Berlin's Best Craft Breweries
The past five years or so have seen the craft beer scene in the German capital explode. The market is ripe for it.
Berlin has a young and trendy population, and craft beer is in vogue worldwide. There are a lot of expats here (especially from the US) who are thirsty for the exciting tastes of home, and younger Germans are keen to step out of the lengthy shadow of their forebears, to push beyond the confines of the Reinheitsgebot – the legendary, but restrictive, ‘Beer Purity Decree’ stating that beer can only be made using water, hops, malts and yeast.
Innovation has invigorated Berlin’s beer scene. Creativity and experimentation are flying in the face of a deep-rooted conservatism in German brewing. Craft beer is now king.
But where best to sup on these brews? Here’s our picks for the best craft breweries in the city.
Founded in 2014, BRLO is one of Berlin’s big boys, though didn’t have a permanent home until the grand opening of their brewery and restaurant at Gleisdreieck in December 2016 – built out of 38 upcycled shipping containers. The following summer saw the grand opening of their vast beer garden, designed to resemble a hop plantation. To look at it’s very much a trendy, post-industrial vibe. The food is damn tasty – full menu indoors, grill items, salad and ice-cream in the garden. They have a core range of seven permanent beers – Baltic Porter, Pale Ale, Helles, Berliner Weisse, German IPA, Redlight Ale and ‘Naked’ (a non-alcoholic pale ale) – which are supplemented with collaborations and seasonal brews. Their Pale Ale is a beauty – bright with citrus and floral notes – and the Helles – light and perky – is a great afternoon sessioner.
Tucked away on a sleepy little industrial estate in Reinickendorf, Motel has nailed the clandestine, clubhouse kind of feel with their stripped down, open-plan brew space. They make American-style craft beer – the Best Falls Session Pale Ale is a doozy – nitro coffee, and cocktails in ‘100% recyclable super swanky mini-kegs’ – ‘cans’ to you and me. Their opening hours are sporadic – daily in the summer months, and only for events when the cooler weather sets in – so keep an eye on their website and Facebook if you’re going to head down. We’d recommend giving them a visit on a Sunday for one of their events – informal beer garden affairs where they collaborate with some of Berlin’s best eateries.
A neighbourhood favourite in the district of Wedding, Vagabund is a taproom and Hausbrauerei run by three friendly American gents – Tom, Dave and Matt. Their brew space is tiny (take a peek through the window and see) but the beer they make is on point. The flagship American Pale Ale is always a winning choice – characteristically citrusy with a strong malty backbone – and the Tripel IPA – a heavily dry-hopped double IPA fermented with Belgian yeast – is rich, spicy, and citrusy all at once. Like the affable chaps who run the operation the bar is homey and charming – there’s artfully knackered wood furniture, kegs piled up all over the place, and the constant, happy burble of conversation.
With their beer already available in a broad array of trendy restos, bars, and pop-up street food markets, Berliner Berg is on the up and up. So much so that they’re building themselves a brand-new, industrial-scale brew space as you read this. In terms of their brewing philosophy, they’re funking up traditional German styles with a contemporary sensibility. The Bantam Pils, for example, sees the north German classic given a cutting edge with modern German hops, and their homage to the Bavarian Helles is crisp and refreshing with a playful fruitiness. Check out their dimly-lit, shabby-come-cosy bar space, the Bergschloss, to see what they’re all about.
Hops and Barley
Making their home in a former butcher’s shop, the Hops and Barley is a local legend of a brewpub that has nailed the friendly, neighbourhood boozer vibe. It’s a busy joint, with thirsty crowds spilling out onto the sidewalk from the tiled barroom pretty much every night of the week. Rightfully so, too. The beer is tip top, plumped firmly in the old school German camp in terms of style – they make a Pils, a Dunkel (dark beer), and a Hefeweizen in house. They also make craft cider – a rarity in Berlin. It’s a total winner in summer – lightly carbonated, sweet-but-not-sickly and tangy. They’ll happily mix the beer and cider together too, for the fanciest, craft-beer-iest snakebite you ever did drink.
Forming Wedding’s ‘Golden Triangle’ of craft beer, along with Vagabund and bottle shop Hopfen und Malz, the Eschenbräu, tucked away in a courtyard behind student accommodation connected to the nearby University of Applied Sciences, is well-worthy of ‘hidden gem’ status. Erring very much on the side of German in terms of their attitude to service (brusque at best, unabashedly rude the rest of the time) and brewing, the permanent menu is the holy trinity of German beers – Pilsner, Dunkel, and Hefeweizen (all excellent). Supplementing these staples is a rotating roster of some 20 seasonal brews available throughout the year. Our favourite is the Panke Gold, a lager/pale ale cross that’s dry-hopped with Citra – fresh, crisp and fruity.
Hardly a ‘hidden gem’, Brauhaus Lemke has three locations across the city, all of them enormous, and tourist traffic in each is heavy. It’s impossible to leave them out of the conversation of best craft breweries in Berlin, though. They’re an OG of the scene – their flagship brewery at Hackescher Markt (our favourite) opened in 1999 – and the beers they brew are consistently excellent. Straddling the crossroads between traditional German brewing and international craft styles, Lemke brews both teutonic classics – their pilsner, the top seller, is one of the best in the city – and new age favourites – their IPA won a gold medal at the New York International Beer Competition in 2016. Their Hopfenweisse is well worth a try: a hybrid that balances the rich banana-ey sweetness of a Hefeweizen with the crisp, clean finish of a dry-hopped pale ale.
The final entry on our list is also the smallest. Occupying a tiny little nook in a back corner of street food paradise Markthalle Neun, Heidenpeters quietly plies a trade of excellence. Their rickety bar in front of the brew space out back is made of broken down pallets and has six taps for their permanent beer selection – Pils, IPA, Session IPA, APA, the Thirsty Lady (a light blonde ale with citrus notes on the finish), and the Easy Gose (a riff on the Saxon sour beer – summery, with notes of mango and lavender). There’s a rotating selection of bottled offerings as well. And if you don’t have time to stick around, they can bag up a selection for you to takeaway.