German Helles

German Helles is a refreshing and balanced beer type originating from Germany, perfect for those seeking a light and smooth lager. This popular summer beer is known for its harmonious blend of malt sweetness and low hop bitterness, making it an enjoyable choice for beer enthusiasts.

German Helles Photo by John A. Paradiso

In this article, we’ll explore the features, food pairings, history, and brewing process of this delightful beer type.

German Helles Features

German Helles lager beers offer a delightful beer style that offers a pleasing combination of flavors and characteristics. Key features include:

  • Strength (ABV): 4.8% – 5.6%
  • Bitterness (IBU): 18-25
  • Color: Light to golden yellow
  • Taste: Smooth, balanced malt sweetness with low hop bitterness

Food Pairing with German Helles

German Helles is a refreshing beer that pairs wonderfully with a range of dishes, thanks to its balanced flavor profile. Some excellent food pairings include:

Types of German Helles

While the German-Style Helles Lager is a specific beer style, variations exist that showcase unique flavors and characteristics. Some types include:

  • Munich Lager: A classic version of the style, showcasing a clean malt sweetness
  • Export Helles: Slightly stronger and hoppier, often with a drier finish
  • Helles Bock: A stronger version with a more pronounced maltiness

German Helles History and Origins

German Helles Lagers traces its roots back to the late 19th century in Munich, Germany. These pale lagers were developed as a response to the growing popularity of Czech Pilsner beers at the time. Munich brewers aimed to create a beer that was equally refreshing and balanced, yet distinctly German in character. The result was German Helles, a beer that quickly gained popularity and has remained a favorite ever since.

The name “Helles” comes from the German word “hell,” which means light or pale, referring to the beer’s light color. While the style originated in Munich, it has spread throughout Germany and beyond, with many breweries around the world now producing their own variations of this classic beer.

Brewing Process

The brewing process for German Helles involves using traditional German ingredients and techniques. Pilsner malt is the primary malt used, providing a clean, sweet maltiness. Other German malts, such as Hallertau and Tettnang, are used sparingly to contribute a mild, floral bitterness. The beer is fermented with clean and neutral lager yeast, ensuring that the focus remains on the malt and hop flavors.

German Helles is typically brewed at lower temperatures and undergoes an extended cold conditioning period, known as lagering. This process helps to create a smooth, clean, and crisp character, which is so highly prized by its fans.

Popular German Helles

Some popular German Helles beers include:

  • Dry Dock Brewing Co. Helles
  • Victory Brewing Co. Helles Lager
  • The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. Hell Yes

These golden lager beers embody the light, smooth, and balanced characteristics that make German Helles such a favorite craft beer among many.

Serving and Storing German Helles

To enjoy German Helles beer styles at their best, it should be stored at a cool temperature, ideally between 35-45°F (2-7°C). This helps preserve the beer’s delicate flavors and aromas. When it comes to shelf life, German Helles is best consumed fresh, within 3-6 months of bottling or canning.

This golden beer style is traditionally served in a tall, slender glass, known as a “stange” or “willi becher.” This type of glassware showcases the beer’s light color, clarity, and carbonation while helping to focus the aroma for a more immersive experience.

German Helles vs. Czech Pilsner

German Helles and Czech Pilsner are both popular and refreshing lager styles, but they have some notable differences:


  • German Helles: Light to golden yellow
  • Czech Pilsner: Golden

Flavor Profile:

  • German Helles: Smooth, balanced malt sweetness with low hop bitterness
  • Czech Pilsner: Crisp, with more pronounced hop bitterness and a clean finish

Brewing Ingredients:

  • German Helles: Pilsner malt, floral noble hops like Hallertau and Tettnang
  • Czech Pilsner: Pilsner malt, Saaz hops

Malt Character:

  • German Helles: Clean, sweet maltiness
  • Czech Pilsner: Slightly more subdued maltiness with a focus on hop bitterness

German Helles vs. American Lager

German Helles and American Lager are both light lager styles, but they have distinct differences:


  • German Helles: Light to golden yellow
  • American Lager: Pale straw to light gold

Flavor Profile:

  • German Helles: Smooth, balanced malt sweetness that balances out the spicy German hop flavor
  • American Lager: Light, crisp, with minimal malt and hop character

Brewing Ingredients:

  • German Helles: Pilsner malt, noble hops like Hallertau and Tettnang
  • American Lager: Two-row or six-row malt, sometimes with adjuncts like corn or rice, American hop varieties

Malt Character:

  • German Helles: Clean, sweet maltiness
  • American Lager: Light maltiness, often with a noticeable grainy character from adjuncts

German Helles Festivals and Events

German Helles is a popular beer style featured at various beer festivals and events around the world. Some notable events include:

  • Oktoberfest: A world-famous beer festival held annually in Munich, Germany, where German Helles is enjoyed alongside other traditional Bavarian brews.
  • Munich Beer Festival: A week-long celebration of beer held in Munich, showcasing a variety of German beer styles, including the popular German Helles.
  • Stuttgart Beer Festival: A lively German beer festival in Stuttgart, where visitors can taste a range of beers, including the smooth and refreshing German Helles.
  • The Great American Beer Festival: The largest beer festival in the United States, which features a wide range of international beer styles, including German Helles from both American and German breweries.
  • World Beer Cup: A prestigious international beer competition where breweries from around the globe, including those producing German Helles, compete for awards in various beer style categories.

German Helles FAQs

What is a German Helles beer?

A German Helles is a light and smooth lager beer that originated from Germany, known for its balanced flavor profile of malt sweetness and low hop bitterness.

How does German Helles compare to Czech Pilsner?

Helles lager beers have a smoother, more balanced malt sweetness and lower hop bitterness, while Czech Pilsner is crisper, with more pronounced hop bitterness and a clean finish.

What foods pair well with German Helles?

German Helles pairs well with a variety of foods, including samosas, Colby cheese, baklava, pork dishes, and brie cheese.

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