German beer myths that we're happy to debunk

Does the hoppy brew make you fat? Are bottles fancier than cans? In honour of International Beer Day (7 August), we asked beer sommelière Sophia Wenzel to separate the facts from the nonsense.

Beer sommelière Sophia Wenzel crying over spilled beer, as you should.
Beer sommelière Sophia Wenzel crying over spilled beer, as you should.Anatol Kotte

Berlin-Beer is loaded with calories and makes you fat.

You should have said: "Orange juice and other fruit juices have more calories than most beers," says Wenzel. The alcohol in beer is a fattening agent and stimulates the appetite, but it’s nothing compared to energy drinks or cola. Spirits and wine contain more calories due to their higher alcohol content. With beer, it’s the large quantities that do the damage. If you don't want to gain weight, Sophia Wenzel recommends non-alcoholic beer.

Beer is good for you.

True, says the expert: "The healthiest is hoppy alcohol-free beer." In general, beer contains a lot of B vitamins, minerals and alpha acids, which have a positive effect on health. "In the old days, wet nurses drank beer to stimulate milk production." Even today, beer is recommended for nursing mothers – without alcohol, of course.

Non-alcoholic beer doesn't taste like real beer.

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"In fact, non-alcoholic beer tastes really good," says the 32-year-old. Often you can't even tell the difference, especially when it comes to craft beer. In Wenzel’s hometown of Hamburg, for example, the Road Runner Coffee Stout just won Best Non-alcoholic Beer of 2020. Instead of alcohol, Kehrwieder brewery’s concoction contains coffee – the beans are roasted in the northern German city. And Brauhaus Riegele in Augsburg makes an excellent non-alcoholic beer with a note of tropical fruit: "You really don't need alcohol as a flavour carrier.”

Beer just tastes good cold.

That depends, says Wenzel. Generally speaking, the colder the beer, the less flavour it can develop. Craft beer is best drunk from a bulbous glass which you warm up by hand beforehand: "This way the beer swirls around lovingly in the glass, combining with the oxygen in the air. This process releases aromatic notes that are not easy to recognise in a very cold state. If craft beers are too wild or too sweet tasting, you’re probably better off with a cool pilsener.

This is how you drink micro-brew (that's craft beer for all you Millennials).
This is how you drink micro-brew (that's craft beer for all you Millennials).Imago Images

Craft beer’s just a fad, right?

"A lot of people say that, but it's not true," says the Hamburg native. Just as good food is booming in the age of meat scandals and climate change, there’s no getting away from craft beer: "Because producers value regional products and are not geared to the mass market.”

Never drink beer after wine!

"If you're already full of wine, the beer won't have a nice effect, of course," says Wenzel. But if you're moderate, you can certainly treat yourself to a “good night pils” because it contains a lot of liquid and its alcohol content is significantly lower than that of wine.

No beer before 4pm.

Nope, says Sophia Wenzel. Because then there would be no Sunday morning pint or small glass at lunch, which is quite common in many Mediterranean countries. In this respect, this is a nice, but also typically German, rule: "You look at the clock and keep working until a certain time, but then you treat yourself.” She’s never heard anything like it from another country.

Canned beer is not for connoisseurs.

Actually, no, says the expert. "Cans are cool again. I’m a big fan," says Wenzel. There are several reasons for this: Cans are lighter than bottles, are now 100 per cent recyclable – and don’t let any light in. What’s more, canned beer cools down faster. The sommelière recommends the new cans from the Berlin brewery BRLO at Gleisdreieck: "Great design, and the 'Berlin Jam', for example, contains delicious berry aromas.”

Be more like Homer.
Be more like Homer.Imago Images

Mixed beer drinks and flavoured beers have nothing to do with the German Purity Law nor the actual enjoyment of beer anymore.

Craft beers are often brewed according to the Purity Law, says Wenzel. But they taste different because the grain has been roasted much longer or because different aromatic hop varieties or yeasts cause differences in flavour – they’re all-natural products.

"And don’t forget, the German Purity Law is 500 years old, the tradition of brewing beer goes back 5,000 years. You shouldn't be too rigid about the former." Wenceslas points out that the first monastery breweries already used rock candy or honey, and that in England beer is brewed with oysters and seaweed. But the sommelière is no fan of shandy: "Beer should stay beer."

Beer makes you look good and it’s good for your hair.

True, says Wenzel, it is not for nothing that beer is often used in natural cosmetics. She herself uses a shampoo with beer and honey extracts, but does not wash her hair directly with beer, as is often recommended: "It just smells like beer – and that takes a lot of getting used to.

Beer sommelière must be a dream job. You get paid to drink.

Wenzel definitely considers her job a dream job, but: "In our profession, people drink very consciously. You don't drink gallons of beer, you sip it." For at least eight weeks a year, the 32-year-old doesn't drink booze at all, "because drinking every day is not good for your body".

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