How to Drink German Fluently – Don’t Wait until Oktoberfest to Say Prost!
The German language is filled with words that so accurately describe highly specific concepts one can’t but adopt instead of translate them. And that we do: travellers tremble with wanderlust at the thought of an upcoming stamp on their passports, we are amused to encounter someone’s doppelgänger and whether we admit it or not, we might experience schadenfreude when those who have wronged us don’t get what they want.
Perhaps it’s just the zeitgeist: in such a connected world, you can find terms from any culture leaking into our mainstream speech just with the same ease trends from different corners of the globe inspire our habits. Think Scandinavian ultra-cosyness hygge, the pleasure of Italian aperitivo time or the glorious witnessing of the hanami come spring in Japan.
German Drinks Beyond Oktoberfest
When it comes to German drinks, the country gets the mainstream spotlight once a year when Oktoberfest approaches, but there’s so much more to their drinking culture than cheerfully gulping down weiss beer by the biergarten.
WSET educator and drinks expert Anke Hartmann, who ran the Berlin-inspired bar and restaurant Drury Buildings in Dublin and managed Michelin starred restaurant Tigerplast in Frankfurt points out that there are thousands of microbreweries across the country and that while beer styles such as pilsners and dunkel are very popular, wine and schnaps are also favoured.
“They also drink a lot of local wines like Rieslings and light reds like Müller Thurgau, especially in the numerous wine regions. They love Italian wines too. Another big thing is schnaps or locally distilled spirits like Kirsch”, she says.
While it’s impossible to generalise, specially when talking about a country as large and composed of so many diverse regions, one major trend in the German way of drinking is an inclination towards tipples that are lighter in alcohol. A well documented long term decline in volume consumption paired with a growth in value sales translates in a “less but better” attitude that favours quality over quantity.
Wine: Aromatic whites, lighter reds
When it comes to wine, being one of the most northernmost producing countries, Germany has lower temperatures than its southern European neighbours and it tends to produce lighter alcohol wines (less ripe grapes have less sugar for yeast to transform into alcohol) both white and red.
Germans drink local wines with gusto, about a third of the wine drunk domestically is national, and aromatic white wines tend to be favoured. Riesling’s many faces thrive, from light and delicate young bottles to glorious aged exemplars. Other wine producing countries that do well are, unsurprisingly, Italy, France and Spain.
Berlin, a trendsetting city
People look to three cities for the latest drinking trends: New York, London and Berlin. The later one is known for its mix of creativity, irreverence and alternative vibes.
Bars in unexpected locations, techno music, venues that remain open until very late (or early, depending on how you see it) and a public transport system that works around the clock on the weekends to allow you to enjoy the long hours of partying combine to make the perfect stage for a marathon of fun.
When in town, don’t miss a visit to some of Berlin’s best cocktail bars, such as Bar Marqués, The Green Door or TiER. To give yourself an idea of the nightlife vibe in the city’s different districts, this handy guide from Visit Berlin is a great place to start.
Herbal Flavours in Spirits
From small batch artisan schnapps to craft gins to world-famous Jägermeister, herbal infused flavours are a prevalent presence in German spirits. Richly flavoured artisan tipples are on the rise, and just like in Ireland, gin is having a moment, both in bars and at home. Good examples of modern German gins include Triple Peak and The Duke.
Closer to home, there’s a recently launched tipple, Von Hallers Gin, which channels the style; distilled in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim and infused with lemon verbena and ginger handpicked from the botanical gardens in Göttingen.
Carl Graf Von Hardenberg Jr. from Hardenberg-Wilthen AG (Germany’s third largest drinks producer and creators of Von Hallers Gin and Schwartzhog Herbal Liquer) shares some insight on the current drinking trends. “The German drink scene is historically based around local spirits like herbal liquors, fruit spirits and Korn. Traditionally, a beer and a shot chaser were very common”, he says, while pointing out that nowadays international trends are central.
The Gin & tonic is becoming a big trend in Germany; it’s probably one of the most talked about topics at the moment within the drink sector and amongst consumers.”
He points out that German gin drinkers are on the lookout for new and unusual flavours and spirits with a unique character.
Cocktails with a German Accent
With a new generation of distinctive bars you’d expect cocktails to be equally enticing. “One thing is for sure”, says former bartender Alexander Hauck, co-founder of the German brand of bitters and liqueurs The Bitter Truth, “Germany and German products stand for Gruendlichkeit, or the best quality.”
He points out that classic cocktails with a twist are a popular trend as well as lighter drinks in general. “We are seeing a steady movement to aperitif style drinks, with less alcohol”, Alexander points out that “sherry and white Port are becoming bartender favourites alongside, amaros and bitters in general.” Other trends that he rescues from the German cocktail scene are the use of small amounts of flavoured oils as well as Tiki themed bars.
Sebastian Brack, owner German brand Belsazar Vermouth, which was recently launched in Ireland, echoes Alexander’s point on low alcohol drinks. “People are more conscious of what they are drinking, thus low ABV drinks are very popular”, he adds that the aperitif has become an important market for bars in recent years.
Low ABVs and aperitifs are all the rage in Berlin. Less is more – also in the bar scene.”
In a nutshell, want to enjoy a drink the German way? Choose quality over quantity, flavour over ABV and dare to experiment with creative combinations. Prost!
Selbach Riesling Mosel QbA
€14.95 – Available at O’Briens Wine
A light and gentle Riesling that offers an affordable and approachable introduction to one of Germany’s top wine regions. Aromas of nectarines and citrus contrast with its floral palate, in which elderflower takes the spotlight with a pleasant mineral presence in the background, more river than sea.
It’s tame 10.5% ABV and delicate character will prove to be a welcome and refreshing taste of this subtle style of young Riesling.
Monkey 47 Gin
This premium gin comes from the Black Forest in Germany. The number echoes the amount of botanicals involved in its making as well as its sturdy ABV.
You’ll find an amalgamation of citrus, cranberries and a sharp spiciness. Herbal depth with a piney note complement its complex profile.
Belsazar Vermouth Dry
€37 – Available at L Mulligan Whiskey Shop
Described as “dry as a Berlin summer”, it has the right amount of bitterness and a pleasant combination of herbal flavours featuring chamomile, orange peel and nutmeg.
At 19% ABV, it makes the ideal base for spritzers and it mixes really nicely with tonic water.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.