Berlin is one of those places that have a rich brewing history, not just because of literally hundreds of breweries that used to brew beer all around the city, but also because it’s home to one of the few old German beer styles that have survived to this day.
While the style was neglected in the second half of the 20th century, and had a hard time to keep its place in Berlin’s beer landscape, the recent surge in interest through the craft beer movement has helped repopularize it. When a few years there were only a few breweries like Brewbaker and Bogk Bier that restarted brewing the style the traditional way, this has changed: with local breweries like BRLO, Vagabund, and Berliner Berg, the landscape of locally brewed Berliner Weisse has expanded dramatically.
The rise in popularity also shows in the beer festival landscape: 6 years ago, Sylvia Kopp initiated the Berliner Weisse Gipfel (Berliner Weisse Summit in English), a beer festival centered about Berliner Weisse, but it’s also open for other “wild and sour” beers. On June 1, the fifth edition of this beer festival (now organized by Berliner Weisse Kultur e.V.) took place, and the number of breweries visiting and exhibiting their beers has been even greater than in the years before. And not just from Berlin, but breweries from all the over Germany as well as the Netherlands and even the US took part.
There were too many beers to try, but some of my highlights were:
Berliner Berg Schiller Weisse, very refreshing and easy drinking, exactly how it should be as a summer beer. Cristal Peck, Berliner Berg’s brewmaster, is incredibly enthusiastic about the style, and seems to be doing plenty of experimentation to get the beer just perfect.
Schneeeule Marlene. Less sour than some might expect, but with plenty of funk. A great beer to age.
Nevel from the Netherlands brought two golden sour ales, one called Alm seasoned with “forgotten herbs” which they forage themselves, and another one called Minne which was seasoned with Japanese flowering quince. Very complex, very balanced, quite refreshing even at 5+% ABV.
Oedipus, also from the Netherlands, brought a few of their sour beer creations, which so far have always been great, and this year was no exception.
Felix from Orca Brau brought an unboiled Berliner Weisse of 14 months age as well as Bretted Brokantie, a bretted version of his farmhouse ale. Both beers were good on their own, but what stood out was that Felix also offered pouring blends, and it worked: a shot of his Berliner Weisse added to Bretted Brokantie really brightened it up.
August Schell from New Ulm, Minnesota was there with a few versions of their Berliner Weisse. I tried Ulmer Weisse, their version of American Weissbeer, an obscure American version of Berliner Weissbier that is mentioned in the 1901 book American Handy-Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxilliary Trades. It worked beautifully, and I’m so glad that they revived this historic beer style and also brew traditional Berliner Weisse in a historically pretty authentic way. Jace Marti, August Schell’s assistant brewmaster, also did a presentation on how they brew Berliner Weisse, and he recently also recorded a podcast about the same topic.
Joe Stange brought bag-in-box Den Herberg Oude Lambiek, which was a real treat.
There were so many more breweries, but I couldn’t try them all.
Besides just visiting the beer festival, I also had the privilege of serving my own Berliner Weisse. This year, THE MASH PIT together with Berliner Weisse Kultur organized a homebrewing competiton just for Berliner Weisse, SLOSH SOUR. Since I wanted to get more into Weisse brewing, this was a great chance for me to take part. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a short notice period, so apparently one four or so people registered, and my beer was the only one that was actually submitted. The jury sampled the beer, and found it to be good, so I won the competition and could serve the beer to festival visitors. It was well received, and someone even took the time to add the beer on untappd!
All in all, I’m very happy this beer festival exists, and it’s become my favourite one in Berlin. This has been by far the most communicative, enthusiastic, exciting, and totally nerdy beer festival here in Berlin, and I’m especially glad about it because it’s one important part of the effort to keep this historic beer style alive.
Last year, my wife and I decided to go for a long weekend to Bristol, with the primary purpose of checking out the local beer scene. We had heard good things about it, not least due to Boak&Bailey blogging and tweeting about their adventures around Bristol pubs.
Our plan was to fly in from Berlin to Bristol on the Thursday, January 31, and return on Monday, February 4. On the day of flying to Bristol, we were slightly worried because of the weather, but in the end, the flight left Berlin-Schönefeld airport on time. On the way to Bristol though the captain announced that Bristol airport had been closed due to the snow (#snowmageddon, i.e. roughly 10cm of snow) – “but don’t worry, we anticipated that, and loaded up more fuel and are currently in waiting position over south Wales”. Great.
We eventually got diverted to Cardiff airport, which apparently still knew how to use a snow plough, but had to stay on the plane until it was decided that we were to get off the plane and be put into busses to bring us to Bristol airport.
At Bristol airport, we managed to get another bus that drove us almost halfway back, into Bristol. We eventually reached our hotel at around 3am local time (only about 4 hours later than planned). After a short night, we decided to get some light breakfast at Hart’s Bakery near the train station. It’s one of those fancy hipster bakeries. It may seem hyped, but the hype is totally warranted. Fantastic baked goods, great coffee, but at the same time, the place was pretty packed, and we were lucky to get any seats.
The way back to the hotel brought us to the King’s Head. It was one of the pubs that I had earmarked as a must visit, as it serves Harvey’s Sussex Best. And of course that’s what we ordered. While not cheap, it tasted great, so we had a few more. I also tried whatever guest ale they had on, but forgot what it was. The interior of this pub is apparently historic, and it did have a nice enough atmosphere, save for the group of shouty lads blocking the space in front of the bar. Due to the rather long trip and the short night, we eventually needed some rest for our next stop in the evening: the Bridge Inn.
Prior to the trip, I had contacted Jessica & Ray aka Boak&Bailey whether they wanted to meet up for a wee drink, and they agreed. We met them at the Bridge Inn, a pub slightly too small but still feeling nice enough. The beer selection was good (I mostly remember the Dark Star Hophead), and we spent a good few hours there, chatting about all kinds of beer-related stuff. Since Boak&Bailey and I share an interest about Vienna lager, I had brought them a printed copy of my book as well as two samples of my home-brewed historic Vienna lager, the recipe of which is also straight out of my book. We eventually parted, mentioning that we’d be visiting the Drapers Arms, their local, the next day, together with my sister-in-law.
The chase for dinner on the Friday was less than glorious, and ended up being from a well-known golden-arched fast food chain.
The next day, we took an Uber to the Drapers Arms, as we were simply too lazy to use public transport. The Drapers Arms is a micropub, probably the latest trend in the British pub landscape: small freehouses with (usually) well-kept beer, run by people that care deeply about the atmosphere and the beer they serve. The Drapers was no exception: when we arrived, we were greeted by Jessica & Ray and a very long list of beers on a chalk board as well as a large stillage of casks.
As is common in micropubs, the beer was poured straight from the cask. To be honest, I can barely remember which beers were available. I think I basically had one of each, over a very long afternoon of chatting about Vienna lager and other beer stuff and just having great beer. Jessica & Ray mention the Drapers Arms regularly on social media, and it is indeed a fantastic place for people that just like good beer and a relaxed atmosphere. The two beers that I specifically remember were Butcombe Original, which Ray described as a “very classic 1970’s bitter”, and Tiley’s Special Bitter, which I think fell into a very similar category (even though the brewery’s history is much more recent). Both of these beers were sublime, and I’d very much like to have them again. Ray also surprised me with a hazy pale ale, full of tropical hop brightness, but none of that hop bite that I usually dislike about hazy, highly hopped beers. I really should take more notes what beers I’ve been drinking.
We eventually parted, and my wife, my sister-in-law and I went to the Annexe Inn, which was just a short 5 minute walk away from the Drapers Arms. Unfortunately, it was absolutely packed due to the Rugby, with a very loud, vape-scented and almost aggressive seeming atmosphere. Let’s just say there must have been a good reason why they served the beer for some people in plastic cups. We didn’t particularly enjoy that, but we still managed to have at least a pint of Landlord. When I queued for a second beer, as I wanted to try the St. Austell Proper Job, I was unfortunately told that they had run out of it. So the guy next to me suggested I should try the Landlord. “I know, I’ve just had it, but I want to try something different”. I eventually went for the London Pride, which was in equally great condition, and despite the surrounding and the plastic cup, a great joy to drink.
With our poor planning skills, we got a quick snack in the form of a bag of chips from a local fish&chips shop (I thought they were fantastic, crunchy and salted just right on the outside, fluffy in the middle with a great flavour, but my spud connoisseur wife thought they were just alright), and then reserved a table at an Italian not far from our hotel. So pizza and pasta and euro lager it was, and an early-ish night.
For the Sunday, we had planned to go to a market, which turned out to be super lame, so we went on to another pub we had earmarked: the Myrtle Tree. Looking it up online might be a bit confuse, as a lot of people themselves seem to confuse with another pub next to it, the Bag of Nails, the Bristol pub version of a cat café. The Myrtle Tree is not known for its cats, though, but two different things: horse racing and gravity-poured Bass. We went there specifically for the latter, as Bass has become rather a rarity and we’ve never had it before other than from keg. The Myrtle Tree was certainly rather different and unique: quite manky looking, not a lot of space, and most people there for the horse racing shown on the TV. People were very friendly, though, and we felt quite comfortable. And the beer… it was sublime. Like Ray had described Butcombe as a very classic-tasting bitter, the same associations came to my mind when I had the Bass. The maltiness, the hop bitterness, the fruity esters from the yeast, all played together extremely well and just left a fantastic impression.
At the Myrtle Tree, we also first learned what seems to be thing in Bristol pubs on Sundays: free snacks for people to help themselves. We were asked whether we wanted to have mini scotch eggs, pork pies, or chicken drumsticks. If you don’t expect it, it can be frankly bizarre.
We eventually left this pub, not without a friendly send-off from the locals, and went for a second time to the King’s Head, which my sister-in-law hadn’t seen yet. As before, the Harvey’s was nice. After a quick nap at the hotel, we also made a second stop at the Bridge Inn, only to discover that they had a massive free cheese board. I like my cheese, but we had dinner plans (steak at Chomp), so I couldn’t indulge on it. As on the Friday, the Dark Star Hophead was great.
After dinner, we went for a quick last pint, which was the only real dud on our trip: the Old Fish Market, a Fuller’s pub which not only played live Jazz way too loud, but also served the lamest pint of Fuller’s ESB (it tasted like somebody had sucked all life out of it; not just stale, but outright dull) and, when ordering a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, poured the most expensive open wine from the menu, even though a much cheaper option of the same grape variety would’ve been available.
The Monday, our last day, was uneventful: we had breakfast, did some shopping of all the British things that we can’t easily get here in Germany, and eventually took the bus to the airport. When it comes to beer, Bristol airport was another disappointment, but then you can’t usually expect anything from an airport. They had three cask beers on, Doom Bar, Greene King IPA, and Butcombe, but refused to serve the Butcombe “because it pours funny”. Asking for clarifications, it was apparently hazy and weird-looking. Either dregs, or poor cellarmanship, I would guess. They had even run out of bottled Butcombe, so my wife got me a pint of cider (which I normally never have). The guy sitting next us, very obviously hung over and waiting for his flight to Switzerland, had ordered a pint of Doom Bar, and it also must have been so bad that he asked us whether we wanted to have a dodgy half-pint. We refused. He didn’t finish the pint and just left it.
The flight back was perfectly normal, and after immigration we got the direct train from Schönefeld airport to Berlin main train station.
All in all, my impression of Bristol and its beer was great. Okay, we pretty much only went there for the pubs, so I don’t think I can even claim I have properly seen Bristol, but I think it was very much worth the trip for all the pubs and all the nice beer, and I would totally go back, once we know how things will be post-Brexit.
Today was the 3rd Berliner Weisse Gipfel (Berliner Weisse Summit), a beer festival in Berlin dedicated to Berliner Weisse and related sour beers resp. beers inspired by Berliner Weisse. The event location is particularly special for that beer style, as Willner Brauerei, one of the large Weisse breweries in Berlin at the beginning of the 20th century, originally had their brewery and malting house located there. Nowadays, Bogk Bier and Schneeeule have put up their tent and have started brewing Weisse again.
At the festival itself, both local and foreign breweries had stands, and served some fantastic beer. I haven’t taken many notes, but one brewery particularly stood out. Oedipus Brewing from Amsterdam had a 4%ABV Weisse called Vogelen, dry-hopped with three different C hops which nicely accentuated the beer’s sourness. This was probably my favourite. Of similar quality was their Gandalf Red with Pink (?), a Berliner Weisse fermented on cherries, and then further matured in a red wine cask with Brettanomyces. Wonderfully complex, with just a hint of cherry, and a nice tartness.
Oedipus Brewing’s brewer, Sander Nederveen, also held a very enthusiastic talk about wort souring techniques. Too much was said to summarise the whole talk, but let’s just say: they’re doing cool stuff with Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces, and they’re not afraid of the funk.
Another interesting thing that was offered was a tour through the old brewery building. Willner Brauerei was an active brewery from the second half of the 19th century until 1990. Unfortunately, much of the brew kit has been removed shortly after closure, and transferred to the brewery museum that Schultheiss had opened up in Kreuzberg. Even worse, that museum was closed in 1994, and the exhibits were put into the Kindl-Schultheiss brewery storage facility in Hohenschönhausen.
Of what’s still there, the malthouse could be visited. I found the kiln to be particularly interesting: the green malt was put on an upper level floor, consisting of a rather fine metal grid. There, the first low-temperature kilning happened. The malt was then transferred through a small hatch down to the lower level floor made of the same kind of metal grid. That’s where the second, high-temperature kiln was done. All kilning was done with hot air, so no malt ever had direct with the fuel or any of its fumes.
All in all, it was a pretty well-organized festival, and I’m looking forward to next year. Talking to all the local homebrewers I met there, Berliner Weisse brewing seems to be up and coming. And last but not least, I took some bottles with me that I’ll be aging: first of all, the Gipfel-Weisse, a collaboration brew of Bogk Bier and Schneeeule, which is a Berliner Märzen-Weisse. Then a regular Berliner Weisse by Schneeeule, with the name Marlene. Another highlight of which I had to take a bottle was Meerjungfrau by Rügener Insel-Brauerei, a medium sour beer with a great complexity that reminded me of Gueuze. It’s refermented in the bottle with Champagne yeast, and combined great complexity with a good drinkability. And last but not least, the Berliner Weisse by Biermanufaktur Potsdam. I picked this one because it had something going on that intrigued me. Let’s see how this one develops.
Last Thursday, the results of this year’s Berlin homebrewing competition were announced. You can find the winners on the competition website. Congratulations to all the category winners, and especially so to the overall winner, Jörg Schloemer, whose beer “Vienna Calling” will be brewed by Heidenpeters later this year!
Many thanks also go out to Rory, who organized the whole competition to make homebrewing more visible and promote it in Berlin.
I did not win, but of my three submissions, one was particularly well-received by the judges, one showed flaws in the fermentation process of that particular batch, and one… well, judging from the comments, I think half of the judges didn’t fully grasp the beer style. I hold no grudges, though, as this was nevertheless some very valuable feedback.
The beer that got a relatively good score was my English Brown Ale. What I nevertheless found interesting was how differently it was perceived. One judge commented about it as “fizzy”, another one “could be more carbonated”, the third one “CO2 is right”. The average score was 80 of 100 points (note to American readers: this competition was not judged to BJCP standards), and this also reflects in the drinkability score, where it reached a consistent 24 of 30 points by all judges. One judge noticed a very light cardboard flavour, hinting at some minor oxidation issue. This is definitely something where I need to take a closer look at how I bottle my beer.
My second best beer was my Bohemian Pilsner. The scores for that by the four judges were all over the board, with two judges giving it 74 resp. 80 points, while one only gave it 34 points, and one 54 points. One major criticism was lack of head retention and lack of carbonation, which I pretty much expected upfront. We had kegged the beer, and when we bottled the beer, we noticed that we actually didn’t have quite enough beer to fill 4 500ml bottles to submit the beer! So we had to improvise, and I got 4 330ml bottles from the corner shop, poured out the beer, and filled in our beer instead. And even to fill these bottles, we had to underfill them a bit. So of course, if you’re dealing with pouring beer around and through funnels and what not, it will lose quite a bit of fizz.
Diacetyl, a very common (but not absolutely necessary) element of Bohemian Pilsners, was the most controversial part in the judging of this beer: one judge commended on the “nice diacetyl note”, one noted “light diacetyl”, and one noticed diacetyl as an off-flavour. I disagree with the last one, because, as I mentioned, it’s a common element of Bohemian Pilsners. The prototypical Pilsner, Pilsner Urquell, is a shining example for exactly that, especially so when served in a tank bar, or unfiltered and unpasteurized from cask. Besides that, one judge thought they’d get a flavour of cinnamon, which I absolutely don’t get, and also “far too slick mouthfeel”. Maybe from the diacetyl? Nevermind.
Finally, my American Pale Ale. This was really more of an afterthought, I put together the recipe on a relatively short notice, and also used that as an opportunity to use up hop scraps from previous brews. One theme that shows through most of the five judgings was that (1) the beer was too bitter, and a harsh bitterness, even, and (2) chlorophenolic notes. This was later explained to me by one of judges as most likely coming from the Berlin water being treated with chloramine and a fermentation that was slightly too hot. It’s definitely worth noting, and makes me think that I should probably do a better temperature control even with top-fermented beers. It’s also kind of sad that the Berlin water has to be treated like that, but we need to work with what we’re given. I definitely won’t start buying distilled water and then create water profiles by adding different salts.
All in all, it was a fun event, I enjoyed developing recipes for it and then brewing them, and we got some very valuable feedback. I’ll post the recipe of my English Brown Ale soon, and explain more about it.
For the first time, there will be a homebrewing competition this year, for homebrewers from Berlin and Brandenburg. This competition is organized by Rory Lawton. More information about the competition can be found here.
Rory is currently looking for some judges, so if you’re experienced in beer tasting and haven’t registered yet, please do so here, because you need to register by the end of March. So hurry up!
Talking about the homebrewing competition, I will be submitting beers to three out of four categories, so I’m not eligible as judge for all but one category in the first place. In addition to that, I’ll be in Northern Ireland and Yorkshire for a total of two weeks in May, when the judging takes place.
Also, I will publish recipes for my beers (an English Brown Ale, an American Pale Ale, and a Czech Pilsner) here at some point after the submission deadline, that’s the 18th of April. To be frank, I’m already quite excited about the judging results that (hopefully) will be published at some point in May. Homebrewing competitions in Germany are… rare, to say the least, so getting absolutely honest and unbiased feedback from an anonymized tasting is something to look forward to.