The massive annual party known as Oktoberfest was originally scheduled to take place in Munich from September 19 through October 4th…but, unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a shutdown of all in-person festivities. There may not be dancing or parades or concerts or keg-tappings or stein-swinging, but if you’d like to tap into the lively energy and sense of celebration that so defines Oktoberfest even while hanging out at home, then you can easily start by getting your hands on some German brews and spirits. The former won’t be hard to find; Oktoberfest Märzen lagers become a regular fixture at beer purveyors in September and October. As for the latter…
While German beers and wines get plenty of (much deserved) attention, German liquors and liqueurs don’t tend to enjoy the same level of fame among American drinkers as spirits from other European regions. That could easily lead a casual imbiber to assume that Germany doesn’t produce liquors worth seeking out, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Cases in point? These ten German spirits, all of which feature bold flavors, rich histories, and pointed nods to their cultural heritages.
We’ll kick this list off with a German spirit that you’ve most likely seen, heard of, or pounded back at some point in your life: good ole Jägermeister. This frat-party icon is famously used in “Jäger bombs,” which consist of a shot of Jäger dropped into a pint of beer and drunk all together. But, when you thoroughly consider the flavor profile of Jägermeister, it seems like a real waste to obscure its nuances by throwing back rapid-fire shots or drowning it in a Solo cup of Natty Light. Jägermeister technically falls into the digestif category, making it a closer cousin to amaro or chartreuse than to bottom-shelf well booze. Yes, Jägermeister is sweet, but it also packs in aromatic notes like citrus, anise, cinnamon, and saffron. Slowly sip it after a hearty dinner, and you’ll fully understand its nightcap potential.
Barenjäger, also known as Bärenfang, traces its invention back to 15th-century Prussia. This sweet liqueur is a popular project for amateur liqueur makers in Germany, as it only requires vodka, high-quality honey, and your aromatics of choice (like vanilla bean or orange zest). However, you can also buy pre-made Barenjäger, and these bottles make useful additions to any liquor cabinet, especially if you enjoy aperitif or digestif cocktails (as Barenjäger works beautifully in both).
To call Underberg a well-liked drink in its home country would be a massive understatement; in Germany, you can find Underberg just about EVERYWHERE. It’s also fairly easy to find in the United States, particularly in regions (like Central Texas and Milwaukee) with historically high German populations. Typically sold in small bottles, Underberg often finds itself lumped in with bitters like Angostura or Peychaud’s, and it’s frequently used like bitters by bartenders. However, Underberg’s true identity is that of a digestif, and this herbaceous libation feels like a genuine and restorative treat after a big meal.
Characterized by strong hints of anise and peppermint, Friesengeist feels (and tastes) like a perfect middle ground between Jägermeister and peppermint schnapps. This spirit can be tricky to find stateside, although plenty of online retailers will ship it overseas (depending on alcohol shipping laws in your state). The traditional service style for Friesengeist calls for the spirit to be poured into a warmed glass, which opens up the aromatics and highlights the signature bitterness that accompanies its finish.
Speaking of peppermint schnapps, this high-proof distilled spirit (along with other flavors of schnapps) counts among Germany’s most well-known exports. In U.S. liquor stores, you’ll often find it in the form of Rumple Minze. This particular peppermint schnapps benefits from big sales during the holiday season, but the Rumple Minze drinking experience need not be restricted to any one month or occasion. This schnapps offers an appealingly subtle sweetness and a crisp bite of peppermint … and let’s not forget its powerful ABV punch.
Germany’s capital city has a multi-generational reputation as a key locale for young creatives, as evidenced by its bold art scene, dining scene, and drinking scene. If you’ve spent any time bar-hopping (or club-hopping) in Berlin, then you’ve likely come across Berliner Luft, a locally made peppermint liqueur. This spirit often garners flavor comparisons to mouthwash … but in a good way! Mint flavor and nasal passage-clearing aromatics are at the forefront of the Berliner Luft drinking experience, and its ubiquity at German stores (and its low price) contribute to its cult status among German club kids and party monsters.
A fruit-forward grape brandy aged in oak casks, Asbach Uralt has received distinction as a beloved German spirit since its first release in the late 19th century. While it works brilliantly as an after-dinner drink on its own, Asbach Uralt often appears at German pubs as part of a “long drink” (liquor mixed with soda or juice and served in a highball glass), and in these contexts, it’s often paired with cola, resulting in a German spin on a Spanish kalimotxo (red wine & Coke).
It may seem a little early in the year for eggnog, but in Germany, advocaat, a Dutch version of the classic creamy cocktail, can be found all year long. The top-selling bottled advocaat in Germany is Verpoorten, a product made in-country. Verpoorten’s rich texture and flavor brings egg custard to mind, and Germans drink it in a variety of different ways, whether as part of a milkshake, as a coffee “creamer,” or even layered with orange Fanta for a boozy Creamsicle effect.
When we think about European gins, many of us immediately associate this spirit with the U.K., and with good reason. “London dry gin” isn’t a randomly named product, after all. But Monkey 47 hails from the Black Forest region of Germany, and it incorporates many botanical ingredients from the area, like spruce shoots and lingonberries. The result? A fragrant, almost floral spirit with a dry finish that compares favorably to English gins and a complexity of flavor that makes it a worthy addition to a martini, a G&T, or a gimlet.
Like German gins, German whiskies aren’t a common sight at liquor stores, but the Bavarian distillery SLYRS seeks to change that reality. Drawing major inspiration from Scottish whisky traditions, SLYRS produces a single malt with distinct notes of citrus, vanilla, and charred oak. It’s an easy-drinking whisky without an especially long finish, so it blends seamlessly into cocktails, but it’s also enjoyable on its own, particularly with a splash of water to open it up.
- The Most Essential Liqueurs for Your Home Bar
- Vermouth Guide: What To Know About One of the Most Versatile Spirits
- The Best Spirits for Spiked Hot Cocoa, According to Bartenders
- What to Mix with Eggnog: A Simple Guide to Getting it Right
- A Brief History of Oktoberfest