German "craft beer"? Why would they need that? For a country that oozes "craft" in everything that they do, and a history that is steeped in strict traditions when it comes to brewing, it seemed unlikely that we would ever see German brewers joining the craft beer revolution. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that the most diverse and international city in Germany would serve as a catalyst for this new German craft beer movement.
In this post I'll share about a few craft breweries that we visited in August 2017. Having lived in Germany previously and visiting Berlin during that time (2009 - 2012) I was pleasantly surprised at how the city has continued to grow and change. English has become more commonplace and now there is a selection of craft beers alongside the German classics.
BRLO is a funky brewery enclosed into a stack of 38 old steel shipping containers welded together near an old train station depot. They started from humble beginnings in 2014 and the name comes from the word, of Slavic origin, for Berlin. It's a neat little spot with an amazing beer garden out back, which seamlessly transitions into an adjacent park with a few food stands in-between. They have some small courses that can be ordered "beer garden" style at a window outside, or you can sit inside and enjoy normal table service. Similarly, beers and tasting flights can be ordered inside or at a window outside. I absolutely loved their Altbier and Marisa liked the Helles. On a nice, summer day there really isn't a better place to be!
Schoeneberger Strasse 16, 10963 Berlin (Gleisdreieck U-bahn station)
This brewery has a couple of locations in Berlin with the original being set up by a home brewer and his buddies underneath a train station (S-Bahn) near Hackescher Markt back in 1999. They do mostly classic styles on a very nice-looking copper brewhouse inside, but you can also find more craft recipes such as their Hopfen Weisse (hoppy wheat) or their India Pale Ale. Tasting flights, full pours, and take-away bottles are all available. They also have loads of indoor seating (think Beer Hall) as well as a nice beer garden outside.
Dircksenstrasse S-Bahnbogen 143, 10178 Berlin-Mitte
This is a bar that delivers "craft beer, shuffleboard, and coffee". We stopped in after a long visit to the Stone Brewery and it clearly had a following of loyal customers enjoying board games inside, cigarettes outside, and beers in the beer garden. Nice selection of beers from Berlin breweries as well as Scandinavia and the USA (probably rotating though). We enjoyed some nice bottles of Berliner Berg here. Check out their website.
Linienstrasse 40, 10119 Berlin
Hops & Barley
There are a few nano breweries tucked away in residential neighbourhoods which were a nice little gem to find. Hops & Barley has been around since 2008 and is a self-proclaimed "no frills" kind of brewery that serves tasting flights and full pours of their line-up, and unapologetically does not offer any food (or reservations). I totally understand that approach - focus on the beers - and they encourage ordering food from a few other local restaurants. The flight includes three traditional brews (Pilsner, Dunkel, and Weizen) and three weekly special beers. Nice examples of traditional styles and decent, but not envelope-pushing specialty beers.
Wuehlischstrasse 22/23, 10245 Berlin
Just down the street in Friedrichshain from Hops & Barley is another impressive neighbourhood brewery in Strassenbraeu. I was probably most impressed by their beers out of all of the breweries that I tried in Berlin - particularly with a special double IPA hopped with Nelson Sauvin and aged in white wine barrels. It's a small set-up and they've only been around since 2015 but they are attracting crowds and making some really nice beers. Worth a look.
Neue Bahnhofstrasse 40, 10245 Berlin
Dolden Mädel Braugasthaus
We stopped by the Dolden Maedel Braugasthaus in the middle of the day when it was very quiet, but it has an excellent beer garden out front and a generous amount of space inside as well. They aren't really a Berlin brewery, since it's a chain out of Hamburg, but it's still craft and they still have a nice thing going. The staff was very knowledgeable as well and they offer tasting flights along with information on each beer. I've never had a brewery make me want a Wendy's cheeseburger more than this one.....
Mehringdamm 80, 10965 Berlin
Stone Brewing Berlin
I had to save this one for last because it just wouldn't feel right to put an American-owned brewery ahead of the rest. However, Stone Berlin is a very impressive location with great food and beers. They offer brewery tours in English and in German that includes a tasting of three beers and I thought the guide did an excellent job presenting brewing science. They have 50 beers on tap, half of which are their own. We were fortunate to visit just after Berlin Beer Week so they had the other half of their taps filled with other local Berlin craft brewers and collaboration projects. The only negative things to add are that: 1. it's really out there. Like three connections on public transportation and 45-60 minutes from the center. 2. they don't have tasting flights, but they will let you sample unlimited samples from their taps - or until you feel like a cheapskate for asking for another sample. and 3. the place is SO big that even if they have a few hundred guests it still looks half-empty. On the one hand it's nice to have the relative peace, quiet, and privacy. On the other hand, sometimes you want a place to have more energy.
Berlin was really amazing this time around. I'm jealous of Berliners with all of the options that they have - and at reasonable prices! And I'll be jealous of you if you get to visit before my next trip as well! I must leave you with one quick story that was the highlight of my trip.....
After visiting the Stone Brewery for a few hours I came up to this take-away beer cooler so that I could grab a few roadies for the trip home. As I mentioned, it's really far from civilisation - not to mention that I absolutely love the socially acceptable practice of drinking beers on the streets and on public transportation in Germany. So here I am at this cooler...
As I'm standing there, deciding how much I can carry, out of the corner of my eye I see another gentleman with a beard. He casually says, "How's it going?" I don't really make eye contact since I'm pining over these collaboration bottles, each representing a one-off batch of something special. I'm guessing that perhaps he noticed my Stone San Diego t-shirt that I was rocking (kind of like wearing the band's t-shirt to a concert, but it seems more acceptable for beer) and perhaps he is also an American expat or tourist in Berlin (yawn) that wanted to make some small talk. Meanwhile I'm deciding between the Ghost Hammer or Ruination for the ride home.
Marisa walks up from the restroom......."Hi." (of course - so friendly)......"Hey, you own this place!"
I complete a 120-degree turn, make eye-contact and immediately the scales fall from my eyes............this is Greg Koch, one of the founders of Stone Brewing!! Holy crap! He's HERE. In Berlin? I mean, it would make sense that he would be at Stone, but in Berlin? Today? What are the chances?
So we shot the breeze about his last visit to Hong Kong back in November 2016 and the collaboration brews that I was eyeing in the cooler. He claimed that his favourite of the bunch was likely the "Royale Imperial Saison du Buff" which was a brew with Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione and Victory's Bill Covaleski and apparently had a bit of a history between them. Before we parted ways, Greg reaches into the cooler, grabs one of those bottles and says "This one's on me." While a small part of me wanted to bring it back to HK to share with others, the larger portion of me had no problem in sharing it with Marisa in Berlin and living in the moment. Thanks Greg!