German visionary and 16th century church reformer Martin Luther also had some thoughts on wine, "Beer is man-made, but wine comes from God". The German people seem to agree as they consume 20.5 million hectolitres of wine each year.
While the stereotype has Germans continually swigging beer, many Germans prefer the grape. They have been producing quality wines since Roman times with German monasteries perfecting their offerings, particularly of white wines.
People outside of Germany may only know German sweet wines like Gewurztraminer, but within the country people usually prefer dry wines (trocken) like a crisp Riesling. The exception to this is Eiswein (ice wine), a super sweet dessert wine that is produced from grapes that went through a freeze after they were fully ripened. Or if you want wine light — ideal for hot days — try a Schorle or Gespritzten where sparkling water is added to wine.
The most famous wine regions in Germany are in Franconia and along the rivers Rhein and Mosel with the wine road winding its way from wine village to wine village. Look for a Weinstube (wine room) where you can sample to your heart's (if not your head's) delight.
While true champagne can only come from the Champagne region in France, Deutscher Sekt is sparkling wine made exclusively with German grapes. Types include Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir. Sekt tends to be sweeter and lower in alcohol than champagne with pleasant fruit tones. East German favorite, Rotkäppchen, is among the most popular (and inexpensive) brands, although there are many other versions. As much as 80% of the Sekt produced in Germany is also consumed here.
In the USA, schnapps generally refer to a sweet liqueurs, but in Germany, schnaps tends to be strong, clear and fruity — as in actually made of fermenting fruit with a base liquor.
Traditionally, these high-alcohol shots were consumed after a meal to aid in digestion. Gotta love German folk medicine!
Schnaps can refer to any liquor with the most common types being:
- Obstwasser/Obstler: Apple, apricot, cherry, pear, or plum are the most popular flavors. Some distillers actually grow their own fruit for their schnaps.
- Kräuterlikör: Herbal liquor, like world-famous Jägermeister.
While Schnapps can be found throughout Germany, nostalgic DDR alcohol is a disappearing vice. Some traditional kneipe (bars) in Berlin and the east still serve the old favorites, but more options can be found in stores dedicated to the craft. For example, Dr. Kochan Schnapskulturin Prenzlauer Berg is dedicated classics like Kristall Wodka, Goldkrone, Nordhäuser Doppelkorn, and Mampe Halb und Halb.
Newcomers to Europe are frequently confused by the term "long drink" on the drink menu. This term simply refers to an alcoholic drink composed of of your chosen liquor, plus juice or soda, in a highball glass or tumbler. While ice would be nice, it is usually minimal in Germany.
For all the laws about beer purity, Germans take a perverse pleasure in adding mixers to their beer. For example, Diesel is half beer, half coke. Or a Radler which is half beer, half lemon/lime soda (or Hefeweizen mixed with Sprite to create a Russe).
These are usually enjoyed during warm weather, or when someone is trying to limit their alcohol consumption. There are also regional favorites like a Kölsch-Cola, which is half of Cologne's famed Kölsch and half Coca-Cola, or a Berliner Weisse, a white beer with a pump of raspberry or woodruff-flavored syrup served in summer in biergartens all over Berlin. The drink is low-alcohol and festively (if in the wrong season) red or green depending on the the flavor you pick and served in bowl-like glass.
Obviously you can mix your own, but you can also buy prepackaged drinks at most stores.
Bowle loosely translates to punch, and it's served at every festival in Germany. Fruity, boozy, and served in mass quantities, bowle is the ideal summer drink.
Swirling around giant glass bowls, hunks of fruit jostle together in a pool of juice and alcohol. Strawberry is popular, but practically any fruit can be used.
To add a little bubbles, Schorle is sometimes used instead of juice or even Sekt to up the alcohol content. If you want to avoid a buzz, you will need to to order the Kinderbowle made for children.
One the other end of the seasons, Glühwein is the quintessential winter drink. Ubiquitous at Weihnachtsmärkte throughout the country, people grip custom mugs of this warm wine and spice mixture to warm their hands, then their insides. It is Christmas in a cup.
Red wine is the classic, but there are also white wine versions, plus optional add ins like einen shuß (a shot) of rum, Kirschwasser (cherry brandy) or amaretto.
Similar to apple cider, never call Apfelwein (apple wine) that to a Frankfurt local. Also known as Ebbelwoi, this is a traditional unsweetened drink and a bit of an acquired taste.
Granny Smith or Bramley apples are ususally used to produce it, and it has an alcohol content between 4.8 to 7%. It is tart and sour and should be often served in a geripptes, a .3 litre (10 oz.) glass with angular cuts that refract the light and improve grip, or a Bembel with elegant blue detailing.
Frankfurt has a reputation as all business with a lack of soul. The easiest way to find authentic Frankfurt experiences is take a seat at a Apfelweinlokal and order a drink. Frankfurt's Sachsenhausen district is full of them, or you could use our list of the 10 best Apfelwein bars in Frankfurt.