By Chris Malloy
September 27, 2019
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These light, accessible German brews are having a moment for a reason.

Beer culture in America has swung back to embrace the crisp classics of Germany: pilsner, lager, and other styles low in alcohol and long on flavor. For many years, the beer pendulum in the U.S. had moved to bitter West Coast IPAs and heavy, higher-alcohol brews. But the recent interest among both the craft and casual drinker in German-style beers marks a series of thrilling returns. A return to beer’s history. A return to the styles that immigrants first brought to America. A return to simple brews that you can drink without mental fogginess, without foiling diet, or without feeling overly full.

Amazingly, simple German-style beers like Kolsch and märzen are some of the hardest to brew. This is because of the old German purity laws, known as Reinheitsgebot, which limited what brewers of the past could use. They were restricted to the barest essentials. This is also because these beers thrive in their simplicity. Unable to hide behind add-ins like spices, fruit juice, and lactose, the brewers of today need to be at the peak of their skills to make your everyday pilsner outstanding.

There are great German-style beers being made in the U.S. Of course, there are stellar versions being made in their overseas homeland, and they often ship well. Though these lean, bracing beers can skip across the seasons with relative ease, you might find them at their best in late summer, when the hot days drag on. And fall, when Oktoberfest hits. If you don’t like the hoppiness or heaviness of beers popular for most of this decade, or do but thirst for change, give one of these German styles a try.

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1. Pilsner

This straw-colored beer is crisp and refreshing. German-style pilsner is less sweet than the version you’ll find from the Czech Republic (“Bohemian-style”). It has a short finish, and just wipes the palate clean. Pilsner features a touch of hops, a touch of malt, and is fresh all the way from froth to aftertaste. It doesn’t have a seasonal peg. Enjoy this light staple year-round.

2. Kolsch

A clear, brilliant gold, Kolsch is similar to pilsner in its lightness. It has less sweetness and tends to be dry. This combined with its heightened bubbliness makes for a beer that, in a few ways, may remind you of Champagne. Those bubbles burst on your tongue in a surge of modest but lush, refreshing grain flavor. Like pilsner, Kolsch is usually low alcohol and doesn’t have any heft to weigh you down.

3. Märzen

This beer, a shade stronger than the previous two, was traditionally brewed in the waning days of winter’s chill and consumed around the time of Oktoberfest come the arrival again of the cool months. It’s a darker larger, usually a lighter grade of copper. It’s higher ABV than pilsner and Kolsch. Märzen has a slight malty sweetness that is curbed, roundly, in a way that deepens the flavor. That makes it great come the last days of summer, when cooler weather arrives.

4. Lager

Märzen is one of many, many categories that fall under lager. When you think lager, you might think the light lagers of the American beer giants. But lagers have lately improved thanks to smaller breweries across the country that have upgraded their ingredients. Distinctively, lagers are brewed at colder temperatures. When done well, they can have a deep wheaty flavor, almost like inhaling fresh-baked dark-crust bread or pretzel. They are low alcohol and great in all seasons.

5. Gose

If German beer were a sprawling family, gose would be the black sheep. Salty and tangy, gose almost has as much in common with hard cider as beer. But these interesting qualities make gose one of the truly great beers to pair with food, especially with the zinging flavors of the grill and citrus. Though the practice isn’t traditional, many of today’s gose are made with fruit like blood orange and mango, making for some beers that can — like any of these beers, really! — open your mind and surprise you.

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