Germany’s beer culture is, quite rightly, renowned around the world and there’s arguably no better place than Berlin to drink in the breadth of it. From Weissbier to Rauchbier, Bock to Kölsch, famed regional specialties from around the country are well represented in the capital city’s pubs. But there’s so much more: Even a quick look around will show that the current craft beer trend has left a deep mark on Berlin. Dozens of local microbreweries have sprung up in addition to craft beer bars offering scores of exotic brews.
What this means is that Berlin is where beer connoisseurs can truly have the best of both worlds: classic German brews, with the weight of centuries of tradition behind them, as well as trendy, diverse craft beers from every far-flung corner of the world. Whether you want to quaff liters of pilsner on a barstool with gruff and grizzled German gents on either side or sip obscure Icelandic stout in a crowd of English-speaking hipsters, Berlin has just the spot for you.
To get the lowdown on the city’s expansive beer scene, I met up with globetrotting beer journalist Joe Stange for—what else—a couple beers and a chat about his favorite brews and bottles around town. Joe has called Berlin home for the last three years, plenty of time to drink his way through the best pubs, breweries, and craft beer dispensaries. Besides penning beer stories for publications around the world, the American writer also authored the guide "Around Brussels in 80 Beers" and serves as contributing editor for DRAFT Magazine.
New vs. Old
It has been “really instructive” to arrive in Berlin just as the local craft beer scene was majorly taking off, Joe said between sips of a California-style steam beer made by the Beerbliotek in Gothenburg, Sweden. His verdict: “tastes like a lager but with a bit more character. It’s gotten hard to keep track of all the craft beer bars because there’s one opening practically every week.”
As far as Stange is concerned, however, traditional beer pubs needn’t feel threatened by the new craft upstarts—there’s plenty of room for both. In Germany, experimentation has long been suppressed under the Reinheitsgebot, or Beer Purity Law, a 16th-century Bavarian decree that permitted beer to be made using only water, barley, and hops. The law greatly influenced German beer culture, Stange said, in both good ways and not.
“It led to Germany having some of the world’s finest technical brewers but has certainly reduced the variety. There is no reason we shouldn’t let brewers play. It’s fun.”
But no matter how trendy craft beer gets, there will always be value in tradition.
“There’s an interchangeability to the craft beer culture that I find a bit boring,” he said. “You can go into a McDonald’s anywhere in the world and get a cheeseburger and it will taste the same. If you can walk into a craft beer bar anywhere in the world that looks like something out of Brooklyn, and drink an India Pale Ale that tastes like all the others … We don’t want to lose that sense of the local. I’m interested in beer that has a sense of place.”
Stange's Recommendations for the Best Beer and Brewpubs in Berlin
A sense of place is what makes Försters Feine Biere (Bornstr. 20) in Steglitz one of Joe’s favorites for “good, characterful German beer,” especially those from the Franconia region. Owner Sven Förster is more than a mere barman —he’s also a beer sommelier, and has the diploma to prove it.
“It’s a neighborhood place, a bar for everyone,” Stange said. “You see young people and old, rich and poor.” His recommendation: “The pilsner from Schönramer, one of the best all-around breweries in Germany. It’s a good bitter pilsner with malt character.” Follow that up with a classic Altbier from Düsseldorf.
Next up should be a night out at one of the city’s brewpubs.
“As a beer geek, I like to look at shiny equipment and know the beer was brewed right there,” Stange said. “Most brewpubs are pretty reliable but Hops & Barley really stands out.”
The Friedrichshain establishment (Wühlischstr. 22–23) is a hip, friendly spot housed in a former butcher’s shop, with house-brewed pilsner, wheat beer and rotating specials on top. Another local brewer is Oliver Lemke, “one of the godfathers of the local craft scene,” who has been brewing since 1999 at Brauhaus Lemke (Dircksenstr. S-Bahnbogen 143), located under the S-Bahn arches by Hackescker Markt. Try the “Original,” a Viennese lager that’s the very first beer they ever brewed.
Another classic local beer brand is Schoppe Bräu, the handiwork of Torsten Schoppe, brewed in Prenzlauer Berg and served at his spot in Kreuzberg (Manteuffelstr. 53). There’s also relative newcomer Berliner Berg, brewing rich Irish Stout as well as trendy pale ales, which you can imbibe at their Bergschloss taproom (Kopfstr. 59).
“I think their lager is one of my favorite beers in town,” Stange said. “Rich malt and plenty of character.”
And finally, to experience global craft beer in all its dizzying variety, Stange's current go-to is Neukölln’s The Muted Horn (Flughafenstr. 49). With more than 20 varieties on tap and dozens and dozens of bottles, making up your mind won’t be easy. Giving them a run for their money is Hopfenreich in Kreuzberg (Sorauer Str. 31), with 22 beers on top and countless bottles, brewed as nearby as Schöneberg and as far away as New Zealand.