Thursday, September 28, 2017

Is Berlin Over-saturated with Craft Beer? Only in Parts.

My educated guess is that Berlin can handle plenty more variety-beer bars... but not if they all keep opening in the same few neighborhoods. Maybe you can spot some of these symptoms in parts of your own cities.

Another cool beer bar seems to open every other week. Is this new bar going to attract new people? Or is it hoping to share the same drinkers with all the other bars?

Faux-Coney-Island-frito-pie-hipster bar the Pier in Mitte shut not long ago (after Brewdog opened nearby, notably), but I can't think of too many others that have closed. More will close, no doubt, but many more will arrive. So my pessimism just is a hunch, based on some anecdotal observations:

1. You go to these new bars and see the same people you saw at the less-new ones. Are they still going to all the other ones?

2. Often they're not very crowded.

3. Many bars try to saturate the calendar with special events, which smells of desperation. Would people not want to go to them otherwise? Why not?

4. There are finite limits to the number of people who will spend a bit extra on variety beer, how much beer they can drink, and the number of places they can visit in an evening or a week.

5. Most of these bars are concentrated in the same few neighborhoods, all roughly on the eastern side of the Berlin map.

It's that last point that sticks out to me most, because I am a selfish hedonist and I live on the western side of the map. Thing is, so do lots of other people -- people with money who like to drink beer.

Like us. Most of the time we are content with our well-stocked fridge and proximity to Foersters, which for my money and particular taste is the best pub in town. But when we're feeling daffy we hire a kid-sitter and ride an hour-plus on the train each way -- more than two hours of the evening counted already, money in the sitter's pocket -- to get over to Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain or Prenzi.

Hey, nothing like a romantic pub crawl.

That's what we did weekend before last: Munched on salty-lime peanuts and tasted Mexican-inspired house brews at Tentacion Craft Beer/Mezcalothek -- lovely beers, balanced, well-made, and adequately smacking of the agave (Mala Vida) and corn (Gualicho) that went into them; stopped into cozy, antlered Friedrichs Wirtschaft for a Rittmayer Kellerbier and promised to come back sometime for the food; popped by the Getränkefeinkost shop to say hello and walk round the block with hoppy cold ones (me a Zinnebir, her a Lemke Spree Coast IPA); tried the new bar across the street called Protokoll with 24 taps -- we didn't even know it existed -- where she did a sour-sweet pairing thing with BRLO beers while I enjoyed a Weiherer Keller-Pils; had quickies at Hops & Barley, reliably some of the best beer in Berlin; looked in on Home, rather snug with the upholstery but chasing us away with iffy avant-garde live music; ate some late-night Sudanese, which is a thing, and is characterized chiefly by lakes of peanut sauce, and I am cool with that; and finally to the last spot of the evening, easily my favorite, called Victoria Stadler.

Sometime maybe I'll go back and scribble notes to craft a wordier post about this one bar, but here is the gist: it's a dark, affordable Eckneipe (locals' corner pub) that only pours Schönramer beers -- the Pils being a special favorite of mine. Now, you may or may not know that Schönram is waaayyyy down in southern Bavaria, near Berchtesgaden and the Austrian border. Its beers show up in Berlin but to find a pub totally devoted to Schönramer here is a strange and wonderful thing to me. (My impression is that Schönramer have something like a cult following soon to get less cult-ish; they just picked up three golds and a bronze at the rather competitive European Beer Star awards.)

Sadly, it's an hour and 15 minutes for me to get to Victoria Stadler by train. And it's there among a thousand other bars. The saturation is good for pub crawling, obviously. But that's not how most people do pubs, most of the time.

About the western Berlin beer spots: BRLO, Foersters and Vagabund, among others, appear to be doing quite well. Lots of people in those places, and not the same faces you see in the places out east. Upmarket craft-beer-and-sausage restaurant Meisterstück just opened a second restaurant on Ku'damm. That one is well backed, and I reckon they've done their market-research homework.

Berlin is a sprawling city of neighborhoods, you see, and the western ones are far from saturated. There's my counsel, should you be looking to open a Berlin bar specializing in fancy variety beer.

1 comment:

  1. I've noticed something similar in Prague in the last year or two. A bunch of very much cut-and-paste Craft Beer bars, quite overpriced by local standards, at least the ones I've seen. They all seem to have pretty much the same brands and similar decoration and, I swear to you, I can't be arsed with a single one of them. They seem to be doing alright by the most part, but I wonder for how long.