We’re rolling out our Craft Beer and Brewery Tour here at Berlin Experiences, and to celebrate we’re dedicating some blog posts to all things hops, yeast, malt and water. Check out our previous post – Beyond Two Beers – to see how the post-war division shaped Berlin’s brewing in the second half of the twentieth century and how the legacy of the Cold War is shaping Berlin’s brewing today. In this piece, we’ll be spotlighting several of the movers and shakers, big and small, in Berlin’s contemporary craft beer scene to give you a taste of the tour itself.
First things first: this is no listicle. We’re not ranking the best to worst here or vice versa. The diversity of the beer scene in Berlin is one of its greatest strengths, and we want to showcase this. Thus, appearing below you’ll find the big and the small, the old and the new, the traditional and the non-traditional.
Preamble over; here are some of Berlin’s best craft beer spots…
Lemke is the OG of Berlin’s contemporary craft beer scene. Their first brewhouse at Hackescher Markt, underneath the S-Bahn tracks, opened its doors on the 21st November 1999. Now they own three large-scale microbreweries across the city, with locations in Charlottenburg (the former Luisenbräu) and just off Alexanderplatz (the former Brauhaus Mitte). While operating a business that size might seem a little contra to the idea of ‘craft’ – small batch, handcrafted product – Lemke’s beginnings were humble.
The whole operation was started by one man: Oliver Lemke. Deciding business studies wasn’t for him he dropped out of his course to study brewing. Receiving his first brewing experience at the Luisenbräu (now Lemke’s Charlottenburg brewery), Lemke then went full journeyman, working in large-scale breweries in Venezuela and working in brewery building in Japan. He came back to Berlin an artisan, welded his first brewing tank in a buddy’s garage, and, with the help of some friends-turned-craftsmen, built the Hackescher Markt brewhouse.
When we asked one of Lemke’s head brewer’s on a recent brewery tour where they plan to go from the here and now, his answer was simple: world domination. Because of this broadening in scope of ambition, Lemke’s beers have become a bit more international in style in the last few years. They still brew the classics – their Bohemian Pilsner is top draw and is still their best seller – but they’re now also bringing some German craftsmanship to non-German styles. Second only behind their Pilsner in sales is their IPA, which won a gold medal at the New York International Beer Competition. It’s beautifully balanced and has satisfying tropical subtleties to taste, achieved with a blend of simcoe, amarillo and cascade hops. The 030 Pale Ale, crisp, fresh and bursting with citrus notes, is well worth a try too.
Address: Dircksenstraße, S-Bahnbogen 143, 10178 Berlin
Brauhaus Lemke might brand itself as ‘the oldest craft brewery in Berlin’ but the Marcusbräu has nearly two decades on Oli and co., and is the definition of old school. Their tiny Hausbrauerei and restaurant sits in the shadow of the Television Tower on Münzstraße.
It opened in 1982, in what would have been East Berlin and the GDR, and while the area around them has been sacrificed to the commercial fashion vanguard (Adidas, New Balance, Levis etc.) of progress, the Marcusbräu has stuck to its guns. Thirty-five years later it’s still owned and run by the Barkowski family, still brews primarily pils and dark lager (with the odd seasonal beer), and still hasn’t changed its decor – to charming effect. The brewing equipment is all squidged behind and next to the bar (you’re not allowed in when they’re cleaning it) and there are various jars of homemade mustard, bottles of homemade vodka and schnapps, and ceramic drinking mugs everywhere else.
Both their original beers are great, especially the pilsner. It’s beautifully smooth, light and quaffable without succumbing to blandness. The dark lager has a little more complexity, with some sweeter caramel and biscuit notes from the darker and roasted malt blend, but lacks a little bit of the delicacy it’s lighter brother.
Address: Münzstraße 1-3, 10178 Berlin
San Diego’s Stone Brewing are bonafide craft brewing royalty on America’s west coast and a familiar name to most craft beer drinkers worldwide. After searching 130 sites in nine different countries they picked a former gasworks, built in 1901, in the south of Berlin as the site for their European expansion, and threw millions upon millions of euros at it.
The move wasn’t without risk. Said gasworks were way out of central Berlin, located a 15-minute walk from Marienfelde U-Bahn station – itself right at the end of the U6 underground train line. There was also the potential that their target market, Berliners of the younger, trendier type, might find the place a little bit too corporate for their tastes, which tend toward the niche and the underground.
The gamble, if you could call it that, paid off spectacularly. The journey is worth it just to see the actual space itself, a sort of industrial forestscape – complete with grassy mounds and growing trees – that looks like it could only have been conceived by a Scandinavian. The custom, 100-hectolitre brewhouse is displayed behind glass, so you can watch the brewers scurrying around like bees in a stainless steel hive.
The food is excellent, but this is a beer blog so that’s where our focus will stay. There are the classic Stone hop heavyweights – Ruination and Arrogant Bastard – but also beers with a little more finesse and quirkiness. The Tangerine Express IPA, for example, is made using fresh mandarin and pineapple puree. Stone have also paid tribute to the local brewing tradition with their Berliner Weisse – Berlin’s signature sour beer. It’s a little stronger than a classic Berliner Weisse at 4.7% ABV, but captures well the tart, refreshing soul of the style.
Address: Im Marienpark 23, 12107 Berlin
Another of Berlin’s big boys, BRLO has a glowing reputation that belies their tender age. The brewery was founded in 2014, when university pals Katharina and Christian reconnected and discovered a mutual passion for craft beer. They then met and joined forces with Michael, a brewmaster, and, with a little help from their friends at VLB and partner breweries Neuzelle and Landsberg (who let the trio use their equipment to help them get off the ground), created their ‘babies’ – the BRLO Pale Ale and Helles.
After the raucous success of their Berlin Beer Week pop-up in the summer of 2015, BRLO was in need of a permanent home. They found themselves an expansive plot of land in Kreuzberg’s Gleisdreieck and bought 38 shipping containers that they would upcycle into their very own brewery – which opened its doors in December of 2016. Finally, in May 2017, they completed their beer garden, designed to resemble a hop plantation.
They have a core range of seven permanent beers – the Baltic Porter, Pale Ale, Helles, Berliner Weisse, German IPA, Redlight Ale and ‘Naked’ (a non-alcoholic pale ale) – as well as a wide selection of ever rotating seasonal beers and collaborations. For our money their original beers are the best ones. The Pale Ale is a banger – dry-hopped with a smorgasbord of fruity hops (cascade, centennial, citra, simcoe and willamette) and tipping the ABV scales at a weighty 6%. The Helles, meanwhile, is a great option for a session – light and refreshing with subtle fruity notes and a perky aroma.
Address: Schöneberger Str. 16, 10963 Berlin
Nestled in the north of the city in Wedding’s Brüsseler Kiez, Vagabund is a neighbourhood favourite. Americans Tom, Dave and Matt established the brand in 2011 when they started contract brewing, migrating from brewery to brewery, wherever there was space for them, to be able to make their beers. Then, in 2013, they opened up their brewery and adjoining taproom on Antwerpener Straße.
It’s a (very) small-scale affair. Space restrictions in the brewery itself means that their brewing equipment isn’t much more substantial than a big home-kit set up. The fermentation tanks are located beneath a trapdoor and down a rickety, fairy-tale wooden staircase beneath the taproom’s long central table, and there’s empty kegs and sacks of malt piled up all over the place – a testament to both their popularity and their need to expand (as of the last time we spoke to Tom, Vagabund was on the hunt for a second, dedicated brewery space). The bar itself is a simple, mostly wood affair: homey and charming like the affable chaps who run the operation.
They have six taps. The Haus Helles is always on – a lager-esque beer that they top-ferment with Belgian yeast to add more depth and flavour. Think more light golden ale as opposed to traditional south German Lagerbier. The rest of the five taps feature a rotating parade of one-off and regularly brewed beers that tend toward the hop-driven. Vagabund’s signature Pale Ale is characteristically citrusy with a strong malty backbone and ‘get-off-my-lawn attitude’ (their words not ours). Other beers to look out for are the Social Smoker (inspired by the Rauchbiers of Bamberg but a little less intense with regards to smokiness) and the Tripel Double IPA – a double IPA heavily dry-hopped with Mosaic and fermented using a special Belgian yeast to add some homely spice to the fruity, herbaceous flavours from the hops.
Address: Antwerpener Str. 3, 13353 Berlin
Though it’s been open for well over a decade now, Eschenbräu remains a genuine hidden gem and, along with Vagabund and boutique bottleshop Hopfen und Malz, forms the golden triangle of craft beer in Wedding. It’s tricky to find (being happily hidden away off Triftstraße in the Hinterhof of a set of student accommodation connected to the nearby University of Applied Sciences) and this gives it a clandestine, local feel – further enhanced by the gloomy stairway leading down to it, the primarily German crowd, and the brass name plaques screwed into the bar saving stools for the older regulars.
The story behind the brewery itself is a typical one. Martin Eschenbrenner was working for big companies, but found the corporate confines of large scale brewing stifling, and endeavoured to set up a space where he could brew the way he wanted.
Always on the menu are the holy trinity of German beer – Pils, Dunkel, and Hefeweizen – as well as the Panke Gold (named after the small tributary of the river Spree that runs through Wedding) and, product of some Game of Thrones punnery, the Roter Wedding (available from October to March). Supplementing these five are 20 different seasonal beers appearing throughout the year. If you’re game for something harder, the Eschenbräu also produces its own liqueur, brandy and whiskey. Regarding the beers, for us the standout is the Panke Gold. Almost a lager/pale ale cross that’s dry-hopped with Citra, it’s golden in colour and tastes fresh, crisp and fruity with a grounding maltiness.
Address: Triftstraße 67, 13353 Berlin
The Meierei Potsdam
Technically not a Berlin brewery, as it’s in Potsdam, but well worth dedicating a few words to, the Meierei has it all: the backstory, the location, and, most importantly, the beer.
Formerly a dairy (hence the name) supplying the Hohenzollern palaces of the Neuer Garten with fresh produce, the Meierei was converted into a restaurant in 1928 and became a favourite of Potsdam day-trippers. Damaged by fire as the Soviets swept toward Berlin at the end of the Second World War, the building was in ruins when the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. It should have been destroyed, as it stood in the path of the border, but was spared thanks to the presence of a still functioning pumping station that the East Germans thought potentially useful. Post Mauerfall the building was renovated and restored and reopened as a microbrewery and restaurant in 2003.
The location is absurdly picturesque – a few minutes walk from the Cecilienhof palace (where Churchill, Truman and Stalin met in July/August 1945 to determine the post war fate of Germany) and sitting directly on the Jungfernsee with views over into the Berlin district of Wannsee. The beer garden overlooking the water is stunning.
Beers-wise it’s very much erring on the traditional side of German and Berlin brewing. The pilsner is a light with a fruitiness unusual for the style – but it works well, especially in the sun on that terrace. Their Maibock (a strong, light-coloured lager with more hop presence, usually available as a seasonal beer in the spring/summer months) is a sledgehammer of a summer tipple, weighing in at well over 7% ABV but easy on the tastebuds. And look no further for true, traditional Berliner Weisse, served with or without raspberry or woodruff syrup.
Address: Im Neuen Garten 10, 14469 Potsdam