When traveling to, or living in Germany, the best way to get in touch with the local community is to get out and have a drink. The Germans are great drinkers, and very social people, once you get to know them; however, there are a few things you need to know before you set out to have a drink in Germany.
What is the drinking age? In the USA, the drinking age is 21. You can go to war at 18, but you can’t legally drink; makes perfect sense to me. In Germany, you have three ages – at 14, teens are allowed to have wine and beer, but only under adult supervision, basically at home with their parents. They cannot purchase alcohol or drink in bars or at festivals. At 16, teens are allowed to drink wine and beer without adult supervision and out in bars. At 18, young adults are allowed to consume all types of liquor. So, for cocktails, you have to be 18.
First, some clarification. In the USA, we use the word “cocktail” to encompass any type of liquor, and we use the word quite freely. Cocktail can mean any type of drink (except beer). This could be a complicated rum punch or a simple vodka on ice; however, in Germany, “cocktails” are true cocktails, meaning mixed specialty drinks such as Sex on the Beach or Long Island Iced Tea.
If you go into a restaurant and ask for a cocktail, and they do not have a special “cocktail menu”, you will be told that they do not serve cocktails. Before getting angry, remember that technically they do not make “cocktails”… at least in their eyes. If you want a Cosmo Martini or Long Island Iced Tea, the restaurant or bar will have to have a “cocktail menu” that specifies they make these exact drinks. If there is no menu, they won’t make you one.
If you can survive without a cocktail, and have something like a vodka tonic, then you are in luck. So, if you are looking for a vodka tonic, you must be clear to say vodka and then order your tonic on the side. Unless you see vodka tonic on the menu, DO NOT call it a cocktail; you will be shut down and no alternative will be offered. Remember, it’s Germany – everything has its place; a label and a rule, so go with it. This has caused some serious confusion in our lives, more than once. One thing you don’t want to ever be confused about is your drinking! Finally, we have it mastered… I think.
Now that we have that squared away, the server will have some questions. They will ask you if you want 20 ml or 40 ml. What? I’m American. I have no idea what 20 ml even looks like.
Here is a little help – 20 ml is equivalent to our 1/2 shot of liquor. 40 ml is close to a single shot of liquor in the USA. Our shot is 1.5 oz or 44 ml. Want a double? Well, fagehtaboutit! That is Jersey Shore for “not happening!”
Ice – It’s not the USA, and ice does not flow freely. Many people here do not like ice in their drinks. So if you want some ice with your vodka, you need to ask for it. Most of the time they will be happy to bring it to you. It will normally come on the side in a separate glass. The word for ice is eis; however, if you ask for it, sometimes it will be mistaken for ice cream because in Germany they use the word eis for ice cream as well.
To be honest, mixed-drink cocktails are not that popular in Germany. Beer and wine are the king and queen, so check out our beer and wine post. If you find cocktails, it will be at a bar or club that caters to young crowds, and foreigners. The cocktail scene is becoming more popular. Don’t worry – I’m working on list of bars and clubs that have great cocktails, so stay tuned.