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Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

Berlin X – epilogue

A whirlwind tour of Berlin micro breweries does, perhaps, not give them justice. But there are some observations to be made,  and a blogger does not necessarily have to have empirical data at the core of his arguments.

First some words on quality.

Places like Marcus Bräu, Brauhaus Mitte and Georgenbräu do not have much of a reputation when it comes to flavour and quality. And they do not seem to bother. Both are smack in the middle of large crowds of tourists for much of the year. There are no incentives to improve. But someone, perhaps colleagues in the brewing industry, should tell them that they should implement quality systems to make sure their beers are all right. German industrial beers are most often boring, but the technical aspects of the production are impeccable, turning out a consistent product.

Then on the beer range and number of beers available. It should not be difficult to have a fair range of beers. Sure, most of the will want a Dunkel, a Helles and a Weizen. It they are done all right, the market would probably ask for these core products. But even these three offer options. If you have a dark beer that has more malt, grain and sweetness, your pils could be more liberally hopped, both for depth of aroma and for crisp dryness in the finish.

Beyond the three core beers, there are dozens of beer types to choose from. Adding a Zwickl  is not particularly interesting – to be honest is is usually just an unfiltered Helles. No, there should be something beyond the 4.7% lagers – a Porter, an IPA, a Bock or a smoked beer.  Time to think outside the straitjacket of the Reinheitsgebot. Maybe the time is ripe to invite som guest brewers from abroad?

Some micros would like to have a fairly stable range of beers, others would prefer to rotate. I actually prefer those who keep a rotating schedule. It may mean that not all beers are outstanding – but on the other hand the brewers do not settle into a routine where all innovation dwindles away.

There are a few brewpubs in Berlin I have visited on previous occasions which were not covered this time. Südstern in the Krauzberg area has a policy of supplementing their own brews with guest beers, which makes sense.

Then there is the sad story of Brewbaker, which was located under the railway arches on the Western edge of the Tiergarten. The owners of the railway, Deutche Bahn, told them to pack up and go, so they closed just days before our visit to Berlin. Let’s hope they start up in a new location.

But consider going to Berlin. It is still cheap, Air Berlin has discount tickets from most corners of Europe. While the locals on occasion are a bit on the Prussian side, that also means that everything is well organised and easy to sort out. It’s not like part of Italy where you spend a long time cracking the code.

And it is your choice – either go during the winter when the days are short, the rain is drizzling and you have the sights and the pubs more or less to yourself. Or enjoy the beers on sunny terraces and sidewalks during the summer – but be prepared to face the crowds.

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The contrasts between East and West are still very evident. Or, more correctly, the contrasts between the manicured center of town with all the landmarks and museums and the residential areas where people work, play and live their lives.

Friedrichshain is ten minutes by taxi or U-bahn from Mitte, but it seems far away. Some of it run down and shabby, sure, but at the same time you feel a relief after all the marble, steel and glass. A note for tickers – some of the small stores here with signs for Lebensmittel  or groceries seemed to have a fine range of beers. I did not have any time to investigate.

The small streets resemble a labyrinth, but with the aid of both a map and a phone with GPS, we found our way to Hops &  Barley just as the doors were opened.

Many other bars in Berlin open for lunch, but this on does not open until 17.00 – useful to know.

The brewpub is located in an old butcher’s shop, and the brewery has a capacity of 470 liters per batch. Don’t be fooled by the small equipment in the front room, this is used for brewing courses (and probably for test batches?). This is also a new place, it opened three years ago.

Quite similar to an English local, laid back atmosphere, including a resident dog.  Johnny Cash in the background, friendly conversations. Not any extensive food menu, but some hot snacks, including sausages, meaning you don’t have to interrupt a serious drinking session to go out for food.. There is even an apartment sleeping six persons above the bar with very decent rates.

The beers? The best of the weekend. There are three regulars. No points for guessing. A wheat beer, a light and a dark. In addition there is a beer of the week, a constantly changing offer. When we were there it was a Vienna lager, perhaps not the most exiting among beer styles, but it was a very decent brew.

While the range was fairly standard, their Dunkel was the best beer we encountered in Berlin. Deep red. Liquorice and smoke, but in just the right subtle amounts. More dry than sweet. Cocoa and cereals. This was a beer one could happily sip the whole evening.

But we did not have the whole evening. We had various airports to go to. Reluctantly we asked them to call us a taxi. But this is the one spot I’m sure I’ll return to.

Auf Wiedersehen!

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I won’t bother you with all the walking around on Sunday morning, but after trying, without success, to get into the dome of the Bundestag building, we were in need of some refreshment again. Extremely convenient then that there is a sister establishment of the Sony Center Lindenbrau next door to the Brandenburger Tor, the Hopfingerbräu im Palais.

We dis not eat anything, but the beer was just as refreshing. I assume this is packed in the summer as well, you could hardly ask for a better location.

Same menu, same beer list as in the Sony Center. They have an outlet in the new main railway station, too. But I’d rather see more of these than, say, Hard Rock Cafes.

But by now it was time to go beyond the fleshpots of the touristy inner city. Another advantage of going out of season – there was a free taxi just when we needed one.

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Berlin VI – Marcus Bräu

By now my comrades had a suspicion there was a master plan behind it all, but they happily came along to yet another brewpub. There are only time constraints for me not having visited the Marcus Bräu before, it is just a stone’s throw from the Brauhaus Mitte.

A friendly young waitress took orders. The beers were rather pedestrian, unfiltered dark, unfiltered light. A sign advertising three shots of Bierbrand for the price of two or something similar caught our eye, and we swiftly ordered a round. This was downright nasty stuff, raw and unaged – this should have been distilled a few extra times.

A glass of sweet beer liquor was far better. But it was time to call it a night.

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A long hot shower and a fresh shirt does wonders for me, and at eight we were at the front door, ready to venture out again. We set out for the Nikolaivirtel again, the restored old quarter right in the middle of town.

I had plans to visit Zum Nußbaum, one of the old inns restored in the final years of the DDR.

Well, we should not have bothered. I didn’t think  a reservation was necessary during the first weekend of January, but I was mistaken. A very Stasi Prussian lady informed us that they were full, and she had absolutely no intention of squeezing us in, finding us seats at the bar or recommending anywhere else.

OK. We were 100 yards away from a micro brewery anyway, so there was no reason to cry.

The Georgenbrau will probably never win any awards for its beers. It occupies an amazing spot on the bank of the river Spree, and on Sunny days there is a large crowd in front. No need to really try to improve?

Not too many customers tonight, though, but there is both beer and food to be had, so we give it a try.

A combo platter of smoked pigs knuckle, cabbage, beer and a Bierbrand schnapps is a reasonable 10 Euro. This was certainly not Haute cuisine, but it did the trick. Speedy service, too. The beer? A Dunkel and a Helles, both rather mundane.

Georgenbrau brewing vessel

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After leaving the Brauhaus Mitte, we observed that darkness had fallen, and we could either go on visiting various pubs – or go back to our hotel to freshen up. A few of us had gotten up at four, so a slight fatigue was setting in. Well, our route took us through the lovely Nikolaivirtel, and I steered us into the Alt-Berliner Weißbierstuben, a lovingly restored old pub, to discuss the issue. Over a beer, obviously.

Most tables were laid for dinner, but we were offered seats in the bar. Lots of Old World charm here, dark polished wood and rooms which looked ver 19th century, though this was probably reconstructed from the rubble some time in the 1980s. Mature staff of both sexes, Jon got compliments for his excellent command of German and was almost adopted by a barmaid of the more motherly type. The beer? They probably had a list of Berliner Weisse variations, but I never saw any. Instead there was Schwartzbier from Berlin’s remaining macro brewery, their Märkischer Landmann. A superb beer, slightly sweet, lots of malt, tasting of nuts and cereals.

It gave us the courage to take the 15 minute walk back to the hotel.

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With solid and liquid refreshment under our belts, we set out again from Potzdamer Platz, taking in the sights along the way. The Holocoust Memorial dominates the stretch up to Brandenburger Tor, from there you walk  along past and present glories that show a city reborn.

We strolled down Unter dem Linden in pleasant winter weather. Even this street had plenty of space now, being as off-season as it gets around here. There are few signs of ordinary habitation on this street, it’s a long row of embassies, luxury hotels, souvenir shops and car showrooms most of the way down to Alexanderplatz.

That did not matter much. We had a lot of catching up to do, and we did not have much of an agenda. There were calls for more refreshments as we approached the television tower, but I steered them past a few bars, telling them we ought to visit another brewpub instead.

Brauhaus Mitte is one of those weird setups you find around the globe – pubs imitating an old country inn while shoehorned into a shopping centre. This was OK, as long as you kept your back to the shops behind us.

The beers? We had a glass each, I opted for a Zwickl, the others a Dunkel or a Helles. The beer was not up to much, Jon felt that his Dunkel was certainly not up to German standards.

We did not linger long, and by now we were discussing if we should head back to the hotel for a rest or not.

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Brewbaker, Berlin

The Brauhaus Lemke is not the only micro in Berlin situated in railway arches, Brewbaker, next to Bellevue S-bahn station has done the same. Just a few stops from the centre as well, in a quiet area with apartment buildings and parkland.

Very quiet if you ignore the rattling of the train. Some tables outside, inside they have just one arch – Lemke has two. Three beers of their own plus a guest, currently Weienstephaner weisse, which would be a welcome guest most places. Food menu, too, both snacks and more substantial meals. I think you are frowned upon here if you do not offer some kind of food to go with the drinks.

The beer were interesting, each in their own way. A grapefruit weisse was very refreshing, the bitterness of the grapefruit playing with the light wheat beer. Smooth and easy drinking, a fine summer refreshment – and something very different form the grapefruit lemonade/beer mix being sold in bottles.

The Berlinsch is a homage to the Kölsch of Cologne. This beer has a lot of flavour. A bit sweet, but with hops giving both flowers and bitterness. A fine session beer.

Their Bellevue pils was, however, the best of the bunch. Well balances, soft mouth feel, crisp dry aftertaste. I ordered a large glass of this after finishing my sampler. This was probably the best beer I had in Berlin.

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Brauhaus Mitte

A few minutes walk from Lemke there is another brewpub, which I believe is under the same management. This is even closer to the Alexanderplatz, located on the first floor of a shopping centre. I sat outside on the terrace, in the pub itself you have a sort of mock Bavarian bierstube concept, while it is open to the galley of the shopping centre showing another kind of reality.

Oh well. In my old home town Trondheim there is a revolving tower with a restaurant, giving a splendid view of the city centre, the fjord and its surroundings. They were unable to make the restaurant viable until they did what they had done with most places in town. It was decorated with planks from an old barn, including an assortment of other farming memorablia. So you can choose between looking into the stable wall or admiring the view.

But I digress. This is Berlin. I need some food before indulging in more beer, and I order some weisswurst. It comes with sweet mustard – from a company that used to have a royal warrant with the court of Bavaria, no less – and a warm bretzel.

The beers are not up to the samme standards as at Lemke. A dunkel is sweetish, with a hint of prunes. It does not really get anywhere, and it can’t cope with the salty bretzel. The pils is also rather bland. A bit better is the zwickl, a hazy gold and aromatic beer. Flowery hoppiness. Their weisse has some citrus freshness, but this is overpowered by a cloying banana flavour.

Don’t get me wrong, these beers are not infected or actually bad. They just don’t have the little extra to make you go out of your way. Luckily you don’t need to go out of your way, it is right there in the middle of Berlin. And the sausages were splendid!

 

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A watering hole

Sometimes you just need a bar with some choice when it comes to beers. Which is right by the entrance to the Metro station, Where the service is swift and speedy. And where the Duckstein (sounds like a beer thought up by Carl Barks, doesn’t it?) is glittering in the glass like an amber jewel.

The Bierbar is on the ground floor of the Alexanderplatz station. It does not get more central than that. In the middle of Berlin, in the middle of Germany, in the middle of Europe.

Five beers on tap, ten in bottles. A sausage menu if you need that.

Every day is not for oak aged barely wines or stouts winning international awards. Sometimes you need to rest your feet, rehydrate and spend five minutes watching the world go by. That is why we need places like this. Then there are others both for long balmy nights and rainy winter afternoons. We need them all!

 

 

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