Drinking Beer in Germany: Drinking Age and Cultural Norms

Drinking Beer in Germany: Drinking Age and Cultural Norms

Germany is well known for its favorite beverage: beer. Drinking beer in Germany is common and important, but it can also lead to some unpleasant moments when you don’t know how to handle the thousands of years of drinking culture.

Let’s explore the most important German laws and rules that apply to purchasing alcohol, underage drinking, and the right to consume alcohol for each age group, as well as drinking in public places.

Legal Age for Buying Alcohol

In Germany, the legal age for buying and drinking varies depending on the type of alcoholic beverage. For beer and wine, individuals can legally purchase these drinks at 16 years old.

However, for distilled spirits like vodka or whiskey, the minimum age rises to 18. This differentiation acknowledges the cultural acceptance of a lighter alcoholic drink like beer as part of social life for younger adults.

In Germany, while young people cannot purchase alcohol for themselves at the age of 14, they are allowed to drink beer and wine (not spirits) when accompanied by their legal guardian or a custodial adult.

Legal Age for Alcohol Consumption

In Germany, the legal age for consuming alcoholic beverages is regulated by the Protection of Young Persons Act (in German: Jugendschutzgesetz).

This legislation imposes restrictions on how long adolescents and unaccompanied children under 16 years can stay in public places such as restaurants, smoking bars, clubs, and gambling establishments. Unaccompanied children below 16 are only allowed in a restaurant or licensed premises between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. to consume a meal or a non-alcoholic beverage.

This law also regulates selling alcohol and permitting minors to consume alcohol and tobacco products in public. Notably, the consumption of beer, wine, wine-like beverages, or sparkling wine in public is generally allowed for minors aged 16 and older. However, if accompanied by parents or legal guardians, the age limit for consuming such beverages is lowered to 14 years.

Closing hours for bars and discotheques are predominantly determined by state legislation. Over the last decade, numerous states have eliminated closing hours for licensed establishments.

In the early 2000s, a new regulation in the country, playfully nicknamed the “Apple Juice Paragraph” by locals, stipulates that restaurants are required to provide at least one non-alcoholic beverage priced no higher than the cheapest alcoholic drink on the menu.

Drinking and Driving

Let’s also mention other laws that regulate drinking in Germany, of which any adult with a driver’s license needs to be aware.

If caught drunk driving, especially with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeding 1.1, your license in Germany can face permanent revocation, meaning there is no chance of its reinstatement.

Tourists and cyclists are subject to the same penalties and rules. Tourists in Germany are also subject to the same legal age for drinking (16 for beer, 18 for spirits) as locals.

Nowadays, larger cities feature compact electric scooters, commonly known as “E-Scooters.” Given their classification as “motorized vehicles,” assuming it’s a good idea to ride one back to your hotel after an evening at the Hofbräuhaus could lead to similar consequences as drunk driving.

Germany employs a points system for traffic violations, and the severity of impairment directly correlates with the accumulation of points.

Drinking in Public

Unlike in many other countries, alcohol consumption, and especially drinking beer, in public is not only legal but very common in Germany. The so-called Feierabendbier (end-of-work beer) is still a vivid part of the German beer and working culture.

That’s why you can easily see workers with a can or a bottle of beer in their hand walking home or riding the bus and nobody will probably care (here’s where you can learn all about the German “Biergarten” culture).

But beware: in some public trains or buses, consuming alcohol is prohibited, so just watch out for signs.

In 2009, the private railway company Metronom, which operates in parts of Northern Germany, introduced a complete ban on alcohol onboard their trains. If you want to learn more about using public transport in Germany and what to be aware of to avoid trouble, check out this article on the Smarter German blog.

And, it’s also worth mentioning that in summer, it is also widespread to have a beer outside at the lake, in the park or at the beach.

The Art of “Anstoßen”

Toasting is crucial in Germany, especially when you have some beers with your friends. Germans tend to toast a lot and in many different situations. They toast when they get a new round of drinks, they toast when someone just said something important and they toast just without any reason.

If you don’t want to attract attention, you should just follow some simple rules: you should always try to bump your glass to those of every single of your drinking mates, but sometimes it is just good enough to knock them all together.

If a person is sitting too far away, it’s also allowed to just raise your glass and nod your head slightly. Don’t bump too harsh because your drink could splinter.

Also, a very basic rule is to make eye contact to whom you are toasting. If you don’t, you will have seven years of bad sex, according to a German drinking myth.

Regional Beer Varieties

Let’s now explore the diverse world of German beer, where each regional variety boasts its own unique characteristics and traditions:


Considered upscale and classy, Pilsner originated in 1842 in Pilsen, Bohemia. Pouring fresh pilsner from the tap takes about 7 minutes due to high pressure.

With 4.0 – 5.2% alcohol, it is bottom-fermented, light-colored, and has a distinctly bitter, hoppy note. Leading brands include Krombacher, Warsteiner, Bitburger, and Radeberger.

Helles or Dunkles Lager

A working-class favorite originating in Munich and Dortmund, Helles or Dunkles Lager is usually consumed in steins or large glasses in beer halls.

This bottom-fermented beer has more pronounced malt notes, comes in light or dark colors depending on roasting, is less bitter, and contains about 4.5% alcohol. Well-known brands include Löwenbräu, Hofbräu, and Dortmunder Aktienbrau (DAB).

Export Lager

Originally crafted in the mid-19th century for overseas shipping, Export Lager has a wort content of 12 – 14%, resulting in stronger malt flavors and over 5% alcohol.

Notable brands include Dortmund and Munich Export beers, but none has achieved more global recognition than Beck’s Beer from Bremen, founded in 1876.

Kölsch and Altbier

These top-fermented beers are intimately connected to the cities on the Rhine river — Köln/Cologne (Kölsch) and Düsseldorf (Alt).

Both beers boast a balanced flavor, 4.8% alcohol, and a smooth finish. Kölsch is made from light malt, while Alt is made from darker roasted malt and is a bit more bitter.

Both have attained the coveted EU status of “Protected Designation of Origin.” Famous brands include Früh Kölsch and Diebels Alt.

Weißbier (Wheat Beer): Kristall, Hefe, and Dark

Primarily consumed in Southern Germany, Weißbier is a top-fermented beer with 5-5.8% alcohol, a refreshing, zesty flavor, and is served in tall slender glasses.

It comes in Kristall (clear color, filtered), Hefe (cloudy, yellow color, some wheat and yeast residues), and Dunkel (roasted dark malt) varieties. Popular brands include Schneider Weisse or Augustiner Weisse.

Starkbier or Bockbier

A full-bodied Southern German favorite, traditionally brewed in March for consumption during Lent, Starkbier has a minimum of 16% wort and about 7%+ alcohol content.

The color ranges from golden to very dark. Munich hosts the Nockherberg Starkbier festival, offering Starkbier with up to 17% alcohol content. Notable brands include Salvator-Anstich.


Primarily consumed in Thuringia and Saxony, Schwarzbier is bottom-fermented, full-bodied, lightly sweet, and malty, with about 11% wort and 4.8% alcohol content.

A famous brand is Köstritzer Schwarzbier, best enjoyed at 8º Celsius in a chalice-type glass.

Berliner Weisse – Red or Green

This refreshing, fruity, wheat beer originated about 300 years ago in Germany’s capital city.

Berliner Weisse has about 7% wort and only 2.4% alcohol content, fermented with a mix of brewers yeast and lactic acid bacteria. The beer gets a lightly tart, crisp flavor that is sweetened with raspberry (red) or woodruff (green) extract.

Märzen or Oktoberfestbier

This bottom-fermented beer is similar to Helles but with a minimum of 13% wort and 4.8 – 5.6% alcohol content.

Traditionally brewed in March, Märzen is also served during the famous Munich Oktoberfest, offering soft malty notes and typically consumed in steins in beer halls.


A specialty wheat beer originating in the city of Goslar near the Harz Mountains, Gose is top-fermented and fermented with yeast and lactic acid bacteria, giving it a lightly sour note.

Salt and coriander are added during the brewing process. Today, Gose is a rare specialty brew primarily served in Leipzig and Goslar.

Zwickl – Unfiltered (Naturtrübes) Beer

Unfiltered, non-pasteurized specialty beers served across Germany under several names. Known as Kellerbier, Zwickelbier, Zoigl, or Kräusebier, these beers have a golden-brown, cloudy color, showing off the unfiltered yeast and malt particles.

The taste is surprisingly light and refreshing, and they are considered more nutritious than filtered lagers. The wort content is between 11-14%, and alcohol content between 4.5 – 5.5%.

Originally from the Northern Bavarian regions of Franconia and Palatine, today these beers are available throughout Germany.

Rauchbier (Smoked Beer)

Originating in Bamberg in Northern Bavaria, Rauchbier is amber to dark colored and bottom-fermented, infused with beechwood smoke during the malting of barley.

It has a wort and alcohol content similar to Schwarzbier or light Bockbier.

Radler or Alsterwasser

While not a separate beer category, Radler is Lager beer mixed with lemon soda.

Known as Radler below the Danube and Alsterwasser north of the Danube, this refreshing mix contains less alcohol than Helles, is less bitter, and is enjoyed at many pubs and beer gardens, especially in Munich, Cologne, and Hamburg.

Alcohol-free beer

One of the fastest-growing beverages, alcohol-free beer is no longer the drink of choice only for designated drivers.

With fewer calories than soft drinks or even apple juice, this beer can be part of a healthy diet. Special brewing techniques limit the alcohol by either preventing its creation during fermentation or removing it after fermentation.

The wort content is between 7-12%, and the maximum allowed alcohol content is about 0.5%. The most popular brand is Veltins, but most breweries now offer their own non-alcoholic beer.

Malt beer

Also known as Malzbier or Malztrunk, Malt beer became popular during the 1960s. It was frequently given to children as Kinderbier at parties while the grown-ups enjoyed the alcoholic version.

Brewed like regular beer but with fewer hops, added brewing sugar, and caramelized beet sugar extract, Malzbier contains lots of fast-burning glucose, minerals, and protein.

The best-known brands are Vita Malz and Kara Malz. Today, many athletes and fitness fans add Malzbier to their diet.

Beer Consumption: Do’s and Don’ts

Here are some of the dos and don’t relating to beer drinking etiquette.

Never Drink Weizen from a Bottle

This rule is sometimes also discussed in Germany, but most of the German beer drinkers (and especially in the south) will agree: It is absolutely sacrilegious to drink a Weizenbier (or Weißbeer or Hefeweizen – different words, same style) out of the bottle.

You have to use a special, high glass, narrow at the bottom and wide at the top. An alternative can be a mug. There is a reason besides the good, old tradition: It just tastes better.

Due to the yeast you use for this type of beer, you have to pour it to spread this yeast in the beverage. But you’d better practice a bit, because pouring a Weizen is not easy and must be done with the right technique.

Consuming Beer Responsibly

While Germany offers a relaxed environment for people of various ages to drink beer, responsible consumption is key.

It is essential to know your limits, drink responsibly, and avoid binging. “Never drink and drive” is a golden rule that underscores the importance of safety on the roads.

Germans also encourage the choice of beers with low alcohol content or alcohol-free alternatives to promote moderation.

Keeping track of the number of beers consumed and calculating your alcohol unit intake is a common practice to maintain awareness of one’s alcohol consumption.

Popular German Beer Festivals

German beer festivals and celebrations are iconic events that seamlessly blend tradition, merriment, and a profound appreciation for the country’s rich brewing heritage.

The undisputed highlight is the world-famous Oktoberfest held annually in Munich. Drawing millions of visitors from around the globe, this 16 to 18-day extravaganza, typically starting in late September, transforms Theresienwiese into a bustling carnival of beer tents, fairground rides, and lively music.

Attendees revel in the joyous atmosphere, clad in traditional Bavarian attire, while savoring a diverse array of beers, including the specially brewed Oktoberfestbier. Each tent offers a unique experience, from the raucous Hofbräu tent to the more traditional Augustiner tent.

Apart from Oktoberfest, Germany hosts a myriad of regional beer festivals throughout the year. In Bamberg, the Sandkerwa festival celebrates local brews, while the Stuttgart Beer Festival, or Cannstatter Volksfest, rivals Oktoberfest in scale and revelry.

The medieval town of Quedlinburg hosts the Dampfbierfest, showcasing steam beer in a historic setting. Beer enthusiasts can explore these festivals to indulge in regional specialties, witness traditional beer tapping ceremonies, and revel in the infectious camaraderie.

Whether you find yourself in a quaint village or a bustling city, German beer festivals are a testament to the country’s passion for brewing, offering a delightful blend of cultural immersion and unparalleled beer experiences.

Beer Tourism in Germany

Beer tourism in Germany offers enthusiasts a captivating journey through the heart of one of the world’s most renowned brewing cultures. From the vibrant beer gardens of Munich to the historic breweries of Bamberg, Germany’s beer landscape is a diverse tapestry of flavors and traditions waiting to be explored.

The country boasts a myriad of beer styles, each deeply rooted in regional history and culture. Visitors can go on brewery tours, witnessing the age-old craftsmanship that goes into brewing iconic German beers.

The annual Oktoberfest in Munich draws millions of visitors seeking the ultimate beer festival experience, while smaller, charming beer festivals dot the country, celebrating local brews and fostering a sense of community.

Whether sipping a crisp Pilsner in a centuries-old beer hall or sampling a complex Bockbier in a modern craft brewery, beer enthusiasts are sure to find their hoppy haven in Germany, where each pour tells a story of tradition, innovation, and the pure joy of brewing.

Laws in Neighboring Countries

Laws pertaining to the consumption and sale of alcohol, as well as regulations surrounding legal ages, parental responsibility, and distilled alcohol can vary across countries in the region.

As we already said, in Germany, the legal age to buy alcohol and for being served alcohol is 16 for beer and wine-like beverages and 18 for distilled spirits. Selling alcohol to minors is strictly prohibited.

Conversely, Sweden maintains a strict system where individuals must be 18 to purchase any alcoholic beverages, and the government also has strict regulations on age ranges to sell alcohol to.

In Denmark, the legal age to buy alcohol is 18, but children aged 16 and 17 can purchase beverages with an alcohol content below 16.5%. Poland adheres to an 18-year age requirement for both purchasing and consuming alcoholic drinks.

FAQs: The legal drinking age in Germany and other countries

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the legal drinking age in Germany and other countries in the EU.

What is the minimum age for drinking alcohol in Germany?

In Germany, the minimum age for consuming and purchasing beer and wine is 16 years old. However, for spirits and drinks containing spirits, the minimum age is 18 years old.

Can minors drink alcohol in Germany under supervision?

Yes, in Germany, minors aged 14 and older are allowed to consume beer, wine, or cider when accompanied by a custodial person, usually a parent or legal guardian. However, for spirits, the minimum age is strictly 18, regardless of supervision.

Can adolescents legally drink beer in the EU?

Yes, in many EU countries, adolescents are allowed to consume beer at a younger age compared to other alcoholic beverages. The legal age for beer consumption is often lower, such as 16 or 18, depending on the country.

Summing Up: Drinking Age in Germany – Cultural Norms

Germany’s approach to beer and alcohol consumption is deeply rooted in its culture, blending centuries-old traditions with modern laws.

Understanding the legal drinking age and cultural norms is crucial for anyone looking to partake in this aspect of German life.

Unlike many other countries, the legislation in Germany is relatively permissive and doesn’t aim to restrict young people from alcohol at a young age, but rather focuses on imparting an appropriate approach toward drinking alcohol.