Monday, 10 June 2013

Craft Beer in Berlin

Visited May 2013

Favourite Beer

Before arriving in this terrific city, my interweb research had flagged up Brewbaker (Arminiusstr. 2-4) as a brewery to look out for. A U-bahn ride to the north of the city centre brings you to a very pleasant market hall, with an accordionist busking in the entrance. A roof-height banner in the far corner draws us beer pilgrims to sit at the bar, with our view of the brewing kit partly obscured by a kind of faux wall-with-windows.

I kicked off with a Bellevue Pils (5% abv), described in the brewery’s blurb as ‘Unser Hausklassiker!’. A golden pils with a soft malt palate and low carbonation, gently giving way to an exceptionally long, satisfying bitter finish. I could have happily spent the rest of the afternoon drinking this, but I had research to do! Next up was another draught, the Red Lager. This beer takes its dark amber colour from the Vienna, Munich and Crystal malts, and the taste has a subtle hint of caramel.

I was joined at the bar by modest and likeable brewer Michael Schwab. He’s looking for larger premises, since the cellar at the market hall is tiny, with no room for tours. He’s also looking to up production, whilst still remaining a small brewer of unfiltered beers. Michael visited his cellar and returned with three bottles for us to try, plus a sample of his Ginger Beer poured direct from the conditioning tanks. It was hazy gold, with a good ginger aroma. The taste was a perfect balance of ginger and wheat beer, making for a light and refreshing drink. Michael only uses Madagascan ginger due to its greater intensity, meaning that when Madagascan supplies were unobtainable for one year, his Ginger Beer became unavailable too.

Berliner Weisse is a Berlin classic, that uses a variety of yeast distinct from other wheat beer yeasts. Michael’s bottle conditioned version was the best I’ve ever tasted. Hazy gold, the flavour is a complex mix dominated by apples and gentle acidity. In common with many great beers this one is flavoursome and complex, yet soft and gentle. Michael explained that the first fermentation is with both weisse yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria, and a second fermentation is with a Brettanomyces wine yeast. Apparently, after two or three years it tastes like champagne. Michael had recently sampled a perfectly good forty year-old bottled Berliner Weisse.

Michael’s Classic Stout was simply the best stout I have ever tasted. Smooth and easy drinking, yet with an intense and sensational roasty dark malt flavour. Quite superb. Light malts and roasted barley go into the mash tun, as does some crystal malt which generates the slight sweetness.

Michael’s inspiration for his Double IPA is Stone Brewery’s ‘Arrogant Bastard’. He uses hops from the US too - namely Cascade - as well as the German varieties Polaris, Hallertau, Smaragd and Perle. And in no small quantity. A superb hoppy aroma is followed by a big hoppy flavour, with a long, long hop accented finish. Perhaps the most impressive aspect, and again one that can be a characteristic of a great beer, is that it doesn’t taste as strong as 9% abv. I couldn’t taste the alcohol, it was just smooth and satisfying, yet another fantastic Brewbaker beer.

Favourite Bar

Alkopole Bierbar (Bahnhof Alexanderplatz)

I have to thank Peter Sutcliffe, author of the splendid book ‘Around Berlin in 80 Beers’ (publishers Cogan & Mater) for bringing this little gem to our attention. Ok so it’s not a craft beer bar. It’s not old or historic. It’s just a small beer bar in a station building, but it’s lovely, and it’s SO Berlin. You can enter either from the tram stops in the street, or from the station concourse beside the U and S-bahn escalators. Once inside you can sit at the bar, or at a few high tables with stools. One corner houses a Wurlitzer jukebox, another corner has been decorated to represent a country beer garden, complete with excellently-cheesy fake tree. It is run by uniformed women-of-a-certain-age, who do a terrific job striking a balance between friendly efficiency and strict rule enforcement. Behind the bar are jars of pickled eggs and pickled gherkins. On the menu are other Berlin classics such as bockwurst sausage with potato salad.

The handful of draught beers include Berliner Kindl Jubilaums Pilsener, and a dark beer that rotates between Markischer Landman Schwarzbier (summer) or the warming Berliner Kindl Bock Dunkel (winter). The sixteen bottles on the beer menu include Schofferhofer Hefeweizen Dunkel and Monschof Kellerbier which is served in a ceramic pot.

Alexanderplatz station is an ideal transport hub, with links to all of the main attractions, airports, sports stadia and beery destinations. So why not pop into the Alkopole Bierbar whilst waiting for a connection?

Other Bars and Beers that we Loved

Hops and Barley (W├╝hlischstr. 22-23) is another highly-recommended craft beer destination. A welcoming little bar with ceramic tiled walls, quarry tiled floor, and brewing vessels on display. There are three regular beers, a seasonal special, and even a home-fermented cider.

The regular Pils is pale gold, crisp and bitter, a good proper pils. The Dunkles is dark brown with muted dark malt flavours. My pick was the Weiss, a subtle and lovely amber version of the style, whose long and multilayered finish includes a good dose of cloves.

Chinook Lager was the seasonal special, brewed with the eponymous US hops, and exhibiting them in both the aroma and taste. I got talking to Sven the brewer, and this particular beer was his favourite. Upon discovering my cidermaking credentials, he invited me down to the cellar to show me where his Cider is fermented. He first tried buying apple juice from within Germany, but this didn’t work out, so he tried importing English juice, which is fermented in his cellar. The result is a very drinkable, slightly sweet, 3-4% abv, light-bodied and refreshing cider.

Meisterst├╝ck (Hausvogteiplatz 3-4) is one of the new wave of ‘pork and craft beer’ bars that are springing up all over. A big open-plan bar with a huge collection of cuckoo clocks (that seem to go off randomly and intermittently) and a big eclectic collection of light shades. The bar counter is in three parts – to the left is a deli counter, the central section is a sausage grill, and to the right is a copper-topped beer bar. This bar seems to have a strong relationship with the BraufactuM brewery, with the display fridge beside the door being devoted completely to the brewery, whilst the second
fridge behind the bar contains about fifty percent. I chose to try the cheapest BraufactuM beer on the menu, BraufactuM Palor (5.2% abv) which came in at 7.50 euros for 35cl. (Compare this to 3.50 euros for 50cl of weisse at Alkopole, and you get the idea). This amber hop ale was beautifully served in a stemmed wine glass, which helped me to appreciate the pleasing malt and hops aroma. The flavour was beautifully balanced, good maltiness giving way to European hops, leading on to a lovely hoppy finish. A great beer, I just wish that I could have afforded to stay and try some more. Many beers on the menu were priced at twenty euros or more, and they seem to want to take beer to the same level of appreciation as fine wine. As the waitress took my customer account card to the pay point, I wondered about the type of people who eat and drink here regularly.

We visited a number of relatively well-established brewpubs in Berlin, and I was particularly taken with Brauhaus Mitte (Karl Leibknecht Str. 13). Sat out on its first floor terrace, with my tasting tray of the four draught beers, I couldn’t have been happier. The Pilsener, Weizen, Dunkel and Bock all went down a treat as the trains trundled by, and after ten minutes my delicious freshly-baked pretzel arrived. All four beers were well-crafted, but pick of the bunch for me was the Dunkel, with its spicy toffee palate, and long satisfying caramel finish.

Hidden Gem

‘Hard to find’ was how my pre-trip research described Eschenbrau (Triftstr. 67), and how accurate this proved to be! You have to take a tree-lined pedestrian avenue off Triftstrasse, and look out for the brewery sign on your left. All looks highly unlikely, but keep on and you’ll find the pub in a cellar down some steps, with the brewkit above on the ground floor. And well worth the effort. The cellar bar is extensive, with lots of beery artefacts, and compartmentalised to provide nooks and crannies. The Pils was cloudy yellow, soft and gentle, with little
bitterness or carbonation. More like a helles, I would have said, but none the worse for that. The seasonal offering was Bayerischen Hell, which I found to be very similar to the Pils – could I have been served the same beer twice by mistake? Both lovely, mind. The Dunkel was a hazy light brown, with a spicy malt palate balanced by a hoppy bitter finish. As with Hops and Barley (above), Eschenbrau make their own Cider. Theirs was a hazy yellow, with a pleasant green apples aroma and flavour, medium dry with assertive carbonation. A good example of a dessert apple cider. I went up the steps to the beer garden to eat my flammkuchen topped with bacon and onions. Despite being in a modern courtyard surrounded by flats and offices, the presence of traditional tables and benches, plus the protective canopy of a huge Turkish Oak, made it a peaceful and relaxing place to eat and drink.

Vicky, Eschenbrau’s helpful and friendly barmaid, recommended that I visit the Rollbergbrauerei (Werbellinstr. 47). Knowing how well hidden it is, she showed me the way on her phone using Google Streetview. Just as well! You walk up Werbellinstrasse, looking out for the Rewe supermarket on the left. Cross the store’s carpark, and look for the old abandoned Kindl brewery
ahead of you. Don’t go to the left (I did, and found myself amongst some unsavoury-looking characters), but at the right side, on the ground floor, you’ll find the brewery tap. There’s no sign, and when I asked why not they explained that ‘we don’t want to attract any drunks’, ‘or customers’ I thought, looking around at the one other customer at 8pm on a Thursday night. To be fair, trade picked up over the next hour. The interior is all rock music, dark wood and metal girders, and the brew house is visible through a glass wall at the far end. Outside they’ve made a valiant attempt at a beer garden, but it still looks like a picnic area in B&Q’s carpark. The 100% organic Hell (4.8% abv) was pale yellow with a good bitter finish, and cost me 2.40 euros for 0.3litres. The Rot was a hazy copper colour, and the Weizen had a pleasing lemony wheat aroma. Best of all was the seasonal Meibock, dark hazy gold, a medium dry balance of malt, alcohol and hops. Good, strong and moreish.


The clean and comfortable Insor (Samariterstr. 15) was a snip at 22 euros per night. It’s walking distance from Hops and Barley, and an easy U-bahn ride into Alexanderplatz. Just around the corner is Schalander (Baenschstr. 91), a laid-back suburban brewpub that’s perfect for a relaxing last drink before bed.

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