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Best German beer 2023: The tastiest Pilsners, Helles, Dunkels and more

If you like your beer robust and full of flavour, our list of the best German beers has something for everyone

Hallo! und herzlich willkommen auf unserer Liste der besten deutschen Biere (that’s best German beer for those who don’t know). While it may have become something of a playful stereotype involving frothy steins and beer halls, German beer culture really is a fun, lively and flavourful scene, with the best German beer packing in tons of hoppiness, character and a significant amount of alcoholic content. With a near-endless number of local styles and varieties, becoming a connoisseur of German beer could make for a relaxing and rewarding new hoppy hobby.

German beer newbies should check out our handy buying guide below, which gives you the knowledge needed to differentiate your Pilsners from your Helles, your Dunkels from your pale lagers and your Kristallweizen from your Hefeweizen. Skipping past that, you’ll find mini-reviews of our favourite tried and tested German beers in a number of categories. These include firm classics and some niche varieties, as well as some equally flavourful and refreshing non-alcoholic and low-ABV options.

Best German beer: At a glance

How to choose the best German beer for you

What are the different styles of German beer?

Germans are pretty serious about their beer, with strict production laws and traditional brewing practices helping to shape the myriad of styles and varieties of beer available in the country. While not exhaustive by any means, below is a short rundown of the most popular and well-known German beer styles.

Pilsners – German-style Pilsners, or simply Pils, are a type of pale lager usually around 4-5% ABV. Pilsners are generally lightly straw-coloured, possessing a more aromatic, hoppier flavour than your typical lager, with some stronger Pilsners even tending towards a pleasant bitterness.

Helles – Also sometimes called Hells, this is a traditional German pale lager that has been somewhat overtaken by Pilsners over time. Helles tend to be around 4.5–6% ABV, have a clear, pale colour and a malty flavour that’s usually slightly milder and sweeter than a pilsner.

Kölsch – Similar to Champagne, Kölsch is a regionally protected beer variety, produced in and around the city of Cologne. Made using a combination of warm top fermentation and cold lagering techniques, a Kölsch is typically pale and light-bodied, with a very subtle hint of fermented fruitiness.

Dortmunder – The German export style, Dortmunders are similar to Pilsners but possess a darker, golden colouring, a slightly softer, maltier taste and generally have a higher ABV – almost always north of 5%.

Dunkel – This catch-all term refers to a variety of German dark lagers. Dark lagers, as opposed to pale lagers, are usually made with darker malts or roasted grains and have maltier flavours than pale lagers. Notes of chocolate, caramel and the like are not uncommon.

Kellerbier – Is a type of unfiltered and unpasteurised German lager. They’re subsequently cloudy in colour and possess a sweet, malty, almost bread-like flavour, due to the brewing yeast that remains in the beer.

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Weißbier – Also known as Weizenbier, this is the German term for wheat beer, a type of top-fermented beer which, as the name suggests, is made with a greater proportion of wheat to hops. Within this category are filtered varieties such as Kristallweizen and cloudier, unfiltered styles such as Hefeweizen, among others.

Are there lighter options available?

While Germany is known for producing strong, hoppy beers, German brewers and drinks manufacturers also understand that sometimes you need something a little lighter to sip on. Besides beers that tend more towards lightness and lower ABV, there are also specifically low-alcohol variants available. These include table beers, which are a popular style of low-ABV beer in Europe, usually referring to a beer that’s between 0.5% and 2.5% in strength. Beyond that, shandy-like drinks known as Radlers, made up of two parts beer to one part lemon/lime juice, are a popular summertime drink, helping people enjoy some citrus flavour and pace themselves during all-day “Parktrinken” sessions.

How do we test the beers?

To test our tasty roster of German beers we begin by pre-chilling the bottles or cans in the fridge for a number of hours. Once nicely chilled, we pour the beers into a standard pint glass, noting the colour profile, the size and consistency of the foam head and the initial aroma of the beer. Once poured, we taste the beer, taking down an impression of the overall flavour, distinct notes and general drinkability of the beer.

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The best German beers you can buy in 2023

1. Augustiner Helles: Best German Helles-style lager

Price when reviewed: £40 (12pk) | Check price at Beer Hunter

Made entirely from Bavarian hops and malt and given a long, careful secondary fermentation, this offering from Augustiner is not only a fine example of the Helles style, it’s regarded by beer fans as one of the top lagers in the world. Drinking it, it’s easy to see why, as Augustiner manages to be both smooth and crisp at once, finished with a hoppy tang but still immensely drinkable. With a robust ABV of 5.2%, Augustiner is the type of pale, easy-drinking lager where you might only notice you’ve already knocked back quite a few when it’s time to stand up to get some more.

Key details – Volume: 12 x 500ml; Style: Helles lager; ABV: 5.2%

2. Berliner Pilsner: Best German Pilsner

Price when reviewed: £2.45 (per can) | Check price at The Whisky ExchangeFirst off, no disrespect to the OG, Pilsner Urquell, or the nation of Czechia, where that beer and the style itself originated – this is a best German beer list, we’re not trying to start an international beer feud here. That disclaimer out of the way, our pick for best Pilsner is Berliner Pilsner, known for its fine flavour and its Berlin bear emblazoned packaging, which depicts the German capital’s mascot carrying a tray of beers.

Berliner Pilsner has a lightly bitter taste, as pilsners tend to, as well as a nice malty character, a fresh, grassy aroma and frothy, clean, white head when poured well. This is the perfect beer for anyone looking for something smooth and easy-drinking that still has a little bite to it.

Key details – Volume: 500ml; Style: German Pilsner; ABV: 5.0%

3. Franziskaner Weissbier: Best German wheat beer

Price when reviewed: £2.30 (per bottle) | Check price at WaitroseIf you’re looking for a delicious, traditional wheat beer, you don’t really have to look any further than Franziskaner. Pour one out and you’ll immediately be greeted with the cloudy, dark amber colouring and large, fluffy, off-white head that defines the Bavarian Hefeweizen style. This unfiltered wheat beer has a soft, smooth texture and a rich, wheaty flavour with notes of fruitiness, banana and citrus. The initial sweetness and richness of the beer is balanced by its warming, spicy finish. If you’d like to enjoy all the bold character of wheat beer without the alcohol, there’s also a 0.5% “alkoholfrei” version available.

Key details – Volume: 12 x 500ml; Style: Hefeweizen; ABV: 5%

4. Krombacher Dark: Best German Dunkel beer

Price when reviewed: £2.35 (per bottle) | Check price at Ocado

Made using dark, roasted malts and select Hallertau hops, this dark lager from Krombacher is a great introduction to the style. On an initial sip, you get a flavourful hit of malty spiciness, a light punch of hops to finish, and a rich, sweet aftertaste. Texturally, the beer has a pleasant effervescence, as well as a dark, chocolatey aroma.

While seasoned dark lager drinkers might crave a more intense maltiness or darker notes, this beer should still satisfy, while also being subtle enough to remain easy drinking and welcoming to newbies. Fans of traditional ales should take note of this entry in particular, and dark lagers in general, as they share a broadly similar range of flavours.

Key details – Volume: 500ml; Style: Dark lager; ABV: 4.7%

5. Paulaner Lemon Radler: Best German beer shandy

Price when reviewed: £25 (12pk) | Check price at Beer Hunter

Germans are really onto something with radlers, a flavoursome drink made up of a mix of light beer and citrus juice, which usually clocks in at around half the ABV of a regular beer. Radlers are perfect for outdoor drinking during the summer months, sipping in between stronger beers, or just for when you fancy a less boozy tipple.

This lemon radler from Paulaner is a great example of the style, combining already tasty Paulaner light beer with natural lemon, lime and orange juices for an easy drinking, zesty shandy.

Key details – Volume: 12 x 500ml; Style: Radler lager; ABV: 2.5%

6. Ayinger Jahrhundertbier: Best German export lager

Price when reviewed: £41 (12pk) | Check price at AmazonBrewed back in 1978 to celebrate the hundred year anniversary of the Ayinger brewery, Jahrhundertbier proves that time and experience count for a lot in the brewing game. This Dortmunder export lager has the high ABV you’d expect from the style – at 5.5%, it’s robust without being over the top – and an appetising, almost floral aroma, along with a pale golden colour.

To taste, it’s rich and malty, with finishing touches of sweetness and bitterness that balance each other out nicely. If you’re after something strong but smooth, this will be the ideal beer for you.

Key details – Volume: 12 x 500ml; Style: Dortmunder; ABV: 5.5%

7. Berliner Kindl Weisse Original: Best German sour beer

Price when reviewed: £29 (12pk) | Check price at AmazonThe Berliner Weisse is a wheat beer variation from northern Germany whose characteristic flavour is a nice sour tang. Berliner Kindl makes a range of delicious Weisses, each with the full-bodied, yeasty flavour of a wheat beer and a slightly mouth-puckering kick of sourness on the finish. Traditionally, Berliner Weisses are mixed with flavoured syrups to balance out the sour with the sweet, though we also very much enjoy drinking them straight up.

However, if you find would prefer a touch of sweetness, and would find it handier to cut out the middleman, you can opt for a flavoured version, with these Himbeere (raspberry) and Waldmeister (a herby, woodruff-flavour) offerings being our favourites. Overall, Berliner Kindl’s Weisses are a great high flavour, low ABV option, clocking in between 2.5% and 3%, perfect for when you want to knock back a few tasty beers without feeling the effects too strongly.

Key details – Volume: 12 x 330ml; Style: Berliner Weisse ; ABV: 2.5%

8. Krombacher 0.0% Pils: Best alcohol-free German beer

Price: when reviewed £1.10 (per bottle) | Check price at Ocado

Gone are the days when avoiding alcohol meant you had to stick to soft drinks or water, with the last few years seeing a whole host of delicious beer, wine and even spirits such as gin becoming available for anyone abstaining. Krombacher produces a full range of high-quality German beers, including a solid alcoholic Pilsner, and its 0% Pils is no different, providing a tasty alkoholfrei option for anyone with a hankering for a fully flavoured Pilsner, sans the booze.

To taste, it has the initial hoppy tang you’d associate with a Pilsner, with a soft, bready finish, all adding up to make it an easy-drinking beer suitable for any occasion.

If you’re looking for more high-quality alcohol-free drinks, check out our full roundup.

Key details – Volume: 330ml; Style: Pilsner; ABV: 0.0%

Check price at Ocado

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