Beer has long played an important role in German culture, with Germany ranking amongst the top countries in the world in terms of beer consumption. The beverage is widely celebrated each year in the world-famous Oktoberfest, and German-brewed lagers are globally renowned for their fresh taste and drinkable character.
Hamburg is no exception when it comes to beer, boasting an excellent selection of bars, restaurants and taverns selling local brews. However, in recent years the city has also seen a resurgence of craft brewing, with local microbreweries and brewpubs branching out from the standard Pilsners and Weizenbiers to create a growing variety of distinctive, flavoursome beers – a move welcomed by many local beer connoisseurs.
We spoke to several bloggers who specialise in writing about beer to find out more about Hamburg’s emerging craft beer culture – including the beers, bars and shops you can try during your stay at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Hamburg or Radisson Blu Hotel, Hamburg Airport.
The beer tradition in Hamburg
Hamburg has a long history of beer brewing dating back to the Middle Ages, when brewing was the preserve of local monasteries and small family businesses. Each of these breweries had its own ingredients and recipe, giving rise to numerous local variations; however, the institution of the German Reinheitsgebot (known in English as the “German Beer Purity Law”) – which dictated that only a small list of accepted ingredients could be used to create “quality” beer (including barley, hops, water, yeast, and in some cases, sugar) – meant that classic, crisp lagers gradually assumed precedence.
Traditionally, the Reinheitsgebot has been viewed as a source of pride by German brewers, many of whom see the law as evidence of their beer’s purity and therefore quality. However, some beer aficionados feel that the rules tend to limit a brewer’s creative freedom, tending to produce beers that are all quite similar in style and flavour, giving limited choice to consumers.
As blogger Bryan B of BeerViking explains, “The mainstream brands – especially the Pilsners and golden lagers – are well-made and very drinkable, but they are also pretty samey and you can get equally well-made beers in other countries – although the man in the strasse will probably not believe this!
“Where German beer scores is localism – beer made locally – and the styles that you rarely see elsewhere, usually made with finesse and often with subtlety and depth. Don’t assume that every golden (Hell or Helles in German) beer is a hoppy Pilsner. There’s also Helles lager in the Bavarian style, Export lager in the Dortmund style, and even clear Kristallweizen weissbier. And of course, not all German beer is golden – there are many dark (Dunkel in German) beer styles, such as Schwarzbier, Munich Dunkel, Dunkelweizen and even Dunkel Pils.”
Colin Smith of the blog Average Guy’s Guide to Beer agrees that German beer is at its best when you branch out a little: “I would encourage people to try some of the less popular but absolutely delicious offerings, like Doppelbock, Schwarzbier, Dunkel, Kellerbier, and Weizen Bock. To me, a good German beer is one that you enjoy. I would just encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and try new styles of beer!”
A return to craft brewing
In recent years, craft brewing has experienced a surge in popularity worldwide, and Hamburg – like the rest of Germany – is slowly but steadily seeing the return of microbreweries and brewpubs that are expanding on the depth and variety of local German beers in a market previously dominated by large brewing companies.
As blogger Mareike Hasenbeck of Feiner Hopfen explains, “For some years now there has been much dynamic activity in the area of craft beer in Germany. We are still at the beginning, but the movement is well under way.
“More and more bars and breweries are appearing, as well as restaurants that offer creative beers to accompany fine dishes – mostly in Berlin. Munich is hindered a little bit in that the catering trade has contracts with the brewing giants. In Hamburg, as well, the big brands like Astra and Holsten dominate; however, a new scene has also been developing there for some time. The people there increasingly enjoy excellent craft beer from the likes of Ratsherrn, Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei or Brewcifer and Buddelship.
“When I first arrived in Hamburg about three years ago craft beer was almost nonexistent,” recalls Colin Smith. “The only place that had craft beer in the city centre was a bottle shop named Bierland. Since then several microbreweries have opened and there are more bottle shops – some grocery stores even carry an interesting bottle or two”.
“Another area where beer has been expanding is in craft beer events – the best of which are hosted by Brausturm, a new craft beer import and distribution company. The craft beer scene in Hamburg is growing quickly, and I think it’s going to continue its rise in popularity.”
So which craft beers are worth hunting out?
“My favourite local breweries are Kreativbrauerei Kehrwieder, von Freude, Buddelship and Brewcifer,” says Smith. “When it comes to the craft beer scene in Germany, my favourite brewer is Camba Bavaria. They brew a wide range of styles and have everything from an Imperial IPA to a Pilsner. Some other standout breweries are BrauKunstKeller, CREW Republic and Fritz Ale. An older German brewer adding newer style brews to their portfolio and doing it well is Maisel.”
“Once you look beyond traditional Bavarian-style beers, Hamburg is second only to Berlin for interesting beer and a great beer scene,” Bryan B agrees. “Keep an eye out for seasonal and local beer, such as Kellerbier and Landbier, and also for German twists on otherwise familiar types, such as Bavarian IPAs and Pale Ales made with German hops.”
Where to sample craft beer in Hamburg
There are also a growing number of bars and restaurants serving up interesting local brews, as well as shops where you can purchase a few bottles to take home as a souvenir.
“My favourite bars are Galopper des Jahres in Sternschanze, Fleetenkieker Irish Pub near the Rathaus and Alles Elbe in St. Pauli,” recommends Smith. “If people are interested in experiencing Franconian beer culture in north Germany, Pappenheimer Wirtschaft is the place to go. While they aren’t too frequent, it is also worth checking if Braustrum will be hosting a tap takeover or other beer event while you’re visiting Hamburg. Bars focusing more on craft beer are popping up in the city, and I’m sure there will be even more places soon.”
In the meantime, “the best place to get beer in Hamburg is at a few select bottle shops,” he continues. “Bierland, the Craft Beer Store and Beyond Beer all have a similar selection available. If it happens to be a nice day, grabbing a couple of bottles and heading to the park would be my first recommendation. It will be even better if you swing by a grocery store and pick up a disposable grill and a few snacks.”
Beer festivals in Hamburg
Oktoberfest is the most famous beer festival in the world; as Mareike Hasenbeck describes it, “Every year about six million visitors come from all over the world and drink more than six million litres of beer.” Although Oktoberfest is the most famous, there are many festivals worth visiting when in the area. On the 25th of March you can experience the Craft Beer Day Norderstedt 2017 (in German), a day dedicated to testing and trying the delicious brews of 20 breweries. They also serve delicious food to go along with it, and you can be part of this feast for the ticket fee of only € 3. If you are not in Hamburg this March, do not stress as they have several other Beer Days throughout the year as well. Check out their website to plan your trip!
The Hamburg DOM festival, a massive funfair which is held three times a year in spring, summer and winter features thrilling rides, nostalgic carnival booths, music, fireworks and plenty of food and drink, it’s a perfect family day out, and a great way to experience some local culture (and beer) during your stay in the city.