GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Beer is essential in Germany, and nowhere more so than in Bavaria, which famous not only for its beer-enthusiasts, but for the quality of its brews.

A cornerstone of German beer is the Bavarian Purity Law, which strictly regulates beer ingredients. The original law, drafted in 1487, stipulated that only water, malt and hops could be in beer.

Later, the law was changed to add wheat and yeast, and Bavarian breweries today still proudly adhere to its rules.

While these guidelines ensure pure, good beer, the differences between these brews tend to be more subtle. So don't expect to find sweet cherry ale or rich bourbon stout at your local brauhaus.

But, what Bavarian brewers do have is a staunch tradition and hundreds of years of refined craftsmanship.

The oldest brewery in Bavaria is also the world's oldest brewery. The Weihenstephan brewery, just north of Munich, has been churning out suds since 1050.

Even more local breweries like Winkler Brau and Bruckmueller, both in Amberg, are 400 and 500 years old, respectively.

They know what they're doing -- and they love doing it.
Over all, Bavarian region of Franconia boasts the highest concentration of breweries in the world.

This beer density means that your local Getraenkenmarkt, or liquor store, is well, local.

Breweries dispense their wares in a 40-50 kilometer radius, meaning that you probably can't go to Regensburg and find your favorite Hefeweizen from Fuchsbeck brewery in Sulzbach-Rosenberg.

So, with 40 types of beer and over 600 different breweries in Bavaria, anyone from a beer connoisseur to a novice can find something to wet their whistle in Bayern.

To help narrow down the choices, here is a synopsis of the most popular beer types in Bavaria.

Pils: By far the most popular beer in Germany. Refreshing, dry, light and a little hoppy. Drink it with: mozzarella and tomato salad; seafood; light pasta.

Helles: A light, pale lager that is mild. Drink it with: vegetable soup; salad; fried chicken or turkey; camembert.

Kellerbier/Zoigl: Fruity, malty, light-medium bodied. Drink it with: wurst; schweinbraten; pasta; gouda.

Weizen Kristall: Filtered, slightly fruity, wheat beer ("kristall" means "crystal," which designates filtered beer.) It's also called kristall weiss. Drink it with: grilled vegetables; fish and seafood; pizza; ice cream.

Hefeweizen: Unfitered wheat beer, also called weissbier. It's cloudy, fruity, malty and yeasty. Drink it with: cream-based soups; salmon; schnitzel; bratwurst; spargel.

Dunkel: This is a dark beer, caramelized and full-bodied. Drink it with: pasta with tomato sauce; smoked fish; roast beef; goulash soup.

Rauchbier: A dark beer with a strong smoky taste. Not for the faint of heart. Drink it with: smoked trout; salmon; grilled red meat.

Schwarzbier: Very dark roast with coffee or chocolate undertones. Drink it with: smoked fish and meat; stews; grilled steaks; chedder.