The cradle of many well-known lager beer styles, Bavaria, is the southernmost state in Germany. Among these styles are Helles, Dunkel, Märzen/Oktoberfest, Kellerbier, Rauchbier, Schwartzbier, and Bockbier with its variants (Double Bock, Maibock, Weizenbock, Eisbock). The Bavarian State also is home to the most widely consumed ale in Germany, the wheat-based Hefeweizen.
Bavaria produces one-third of the world hop production, focusing on the four noble hops, and some of the world’s best barley, wheat, and specialized malts. Bavarian beers, almost exclusively made with homegrown materials and in accordance with the Bavarian beer purity law, tend to be rich and malty, with aromatic malts and a delicate bitterness.
Bavarian beer drinking, especially in beer gardens, is part of the everyday life, but the styles are seasonably based. In the summer, Bavarians favor light Helles and effervescent Hefeweizens with their clove, banana, and bubble gum character. In the fall, they switch to malty Amber and stronger Oktoberfest beers. For Christmas and wintertime, the various, strong Bock beers become popular, switching to Maibocks in the Spring and Double Bocks around Easter.
These styles, while only seasonably available in Bavaria, often are available year-round in America. When we visited a Bavarian Rauchbier brewery one summer and ordered a Bock beer from the menu, the owner told us it was not available because Germans will not drink Bocks in the summer, and his entire production was exported.
One-half of Germany’s 1,300 breweries call Bavaria home, as does the oldest continually operating brewery, Weihenstephan, which also is the world’s oldest operating brewing academy. The earliest evidence of beer making in Bavaria can be dated to the late Bronze Age with written records in Kulmbach dating to 800 BC.
The Bavarian purity law, called the Reinheitsgebot, is the oldest extant food purity law. Decreed by Bavarian co-rulers Duke Wilhelm IV and Duke Ludwig X in 1516, it restricted beer contents to water, malted barley and hops, later adding yeast, wheat and rye. It eliminated such yucky additives as soot, oxen bile, chicken blood, pith, tree bark and even poisonous mushrooms.
Oktoberfest (5.9 percent Alcohol By Volume, ABV) is the first Oktoberfest beer. Brewed by Spaten-Franziskaner Bräu in Munich, Germany, it has a malty, earthy aroma leading into a muted sweet front. The smooth, medium-bodied Spaten has a moderate caramel, toasty malt middle with touches of noble hop bitterness, both staying into the finish where a slight spiciness joins. The malt fades in the dry aftertaste as the hops come to the forefront. Ratings: 8.5/9.
Eisbock (9.2 percent ABV) is produced in Kulmbach, Germany by the Kulmbacher Brewery, the originator of the style. Eisbock is made by freezing the beer and removing the ice, hence increasing the alcohol content and body. The nose features currants, deep caramel, some roast, and a tinge of nuttiness. Quite smooth, Eisbock has a modest sweet roast and caramel malt front. The roast increases in the middle. A trace of floral hops and alcohol emerge in the finish with the alcohol increasing in the aftertaste. Ratings: 9/9.
Salvator (7.9 percent ABV), brewed by the Paulaner Brewery of Munich, Germany is the seminal double bock. It has a huge toffee and malt nose and a restrained sweet front. A deep, robust toffee malt middle is followed by a finish which adds a touch of alcohol, roast and tempered bitter hops. The flavors continue into the aftertaste, where both the alcohol and hop characters increase slightly in this medium-bodied, well blended brew.
Schneider Weisse (5.4 percent ABV), by G. Schneider and Sohn of Munich, Germany, is the original Weisse beer and still considered the benchmark. It has the classic yeast, clove and banana nose which presages a tasty yeast front. The medium malt and wheat middle adds a modicum of clove joining the yeast, and continues into the finish where notes of banana emerge. Effervescent throughout, this cloudy, medium-bodied brew has an aftertaste of increased banana and a light dryness, as the other flavors fade.
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