Two looming towers mark the beginning of Karl-Marx-Allee, a beautifully-kept mile-long testimony to Soviet city planning: a sequence of huge apartment blocks along both sides of a dual carriageway, bookended with more towers at the other end. On the first weekend in August each year, one side of the boulevard is given over to the Berliner Bierfestival.
Breweries both big and small pitch their festival bars on the pavement, along with a number of importers and distributors selling exotic species from lands as far away as the UK and Czech Republic. Running parallel to the stall corridor is a sequence of beer gardens, several with a small stage for live music. While each beer stall will give you a branded glass for a small deposit -- making it a collector's dream -- the preferred method is to buy a festival-branded 200ml sample glass. Most stalls offer refills for these at a very reasonable €1.50. As one might expect there was a lot of repetition of the pils-schwarz-weiss Holy Trinity of German brewing, but there were a few surprises in there as well. Let's get stuck in...
Günther-Bräu and Eschenbacher had enviable pitches at the Strausberger Platz entrance: perfect for selling newcomers their first beer to sip while they get their bearings and peruse their programmes. Günther-Bräu Schwarzbier for me: bang-on my expectations for the style, being reddish in the small glass, balancing dry roast with sweet caramel. Herself took an Eschenbacher Schwarzbier. This one is paler and a little more complex with mild gingerbread spicing.
My first pale beer was a Wacker-Bräu Hell: the same opaque orange I'd seen in many of the unfiltered brewpub helleses with some mild citrus but not much else. I was bored before finishing 200mls. The missus stayed steadfastly dark with Black Lion, a schwarzbier from Hartmannsdorfer in Saxony. There's an interesting strawberry fruit thing going on in this deep red number.
Another schwarzbier? Oh go on then. Landsberger Schwarz offered further strawberries, and a whack of marzipan too: not what anyone is looking for in a schwarzbier but very enjoyable all the same.
Turning up the dimmer switch we have Kauzen Alt-Frankish, a clear light brown beer, mildly roasty finishing grassy. Balanced, but not terribly exciting. I think I was expecting a less polished more rustic experience. It was still better than Zwönitzer Rotblondes which was billed as an alt and I suppose it's a fair enough description, being cloudy red-amber and rather dull, with just a pinch of toffee marking out the flavour. King of the real Düsseldorf alts Uerige was present, and being served from the wooden cask. I made a beeline for it on the Saturday evening but it just wasn't as enjoyable as drinking it at the brewery. Funny how these things go. The Dachs brewery stall was a popular one for some reason and they were the only people selling a Märzen that I saw. Not a very good one, unfortunately, being rather sugary: heavy without the rounded breadiness that makes märzen worthwhile.
Finally, I was pleased to spot Hamburg beer brand Astra at the festival. They've been an interest ever since Barry posted about their marketing which is odd, even for Germany. As befits their whole theme, the stall was kitted out as a brothel. Astra Pils isn't half bad: very pale yellow with an unnorthern sweetness. A tart with a heart of gold, I guess.
So far so typically German. The next post is for things a bit less familiar to the Berliners.