It's all going to get a bit German on this blog for the next fortnight. Berlin had been on my must-visit list for far too long, and while beer wasn't top of my priorities as a first-time tourist, the city does have quite a number of brewpubs plus a unique local beer speciality. And our visit, earlier this month, just happened to coincide with the three-day Berlin Beer Festival, so beer did creep in here and there between the museums and palaces and historical sites. Funny how that keeps happening...
That local speciality is, of course, Berliner weisse, of which Berliner Kindl Weisse is the only surviving example from a mainstream Berlin brewery. It's a sour wheat beer almost always flavoured with woodruff or raspberry syrup to take the edge off. Having tried both of these previously I was determined to hunt out the naked original version. I found what I was looking for a couple of days into the trip, at Alkopole in Alexanderplatz station. It's one of a chain of beer specialists and they boast that they blend their own flavourings for Berliner weisse. I took this to imply that the unadulterated form was also available though it took a few rounds of "Öhne schuss." "Öhne schuss?" "Ja, öhne schuss" before the waitress finally threw her eyes heavenward and scuttled off to get me some.
It arrived in the customary goblet, though strangely headless: perhaps that's another function of the syrup. A pale gold colour and only slightly hazy, it exudes a grainy lagerish aroma. And on tasting it's surprisingly plain and dry more than full-on sour. Only a little vinegary tang on the finish hints at the lactic bacterial jamboree involved in the fermentation process.
All in all it was a bit of an anti-climax. But that's it done and I can rest easy knowing that if this beer goes the way of so many local German specialities at least I gave it a try. My recommendation is still to go for the green woodruff version if you see it.
Aside from the weisse, Berliner Kindl brews some more orthodox stuff. Their summer seasonal was a dark one called Märkischer Landmann Schwarzbier: a dark red affair with some lovely caramel on the nose and a touch of molasses, but also quite smooth and dry making it eminently sinkable. Of course there's a standard pils too which one sees all over Berlin, competing tightly against the rival Berliner Pilsner. This is a pure north-German style pils, gold with almost a greenish hue and a pungent waxy bitterness, finishing on heady grass notes. After a hot afternoon's schlep around the Museum Island it's a perfect refresher.
So much for the macros: we've got brewpubs to hit. Starting at the everso touristy Georg-Bräu by the banks of the Spree in the city centre. I have a bit of a soft spot for this place, just because it was sunny when we visited, and it served us the first beer of the day.
Georg-Pils Hell was a hazy orange affair with madly low carbonation: little more than a gentle effervesence. There's a vague sort of herbiness in the flavour, but really it's a conversation beer meant for unfussy quaffing, which is what I did. Herself was on Georg-Pils Dunkel, a name to give the style purists white knuckles. This was bizarrely pale for something claiming to be dark, more of an orange-amber and only a few notches down the colour chart from the Hell. Low fizz again and this time a bit more depth to the flavour, showing some nice sweet fruit in the middle, and just a little waft of mown grass at the end.
We head back to the vicinity of bustling Alexanderplatz for the next one. Bräuhaus Mitte has a touch of '50s futurism about it, wedged into an upstairs corner of a rather unglamourous boxy shopping mall.
There were four beers on the go: Mitte Pils is a pale gold with a fast-disappearing head. It's very heavy work with lots of sugary golden syrup. Mitte Dunkel is more by-the-numbers: lots of milk chocolate in both the flavour and aroma. Only the paleness of its brown colour marking it out as any way unusual. These Berlin brewpubs seem a little afraid of the dark maltsacks. Mitte Weiss was pleasantly odd: a heady perfumed aroma and a flavour that spoke more of sweet pineapples than clove or banana. Finally the seasonal was a Zwickel. Relatively clear for this format and an attractive shade of dark gold. The flavour was very odd indeed: a sickly cakey cinnamon spice thing. Yeast playing silly buggers, I suppose.
For all that the beers at Mitte are a mixed bag it's a nice place to hang out if you get a seat on the terrace. Chatty staff and pork chops the size of housebricks make for ample compensation.
Lastly for this post we nip around the corner to Marcus Bräu, a poky little rustic tavern full of bric-à-brac. The old reliable pils and dunkel were all the menu offered. Marcus-Bräu Pils is an alarmingly wan watery yellow, looking for all the world like some class of weak lemon drink. Yet it's surprisingly heavily textured with lots of syrup and some bready, biscuity weight. A tiny citric hit on the finish is the only intimation of hopping it offers. The Dunkel, for once, is properly dark and red-brown. Aromas of coffee and caramel drift off the surface of the stickily textured beer while the flavour packs in brown sugar laced with old world spices: cloves and nutmeg. Definitely a cut above the dunkels we've seen so far.
On Wednesday we take a wander out of the city centre in search of yet more micros.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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