Berlin – Craft Beer Capital of Germany December 03 2014, 0 Comments

Germany is a conservative country and has developed a beer culture to match. Although the birthplace of much that is good in the world of beer, brewers are fixated with tradition and have a profound reluctance to experiment. There is little issue with quality – German beer is uniformly well brewed with quality ingredients, but there is little variety or complexity. So although consumption of non-mainstream or “craft” beer is enjoying a global renaissance, its share of a shrinking German market remains miniscule.

The infamous Reinheisgebot – a Bavarian beer purity law dating from 1516 – is largely responsible. In 1919, the state of Bavaria made national adoption of this law a condition of its membership in the new German state, thus condemning numerous beer styles and breweries elsewhere to oblivion. Although no longer officially law, it imparts a baleful influence to this day, in that German brewers continue to keep things simple. No multiple hop varieties, no fruit or spice, no exotic grains, and little variation in beer strength. They brew more or less the same limited variety of beer – the holy trinity of light lager (Pils/Helles), dark lager (Dunkles) and wheat beers (Weisse/Weizen), which together account for over 95% of total beer output, with light lagers alone accounting for 60%. Nevertheless, there are really great beers amongst this sea of uniformity, but they tend to be local heroes, unknown beyond their own backyards. But as beer backyards go, Berlin now tops everywhere else in Germany.

Berlin is definitively NOT a conservative city and has a decades-long tradition of social and liberal politics. So perhaps it is no accident that it is in Berlin, and nowhere else in Germany, that innovative craft brewers are beginning to reclaim German beer heritage and reject the tsunami of pilsner-style light lagers that has engulfed much of the rest of the country. Berlin has now come of age as a beer destination in its own right, with 21 micro-breweries and brew-pubs now dotted throughout the city. Fifteen of these are included in my book “Around Berlin in 80 Beers” (available in the Circus foyer for €10) whilst the six new arrivals are described in the loose “update” sheet inside the front cover.

Five of these micro-breweries are within walking distance of the Circus. Heading south towards the Alex are Marcus Bräu at 1-3 Munz Straße, with superb house-brewed light and dark beers; the spaciously comfortable Lemke underneath the railway arches at 143 S-Bahnbogen, where seasonal beers complement the regular Pils, Original and Weisse; and Brauhaus Mitte at 13 Karl Liebnecht Straße with its excellent Hefeweisse. To the east, a short distance along Tor Straße, is Prassnik at #65 which i s a bare, basic, no-nonsense smoking pub that opens and shuts late, serving quality own-brew Helles; whilst heading north from here up Schönhauser Allee at #176 is Pfefferbräu, an impressive new development showcasing three beers including a superb golden Bock.

Further east in the now trendy Friedrichshain district are two quality brewpubs; Hops & Barley at 22 Wuhlisch Straße with its bold, organic beers, and Schalander further out at 91 Bänch Straße with bitter, unfiltered yet clear and well-balanced brews. To the north-west lies the district of Wedding and a further two superb brewpubs; Eschenbräu at 67 Trift Straße that has a wonderful variety of monthly seasonal specials, and Vagabund, a brand new brewpub at 3 Antwerpener Straße opened by three young Americans determined to introduce Germans to their lost beer heritage and to UK and US beer styles too. Their 8% double IPA is worth the trip alone.

Victorian market halls still thrive around Berlin and two of them also host micro-breweries; the Arminius Markthalle at 2-4 Arminius Straße in Moabit that hosts Brewbaker and their innovative beers, including a really special bottled Berliner Weisse that utterly outclasses the ubiquitous offering from Berliner Kindl. The second is Heidenpeters, a small ale brewery and bar in Markthalle Neun at 42 Eisenbahnstraße in Kreuzberg, with an eclectic and ever-changing beer range including a Saison, a Porter, an IPA and a Chilled Apricot Pale Ale.

Two other newcomers of note are Beer4Wedding, a “cookoo” brewery that has no home as yet, but innovative and tasty beers are available in several pubs and shops in Wedding; and Flessa Bräu with three impressive regular beers plus seasonal offerings such as a Red Lager and a Bock. Their beers can be found at Trommel, just north of the Circus at 58 Kastianen Allee.

The remaining micro-breweries are spread further afield. From these, I would recommend the Schlossplatz Brauerei in Köpenick, with its unique Babylonisches Bier (rich, dark, with hints of caramel and ginger); and the Rollberg Brewery housed inside the old Kindl brewery at 50 Werbellin Straße with its superb Helles, Rot & Weisse beers, plus seasonal Bocks. The best beer shop i s the appropriately named Berlin Bier Shop at 23 Kirchstraße in Moabit, whilst the best city-centre beer pub must be Das Meisterstück at 3-4 Hausvogteiplatz, a smart establishment that features around 130 quality bottled beers of which roughly 40 are rare and exotic beers from German micros. This pub is proof that there IS a nascent German craft beer movement and that it is centred in Berlin, now indisputably the craft beer capital of Germany.

Around Berlin in 80 Beers by Peter Sutcliffe

Good Beer Guide Germany by Steve Thomas