Nothing defines Munich more than its beer. You can't talk about one without the other and you could never fully discover Munich without at least sampling its brews. Today the "Big Six" Munich breweries dispense 123 million gallons of beer annually. Here are some of the more typical Munich beers. They basically come in two flavors, lagers and ales. Like red and white wines, beer is easier to understand if you realize that there are really only two kinds of beer, depending on the method used to brew them..

Ales: This style of beer came first. It is the old method of brewing that employs a fermentation process (this is where those little microbes called yeast gobble up sugars and turn them into carbon-dioxide and alcohol) that takes place on top the mixture of barley malt, hops and water, eventually turning the entire concoction into something called beer. This style of brewing (top fermentation) has worked well for centuries, especially since it is less temperature sensitive (you mean they didn't have refrigeration?) and can take place in warmer climates or more seasonable times of year. Nothing wrong with ales, and the Brits love them. In fact, we love them too. Many of your American microbrews are based on this method of brewing. Great brews, most of them.

Lagers: This is the beer you think of when you envision a German- or rather Munich-style beer. About 150 years ago folks in what is today the Czech Republic (in a place called Pilzen) came up with a new method that had the yeast settle to the bottom during fermentation. Different method, different taste. It's the taste and style you're probably used to because most U.S. mass-produced brews are actually lagers (this Bud's for you). It has come to be known as Pilsener, after the place it was discovered, or pilsener lagers (redundant). Lager, by the way, means "to store" in German and that's what happens. The beer has to be brewed in temperature-controlled conditions (generally cold) in order for the yeast to settle to the bottom and do its stuff. And then it has to be maintained, or stored, for awhile in those conditions before it reaches its full potential.

Helles. This is the most popular beer in Munich. It's a pale golden-colored lager beer, with a full head of foam that is usually dispensed in one-liter mugs. Helles, meaning "light" in color in German, is an aromatic, sweet beer that is refreshing and not excessively strong (thankfully, since you'll most likely end up drinking it by the quart!). It's what you'll get in most instances if you just ask for a beer at a beer hall or beer garden in Munich. Interestingly, this style of beer was introduced to Munich relatively recently, around 1895, and met near violent resistance when it was first brewed locally. If you mix Helles half and half with lemon-lime soda (you know, 7-Up) you've just made yourself a radler (literally it means "bicyclist" and is a favorite among those who pedal their way to the beer garden but still have to dodge traffic on the way home). Tip: Don't let any radler-philes drink you under the table by trying to match them beer for beer. Take a closer look. It's just a tad lighter in color than the one you're drinking.

Pilsener. Pilsener or Pils is another lager, slightly darker than the Helles, and a little more bitter in taste due to the addition of hops. Sold more or less as a specialty beer in Munich, Pils is usually presented in a thin-stemmed, wide-mouthed glass with a whip-cream head on it. This is the popular beer of central and northern Germany but not Munich. As an aside, it takes a full seven minutes to properly pour a full-headed Pils.

Dunkles. This means "dark" in German and it is about the color of cola due to its burnt malt ingredients. Dunkles is another lager, alluding to its bottom-brewed method of fermentation. Despite its dark, heavy color, it is relatively weak, running about 4.3 % alcohol.

Bock Beer. This is a potent brew -- still a lager — running around 6-7 percent alcohol. It may or may not be dark in color, but it will always be strong. It gets its name "bock" from the Einbeck location where it originated.

Doppelbock. See above. Hey, if strong is good then stronger still is, er, gooder. Double your pleasure, double your fun — and double your hangover in the morning. Handle this one with care.

Märzen. This beer is named after the month (März or March) during which it was traditionally brewed by those Munich Monks who could sense Lent (with all its privations) was just around the corner. ( Just a little added sustenance to get one over the hump.) This is the real Oktoberfest beer which, unfortunately, is passed off under more than just a few pseudonyms these days. If it's anytime past, say, August 30th, why, yes, that is Oktoberfest beer you're drinking.. Märzen is technically a bock beer as well, so expect it to be a little stronger than most. It's usually a dark amber color with a heavy malty taste.

Alt: This is an ale. Remember I said this style of brewing came first and "alt" means "old" in German, denoting the old style of brewing. Often dark, but could be amber in color as well, Alt is a favorite of northern Germans and not drunk in any great abundance in Munich.

Weizen: Means wheat because that is the primary ingredient. Germans sit around on hot days and drink Weizen (often called Weiss or "white" beer) out of tall, wide-mouthed half-liter glasses with a slice of lemon floating on top. It may look like lemonade, but don't be fooled. This golden-colored, top-brewed (it's an ale) beer holds a wallop. Its innocuous looking serving style belies its relatively high alcohol content, over 6%. This one is sometimes mixed half and half with lemon-lime soda, making it a Russiches.