For German Bier, it’s all in the glass
September 23rd, 2011
12:15 PM ET
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Ein Bier Bitte! This time of year, these three simple German words are, perhaps, the most spoken in the world. They are, after all, the linguistic key to survival for millions of beer lovers who’ve made a pilgrimage to Bavaria for Munich’s famed Oktoberfest.

Having lived 10 years in Munich myself, I’ve lost count of how many German Biers I’ve ordered. But in sampling many of the best brews Bavaria has to offer, I learned something that’s often lost on the casual Oktoberfest visitor: German Bier is more than just a thirst-quenching elixir brewed with a distinct balance of malt and hops. It’s also about the glass or mug that holds it – so, that giant, one-liter Oktoberfest Maßkrug? It was designed that way for a reason - not just to become an over-sized souvenir.

But let’s start with some background. In the very beginning, people really weren’t so picky about what they drank their beer from – it simply needed to hold some liquid. Metal cups, pottery mugs, wood containers, and even animal horns were used at various times to serve the fermented libation.

The spread of the bubonic plague in the 14th century is often cited as the reason Germany added hinged lids to mugs, creating the well-known beer stein. Porcelain, silver, pewter, stoneware - all these materials have been used in the production of traditional beer mugs and still can be found today. But centuries of brewing resulted in an ever-wider variety of German beers, and with that came the creation of distinct glasses that were designed to enhance the specific qualities of each beer type.

German beer mugs, like the ones used in Munich today, have been made out of glass since the Oktoberfest in 1892. The thick faceted sides of the mug are there to keep the beer cold. And the handle? Its job is to keep your hands off the mug, so your body temperature doesn’t warm the beer before you finish drinking it. Full-bodied beers such as lager and export taste best in this type of glass.

pilsner

The Pils, on the other hand, is something altogether different. A tapered, cone-shaped glass or a stemmed, tulip-shaped glass is the best way to enjoy the energetic carbonation of a Pilsner. The V-shape of the glass actually forces the brew’s tiny bubbles upwards. It is this constant stream of carbonation that characterizes a Pils with its profuse foam and distinctive, if slightly bitter, taste.

If you’re the type that prefers darker, heavier and maltier beers – these are best served in a rounded, goblet-shaped glass, which is designed to keep the brew’s froth in check - no thicker than about two centimeters, or roughly an inch. Too thick and you’ll lose the full aroma and flavor of these beers. Too thin and the beer will seem flat and stale.

Now to one of my favorites, the yeasty, golden goodness of a German wheat beer, called Weißbier or Weizen. This one brew is so popular in Bavaria, it might as well be the national drink of the southern German state. Weißbier is the refreshing beverage of choice for many, and it’s the traditional accompaniment to the Bavarian breakfast of Weißwurst and Brez’n.

weissbier

To really enjoy a Weißbier, it needs to be carefully poured into a special glass that is somewhat taller than the others and almost hourglass-shaped. A proper Weißbier glass is heavier and narrower at the bottom – this forces the bubbles to the surface. The top part of the glass is wider, which helps tame the foam and keep the aroma of this delightful brew in the glass.

I can find Paulaner Weißbier – vom Faß (from tap) – here in the United States. But I’ll freely admit that I prefer it freshly poured from a bottle. The not-so-secret feature of a Weißbier is the unfiltered yeast used in the brew. And when poured from a bottle, it’s a time-tested ritual to swish around some of that beer to make sure you don’t leave the best part – the yeast – sitting at the bottom of the bottle. Some German breweries also make a filtered version, called Kristall Weizen.

There is a saying that “Beauty lies in the hands of the beerholder” – that’s especially true, if you have the beer in the right glass. Prost!

For further enjoyment of your German Bier:

- Be like the Bavarians, float a lemon slice on the top of your Weißbier; and, if the steady stream of bubbles fizzles out, dropping a kernel of rice into your beer will get it going again.

- If you have a mug with a lid, leaving the lid open is a signal to your German server that you’d like another.

- To pour a beer, hold the glass at an angle and let the beer slowly run down the inside to produce little or no foam – then hold the glass vertically and pour in the rest to create a foamy head.

- Don’t use your beer glasses for anything other than beer - no juice, and certainly no milk.

- Make sure beer glasses are absolutely clean and fat free; fats or impurities – like dishwashing liquid – can cause a "head crash."
– Even when the glass is clean, rinse it with cold water just prior to filling; this allows the glass to cool to roughly the same temperature as the beer.

- In Germany, seven to nine degrees C (45-48 F) is considered the ideal serving temperature.

- If beer is too warm, it will foam too much at first and become stale and lifeless later.

- If beer is too cold, it won’t form a proper head.

- Never put a beer in the freezer!

Read Five Beers for an Authentic Oktoberfest

CNN's Destination Adventure series takes a look at great places for eager explorers. Each week, we'll feature favorite regional foods, secrets from the locals and the best photos and stories from readers. Have you been to Munich, Germany? Share your story with CNN iReport. And next week, we'll journey to Argentina.

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Filed under: Beer • Destination Adventure • Holidays • Oktoberfest • Sip


soundoff (65 Responses)
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    September 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  3. Ken

    Kobytoberfest !!!

    September 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Tony D

      I spent 2 years living in Germany....man o man it is a wonder I can remember any of it lol...the beer was beyond description I thought I was a beer conisour but low and behold I was a babe in the woods when I first landed in Germany..A great place to live especially in the month of October that is the place to be with coin in pocket one can wonder down the streets drinking one brew of a sort after another one brew never the same as the last one ..one month long celebration of the love of life...they enjoy freedoms over there we can only dream of over here...

      September 26, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  4. Warren

    I went to Germany for a month a few years ago and thanks to a friendly bartender and a few Euros here and there, I came back with a small collection of bier glasses. I always wondered about the different shapes. Another thing I found interesting is that I was always served with a glass that had the logo of the brand of bier I was drinking.

    September 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  5. CelticHunter7

    Wow. I wouldn't want to arm wrestle her. She can arm press two gallons of beer/ale/stout with her right hand. Imagine what she could do to a guy with her other free hand.

    September 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  6. Mike

    If you're going to use the German spelling for beer in the headline, why would you use the English spelling for glass?

    Mental midgets.

    September 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Don't Be a Jerk

      Dum she!ssekopf

      September 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  7. John

    Ill never forget my first trip out there. They brought us our beers in thos steins and we were giggling like schoolchildren. It just seemed if you were gonna drink beer, that was the right amount. Who want to sit down with a "cup" of beer. But we minded our pints and quarts after that

    September 25, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  8. trixen

    Ein Dunkelweißbier, bitte! :)

    September 25, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Tony D

      Ya Das Dunkle bier vas da shissen

      September 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  9. Henry Miller

    It's been decades, in the US, since milkmen made their morning door-to-door deliveries of milk, but when I was a kid in Heidelberg, also decades ago, it was beer that was delivered every morning. Sic transit gloria mundi.

    September 25, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Lanie

      Henry.....back in the 70's in North Dakota....the milkman still delivered milk to our door.....sigh....your post brought back that memory..thanks for jogging my memory.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  10. BrewChief

    I couldn't agree more, every beer style has a specific glassware that fits it perfectly. Happy Oktoberfest everyone! Grab your stein, pick a marzen and celebrate!
    BrewChief.com

    September 25, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  11. BrewChief

    Couldn't agree more, each style of beer has the perfect glassware for it. I'm loving Oktoberfest season, so grab your stein and celebrate!

    http://www.brewchief.com

    September 25, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  12. Andrew

    Steins were clay before glass, but you missed that evolution.

    September 25, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  13. theSuperStar

    "Never put a beer in the freezer! " ...damn!

    September 25, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • CelticHunter7

      Wrong. On a sweaty, hot dog day afternoon in the late summer, nothing is better than a frozen cheap 5.9% alcohol beer that you roll over your forehead and feel the icy cold relieve the heat. Then drink a more expensive chilled beer. After a few more beers, the frozen one is thawed enough with just the right amount of floating ice to drink and you don't know the difference because your drunk anyway. Now that's how to cool off on a hot summer afternoon.

      September 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  14. mr wonderful

    the shapes of the glasses don't "force bubbles upward", that is buoyancy. Bubbles go up. This article has so much crap in it.

    However with glasses that flare out at the top the bubbles have less chance to stick to the glass on the way up, so they go up to the surface unimpeded.

    September 25, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  15. Bert

    Does anyone know who makes that stein that lovely lady is lovingly drinking???? I would love to buy a couple of them! I wish the author of this article would give us a clue.......

    September 25, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • pemily

      the stein is from Hacker Pschorr

      September 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • martin

      Hi there!
      Check ebay for a "Masskrug".... I just tried it and therre were plenty...

      Prost!

      September 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  16. P

    Bluhe deutsches Vaterland!

    September 25, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  17. tooltard

    that's my kind of woman!

    September 25, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  18. Rob

    I spent last semester studying abroad in Germany and loved it. I wish I could go back. But this article is so true. The glass is just as important as the contents. Here in the US, we don't really care what kind of glass what goes into; it all just goes into the same Coors Light glass. It's hard to believe we call Coors Light and Bud Light "beers." If you gave those to a German they would die laughing at the mediocrity.

    September 25, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Loren Rademacher

      Nonnenpisse is whay they would call it!

      September 25, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  19. Scottn69

    Prost! Thinking about my friends in K-town! See Helen, GA for Oktoberfest also: http://www.helenga.org/events/41st-annual-oktoberfest

    September 25, 2011 at 10:11 am |
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    September 25, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  21. Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius

    The first time I was in Germany, a bunch of GIs sat next to me and ordered four steins and one pitcher. The server came out with four gigantic vessels full of beer and they said, "Ma'am, we only wanted one pitcher!" She replied, "Yes. Those are your steins." Their faces were a mixture of shock and awe, fading into ecstatic grins at the end. I miss Germany.

    September 25, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  22. bence00

    I 100% agree. Its all in the glass, Bottoms up! If it is German beer. My Natural Light I drink I use a jelly glass.

    September 25, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  23. zyphia

    I have been to Munich to Oktoberfest and have had the most wonderful time. Have lived in Germany before too..have loved every moment. Also, have been fortunate enough to have been able to vacation in Germany for the past 12 years...and go to the wonderful Hofbrauhaus in Munich....a beer lovers delight. This article is one of the finest I have ever read on the beer drinking experiences of Germany and I fully agree with the author. The only other thing that could have been added to make my memories complete would be the slap dancing, with me hoisting a mug of beer and doing my impression of the oomp paa paa band. God I love that place. So hoist your mugs.........here's to a fine place and some fine times.

    September 25, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Tony D

      Im 45 mins away from Helen Georgia nice place to visit but no where near the reality of a real German town...Sorry been there done that..

      September 26, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  24. Scottn69

    Prost! Excellent article! Thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kaiserslautern. Too bad I can't underline "Thoroughly".
    Helen, Georgia throws a pretty good Oktoberfest also: http://www.helenga.org/events/41st-annual-oktoberfest !

    September 25, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  25. Belingo

    Yip, get drunk as hell, that's totally fine... but don't you dare smoke a joint!

    I mean seriously...

    September 25, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • coffeenerd

      Normal people drink beer because beer tastes good, and because it goes great with food. Only idiots drink beer to get drunk.

      The only reason to smoke a joint is to get high. People who equate beer drinking to pot are high... and idiots.

      September 25, 2011 at 10:01 am |
      • blazer

        Drinking beer, one has many levels of feeling the effect of alcohol and yet be nowhere near drunk. The same can be true of Cannabis use. To say otherwise shows a real lack of experience, closed mindedness or both. If you don't like Cannabis use, and have no real reason...fine, then own it. But don't pretend that you alone know all the reason everyone smokes.

        You don't.

        September 25, 2011 at 10:20 am |
      • Limer

        Blazer. You're young. Someday when you grow up you'll understand.

        September 25, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  26. Tim

    Oktoberfest Zinzinnati!!! The largest Oktoberfest celebration in the world outside of Munich!

    September 25, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • rollergiraffe

      Always thought 2nd largest Oktoberfest was Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

      September 25, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • rollergiraffe

      From Wikipedia: The largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany is in Canada, in the twin cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (750,000- 1,000,000 visitors) [1], Blumenau, Brazil with (700,000+), Cincinnati, Ohio, United States (500,000+ visitors)[2] and the Denver Oktoberfest Denver, Colorado, United States (450,000+ visitors)[3]. Currently Oktoberfest is spreading to new geographical locations; starting in September 2007, Montreal began hosting its own Oktoberfest.

      September 25, 2011 at 10:16 am |
      • Jay Ekelman

        I live in Michigan, but travel into Kitchener every day. Might have to stop to check out the fest this year!

        September 25, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Steve

      And rollergiraffe too – the actual 2nd largest "Oktoberfest" in the world is in Stuttgart – here's an excerpt from Wikipedia about the Cannstatter Volksfest: "Although the Volksfest is not, strictly speaking, a beer festival, it is considered by many to be the second largest beer festival in the world after the Munich Oktoberfest. According to estimates about 4.2 million people visited the festival in 2006. The Volksfest begins one week later than the Oktoberfest."

      September 25, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  27. snooper27

    Worked 32 years in Germany and this is the best summary of Oktoberfest and German Bier I can remember. Great work, author! (Try Gross Hessenlohe Garden down in Pullach).

    September 25, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • moe smith

      this comment should simply be stickied and have the ability to be Liked. you're right on every account. bravo author! nice to read a cnn article that doesn't look like it was text-typed by some prepubescent jr high child strung out on redbull and pixiesticks.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  28. Wulf

    So the other day I was visiting my local cigar shop, which is across the street from where we have our large oktoberfest event each year in my city. I asked the store owner "so did you guys do a lot of business for oktoberfest?" trying to be friendly and start up conversation.

    The shop owner replied "no, and i don't like Oktoberfest for 3 reasons"
    Intrigued I said "oh, well why's that?"
    He replied "I don't like German Beer, German Food, or German People!"

    I was like a little shocked at the stout response to which he then followed "60+ years ago they were turning my grandma into soap!"

    It was an awkward and uneasy exchange, I was left speechless. I'd hoped people of all ethnicities and backgrounds could enjoy the craft of fine beer, and the culture of others. I hope that in 2011 people can try to embrace each other as human beings and enjoy life, but some wounds run deep I guess.

    September 25, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • NufSaid

      My mother grew up in Denmark during Word War II and continues to hate Germans to this day. People never forget their country being invaded and occupied.

      September 25, 2011 at 11:39 am |
      • Henry Miller

        Until the day she died, my mother hated the British for fire-bombing her home in Dresden. Wars aren't easily forgotten by their victims.

        September 25, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  29. joe svoboda

    Head on a beer is a waste of beer.

    September 25, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Tim

      False. Apparently you have never had anything besides a Budweiser.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • JMO

      How can a beer mustache be a waste of beer?

      September 25, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  30. UnitdWeStnd

    I'd rather focus on the hot German woman.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  31. mutt65

    And on the seventh day, He said "Let their toilets overflow." Bet the "day after" brings all sorts of fun!

    September 25, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  32. reader

    oh wow. this looks like fun! haha

    September 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  33. Roy Sebastian

    Prost all you GAPA folks.... The Whale – Roy..

    September 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  34. Noxious Sunshine

    My good buddy lives in Germany now.. -lovvves- Oktobeefest

    September 24, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  35. TX4UREXKARLENE

    I have a headache :-/

    September 24, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  36. JBJingles_aka Bier Babe

    YAY for Oktoberfest! We will be going tot Alpine Village next weekend to celebrate...

    September 23, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Jen T

      Jealous! The one in Torrence, CA? I'd kill to be able to go!

      September 23, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  37. TX4UREXKARLENE

    Enjoy your Weekend ;-D LOL !!!!

    September 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  38. Jerv

    I went to Octoberfest at Bush Gardens eons ago and they had fat azzed mugs but not that gigantoid!

    September 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  39. RichardHead

    If she can chug that whole mug of beer, I think I'm in LUV !!

    September 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  40. TX4UREXKARLENE

    I'm German & never went to Octoberfest , anywhere . Her mug is Awesome :-9

    September 23, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
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