German Pale Lager


In the history of beer, in the UK, up until the mid 17th century, dark lagers (known as dunkelbier in Germany) made up the biggest share of the market. In Bavaria, dark lagers were dominant right up until the 20th century when pale lagers finally began to become more popular. This happened after the Pilsner Urquell started to brew pilsner – which is a pale lager that grew in popularity, and eventually spread from Bavaria into Germany. Interestingly, it was a brewmaster from Bavaria who was brought to Plzen in order to develop the style now known as pilsner.


Dortmunder Export Lager

Following the increasing popularity of pilsner lager, three decades later, brewmasters in Dortmund, Germany started to produce a pale lager known as Dortmunder. Apart from using the local noble hops and barley, the water in Dortmund contains more sulfate, and this lends a slightly sulfurous quality which helps to bring out the hop aromas.

The Dortmunder pale lagers inspired not only other European breweries in Holland, Sweden and Lithuania to produce beers modelled after it, but North American breweries as well. These beers are labelled as Dortmunder Export. Beer critics agree unanimously that the Dortmunder Export has a distinct quality although they have not been able to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes it so different from other pale lagers.

In 1994, the original Dortmund Union brewery, which is credited with the invention of Dortmund pale lager, merged with several other breweries in the town, and the result is Brinkhoffs.

Helles Lager

Following the success of pilsners in Dortmund and Bohemia, a Munich based brewery, Spaten, brought the style to Bavaria.

The light color of this lager is the reason for the name Helles – which means pale in German. Light colored lagers were referred to as “Helles” originally in order to distinguish them from the dunkelbiers (dark beers) which were more popular in Bavaria at that time. Later Helles developed into a unique style of beer in itself.

Technically, Helles is the name given to the larger grouping of styles of beer which includes pilsners and all other pale lagers. Although the beers that are called helles are mostly the commonly Bavarian style golden lagers, the style originated in Munich in Germany.