Germany is justifiably proud of its rich brewing heritage. This spring marks a milestone with the 500th anniverary of the country's fateful beer purity law, Reinheitsgebot, which made the iconic beverage what we know today.
To celebrate, Germany's major cities are hosting special events or taking tried-and-true beer festivals (think Oktoberfest) to new levels for the occasion.
Here are a few ways to join the party.
For the past two decades, Berlin’s annual “beer mile” has lured beer enthusiasts from around the world to the German capital. Held over the course of a long weekend in early August along the Karl-Marx-Allee, the festival has grown into one of the country’s biggest brew to-dos, with hundreds of thousands of people queueing up to politely return their glasses in order to get their deposits back.
The Mile, formally known as the International Berlin Beer Festival, is a place for purists to try beers from German breweries large and small, but other countries' offerings are well represented here, too. With 2,400 varieties on tap, even the most dedicated drinker won’t be able to sample them all.
Tip: True beer fanatics will want to arrive in town early to tackle Berlin Beer Week (July 22-30), a citywide celebration aimed at showcasing the capital’s burgeoning craft-beer scene as well as schooling festivalgoers on artisanal brewing styles and methods.
Kölsch is king in Cologne, Germany’s fourth largest city. Light and refreshing, the ale's produced by a few dozen breweries in town and rarely found outside the city limits. Kölsch is traditionally served in small glasses, and servers at local pubs will keep them coming until you cover your empty glass with a coaster.
Residents of Cologne gravitate toward the taprooms of tiny Kölsch breweries like the Schreckenskammer, a hidden haunt on a backstreet not far from the city’s famous twin-spired cathedral.
Tip: In summer, beer kiosks along the mighty Rhine beckon: Grab a glass and head for the Aachener Weiher, a tree-shaded meadow surrounding a massive pond that fills up with hip locals young and old when the sun is shining.
Oktoberfest—think tents with endless rows of tables, blaring brass bands, dirndl-clad servers, and quart-size steins—may be synonymous with German brewing culture abroad, but Munich is a destination for beer lovers year-round. (Löwenbräu, Augustiner-Bräu, and Paulaner are just a few iconic German brands that hail from the Bavarian capital.)
Because Oktoberfest can’t come soon enough, Munich is also hosting a three-day festival at the end of July to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, with more than a hundred Bavarian breweries taking part.
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Extend your stay with a day trip to nearby Kloster Andechs, a Benedictine monastery overlooking the Bavarian countryside. Though Andechs’ dark brown bock beer and smooth-as-silk Spezial Hell are served all over Germany, hoisting a glass in the monastery’s beer garden under the cloister’s onion dome is a step back to the nation’s medieval past.
Tip: Another reason to visit the brewery this year: Andechs is releasing a special Reinheitsgebot anniversary brew, available only on-site until June 19.
Farther Afield in Bavaria
Upper Franconia—the northern tip of Bavaria—is reputed to have the most breweries per square mile in all of Germany.
Beer hikes are a great way to explore the area: One of the most popular is along the Five Seidla Trail, named for the traditional ceramic steins the region’s beers are served in. A six-mile path connects five different breweries, with just enough walking in between to make sojourners work up a thirst between stops.