little bit more alcohol than normal.

  • Produced in: Munich, Germany
  • Pairs well with: Pretzels, samosas, colby cheese, baklava
  • Tasting notes: Light sweetness, toasty finish, spicy hop flavor
  • ABV: 5.6–6.2%

Wheat and white beers

Whether it’s a weizenbier, hefeweizen, or weissbier, Bavarian-style wheat and white beers are made with malted wheat in place of malted barely, giving them a lighter color. Unfiltered varieties (hefeweizen) appear cloudy, while filtered varieties (kristallweizen) are free of suspended yeast particles and have a much clearer appearance.

  • Produced in: Bavaria, Germany
  • Pairs well with: Seafood, chevre cheese, key lime pie
  • Tasting notes: Sweet, fruity, notes of banana and clove
  • ABV: 4.9–5.6%

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Kölsch

What is Kölsch-style beer? Only legally brewed in the Cologne region (Köln in German), Kölsch beers are bright yellow in color and have a slightly hoppy taste. In traditional pubs, the customs around imbibing Kölsch are strong—servers called Köbes carry full beers on a special circular tray, replacing empty glasses with full ones unprompted until a drinker signifies that they are finished by covering their glass.

  • Produced in: Cologne, Germany
  • Pairs well with: Bratwurst, nutty cheeses, light apricot cake
  • Tasting notes: Low hoppy flavor, soft sweetness, hints of pear and apple
  • ABV: 3.5–5%

Märzen

If you’re searching for the most traditional Oktoberfest drink, look no further than Märzen. Only a handful of quintessential Germany beers are served in the Oktoberfest tents—dubbed “Märzen,” they’re traditionally brewed beginning in March. The category covers a wide range of German beer styles, from pale to dark brown, but all varieties are marked by a full body and distinct maltiness.

  • Produced in: Bavaria, Germany
  • Pairs well with: Kielbasa, jalapeño jack cheese, coconut flan
  • Tasting notes: Clean, deep malty richness, bready or biscuit-like notes
  • ABV: 5.6–6.3%

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Bock

Traditionally, Bocks are sweet, strong, and copper brown with an off-white head. They were originally brewed in the 14th century in the town of Einbeck. The German beer was later adopted by Bavarian brewers in Munich, whose accents shifted the pronunciation to “ein Bock,” which actually means “billy goat” in German. Generally associated with special occasions and holidays, these brews were also historically sipped by Bavarian monks during times of fasting.

  • Produced in: Eisbeck, Germany
  • Pairs well with: Grilled rib-eye, aged Swiss cheese, chocolate
  • Tasting notes: Malt sweetness, toasted nut, sometimes hints of caramel
  • ABV: 6.3–7.5%

Dunkel

Meaning “dark” in German, the Dunkel category encompasses a variety of malty lagers that range from light amber to a dark, reddish brown. The Dunkel is the rustic beer of the Bavarian countryside and, as it was the most popular beer in Germany at the time of the Reinheitsgebot, was the first fully regulated German beer.

  • Produced in: Bavaria, Germany
  • Pairs well with: Sausages, roasted veggies, washed-rind munster cheese, ginger beer cake
  • Tasting notes: Chocolate, roasted malt, bready or biscuit-like notes
  • ABV: 4.5–5.6%

Ready to try the best beer in Germany at Oktoberfest? We don’t blame ya! Check out our Oktoberfest tours.


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About the author | Nick Patterson
After one deep breath of the crisp Iceland air, Nick knew travel was for him. He’s been hooked ever since. In his free time, you can find Nick on the golf course playing poorly, getting too worked up about the Celtics and Patriots, or enthusiastically talking about the most recent movie he watched.

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