A rose is a rose is a rose -- but that doesn't hold true for beer. As a beer-drinker's paradise, the vast choice in Germany can be mind-boggling. Here's a brief guide.
While beer is beloved throughout Germany, most people associate the malt beverage with big Bavarian men wearing lederhosen and green felt hats decorated with bushy brushes served a stein of amber brew by a big woman wearing a dirndl.
That's a common picture at Germany's largest beer garden, the Octoberfest in Munich
Should you make it to Bavaria and finally utter those words you spent hours learning from a beginning German cassette, "Ein Bier bitte," you will receive a large glass mug of helles, or lager beer. It isn't as hoppy as your standard pilsner, hence it can go down quickly. The mug itself is a standard feature of Munich's beer gardens and you will hardly find it anywhere north of the Main River.
If you are looking for something more unusual, go to Düsseldorf. The city on the Rhine River is about the only place you can order an alt. It's dark in color and bitter in flavor, the second attribute of which is particularly useful on a hot summer day.
The opposite of the large beer mug in Bavaria is Cologne's stange, a tall, thin glass that holds 0.2 liters (0.4 pints) of Kölsch. Ordering one of these in Düsseldorf, a mere 35 kilometers away (20 miles) could result in a small run-in with the bar staff and customers who won't take kindly to the light-colored beer from the rival city.
Your typical "Stange" from Cologne
One of the nicer traditions of drinking in a Cologne pub is the so-called Köbes, your waiter. The Kobeses are notorious for continually replacing empty beer glass with full ones regardless of guests' requests to the contrary.
Traditionally, a Kölsch could only be called that if the 157-meter (515-foot) high spires of the city's cathedral could be seen from the brewery. Even today, the term is a registered trademark in the EU, like champagne and cognac.
Mixing with beer popular
One of Germany's most popular beers is not a true beer at all -- or at least not 100 percent beer. The "Berliner Weisse" is a favorite summer drink in the German capital. There are two versions, one with the addition of raspberry syrup, the other with waldmeister syrup, which comes from the woodruff plant.
Chancellor Schröder has been known to enjoy a beer
In the summer especially, Germans get their refreshment by mixing beer with sodas. Radler and alsterwasser are the most popular mixes, made up of half beer and half Sprite or orange soda (Fanta). Cola mixes are also widespread.
Yet if beer to you means just a bitter tasting malt beverage that should never be tainted with sugary sodas, Bamberg's rauchbier, or smoke beer, made with smoked barley malt, may be just what you're looking for.
If all you really want is a big kick, you might try a Donnerbock, or thunder bock, with alcohol content of 13 percent.