Tour of German Beer Styles Part One: Pale Beers

We begin with styles designated as “pale” in colour. This includes varieties within the International Lager, Pale Malty European Lager, and Pale Bitter European Beer categories. While all similar in colour, the main difference is the amount and kinds of hops in their recipe.

Tour of German Beer Styles Part One: Pale Beers

ICYMI Click below for the Intro to the Series

Tour of German Beer Styles: Intro


Through an amalgam of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and the American Brewers Association Guidelines, this series will explore various beers styles which originated in different countries by examining their historical context and basic ingredients. This will also include a description of their various attributes of appearance, aroma, and taste plus a basic notation of the styles’ approximate vital statistics of ABV, IBU, and SRM.

Germany has over 1300 breweries and 7500 different brands available. They are the world’s fourth largest brewing country, and have created a large variety of beers which have become staples in breweries all over the globe. We will begin with those styles which are designated as “pale” in colour. While sometimes designated as “European” or “International”, because they are now brewed all over the world, their birthplace was Germany. This includes varieties within the International Lager, Pale Malty European Lager, and Pale Bitter European Beer categories. While all similar in colour, the main difference is the amount and kinds of hops in their recipe.


International Pale Lager

This is one of the most popular beer styles in the world. While German in inspiration, it has truly become a global phenomenon. First brewed in the mid-1800s and now propagated by Big Breweries everywhere, it is the more premium version of the Standard American Lager. Think of any beer you’ve seen in a green bottle (although they also come in brown and clear as well), with a European looking label, and no matter what country it comes from; chances are it is this type of beer. While a somewhat generic imitation of the pilsner style, it is generally made with either two-row or six-row barley malt, a small amount of noble hops, and clean lager yeast. It may contain rice, corn, or other adjuncts in differing quantities, although the German versions tend to stay adjunct free. With very little malt or hop aroma, the result is a simple, light bodied, easy drinking beer. It is usually pale straw in colour with only a touch of bitterness and generally around 5% ABV.

Vital Statistics:
IBUs: 18 – 25
SRM: 2 – 6
ABV: 4.6 – 6.0%

Munich Helles

Coming from the city of its namesake, the Munich Helles (or Hell) first appeared in 1894. First brewed by the Spaten brewery as a maltier option to Pilsner lagers, helles means “bright” or “blonde”, indicative of its yellow to pale golden colour. It is made with Pilsner malt, noble or Saaz hops, and German lager yeast. Its moderate bready aroma suggests lightly toasted malt, with minimal hop fragrance. The flavour is very clean, slightly sweet and grainy, with little hop bitterness and a medium body. Versions brewed in Munich are lighter than those from outside the city. This has become one of the most popular styles in southern Germany.


Vital Statistics:
IBUs: 16 – 22
SRM: 3 – 5
ABV: 4.7 – 5.4%


Now very popular with craft breweries all over the world, in Germany it can only be produced in and around Köln (Cologne). It is protected by the Kölsch Konvention (1986), which defines the beer as a “light, highly attenuated, hop-accentuated, clear, top-fermenting Vollbier (full beer).” Köln has a tradition of top-fermenting brewing going back hundreds of years and developed the kölsch in the late 1800s as a lagered version of ale to offset the growing number of bottom-fermented lagers being brewed. It is fermented with ale yeast at much cooler temperatures than traditional ales. While made with pilsner malt, and noble hops, it may contain as much as 20% wheat malt. The result is a very pale straw coloured beer with a low malt character and a subtle noble hoppiness in aroma and flavour. There are a wide variety of versions made, so some may also have a spicy, herbal, or even a slight sulfuric aroma. Because it is light and crisp tasting, it is a very popular summer beer, served in a special tall, narrow 200 mL glass called a Stange.

Fruh Kölsch

Vital Statistics:
IBUs: 18 – 30
SRM: 3.5 – 5
ABV: 4.4 – 5.2%

German Pils

This is Germany’s version of the Czech Pilsner that was first brewed in the 1840s, with the distinction coming from its use of different hops and the higher mineral content of German water. Similar in look, with a straw to light gold colour, while being very clear and well carbonated. It has only a faint malt aroma, as the noble hops provide a spicy or floral bouquet. This transmits to the flavour, making this light bodied beer crisp tasting with a moderate bitterness from the hops. Made with Pilsner malt and

Mahrs Bräu Pils
Mahrs Bräu Pils

German lager yeast, versions vary within Germany due to the differences in the water and what specific hop or hops are used. Along with its Czech cousin, this is one of the most copied beer styles throughout the world.

Vital Statistics:
IBUs: 22 – 40
SRM: 2 – 5
ABV: 4.4 – 5.2%




Thirsty for more? Here’s Tour of German Beer Styles Part Two: Amber Beers

David Nuttall completed the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) in 2012, has served as Epicurean Calgary owner and president since 2002 and is the current Judging Co-ordinator for Calgary International Beerfest. If you’re interested in learning more about beer, you can register for the 4 week ABF Brew Ed course at The Brewer’s Apprentice.

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