Tuesday, January 30, 2018

It's Daytime in Berlin. Where to Get a Decent Beer?

Let's not make a big thing of this, but Berlin is not really a proper beer city. It's a cocktail city. An all-night, fancy-drinks, then-go-out-clubbing cocktail city.

Yet... this is still the capital of Germany, which happens to be one of the all-time great brewing and beer-drinking countries. So it's a paradox. Meanwhile the city is big enough and lively and versatile enough -- as I've written elsewhere, not easily pigeonholed -- to offer pretty much whatever you want, if you know where (and when) to find it.

Here is something relatively hard to find in Berlin: Good beer spots that are open in the daytime. By daytime, I mean before 4 or 5 p..m. This ain't Bavaria or Belgium, where it's acceptable to drink a beer with lunch or as part of a leisurely afternoon (or even morning sometimes). For the most part, it's a night-drinking city. Yes it's still Germany, so beer is a staple food. But if we judge these things by opening hours, public day-drinking in Berlin is not all that common. It may be because people are sleeping off hangovers, or else they are, you know, at jobs.

(Prussian virtues? Maybe. Incidentally Max Weber, the political theorist who coined "Protestant ethic," was Prussian. It is sensible to suggest that people should not be drinking in the daytime, because they should be working. This sensibility is unhelpful to tourists.)

In my view, day-drinking is not supposed to be a regular thing. If it were, it would be much less enjoyable. I like it a bit naughty, rather than pedestrian. So, there are times when it's fun and/or useful to find a place where you can do it.

For example: If you are writing a magazine article and need to find a certain type of beer... but you also need to be home to meet the kids' school bus in the afternoon. Hypothetically, of course.

Better example: You're a tourist in central Berlin, on a hard-earned vacation, and can't think of any reason why you shouldn't put on a good beer-buzz during daylight hours.

Just to back up my point, here are the opening times of many of the top beer spots in Berlin these days: Birra, 6 p.m.; Foersters, 4 p.m.; Herman, 6 p.m.; Hopfenreich, 4 p.m.; Monterey Bar, 5 p.m.; Muted Horn, 5 p.m. (3 p.m. weekends).

Right, so I like to be useful. With no further ado, here is an easy crawl -- the North Mitte Mile, let's say -- that might be handy after the museum, or after sleeping in, or while hunting street food, or whatever else it is you like to do while on holiday.

Kaschk: At the Rose-Luxembourg-Platz U-Bahn, less than 10 minutes walk north of Alexanderplatz. This one opens first (8 a.m., or 10 a.m. weekends) so we can start here. Excellent coffee, to say nothing of 10 changing taps and an interesting bottle selection. The beers lean Nordic; it's typical to find To Øl (whoops sorry, that's Belgian) here, besides several locals. They usually have Schönramer Pils, a personal favorite of mine. Daytime also happens to be the easiest, quietest time to use the shuffleboard tables downstairs (when one costs €9/hour instead of double that).

Brewdog: Opens at noon, and serves good from-scratch pizzas. Those who want to eschew it as the Starbucks of craft beer, go on, you won't hurt my feelings. Personally, I go to Starbucks because Starbucks is fucking useful. Same deal here. Nice upholstered booths, pinball, board games, wifi, endless pitchers of water, and 30 taps that balance company beers with interesting guests -- including, it must be said, real German lager most of the time (right now: Gänstaller Rauch Royal, a beautiful smoked doppelbock).

Castle: Previously in Gesundbrunnen, this pub is now just down Invalidenstrasse from Brewdog, and bang across the street from the Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station. Like Kaschk, it opens at 8 a.m. (10 a.m. weekends) and doubles as a coffee house -- another potential early starting point. It's also very near the excellent Berlin Wall Museum and Visitors Center. The 15 taps specialize in unusual and local independents; the downside is the price (rent in that spot must be high). I don't stay for long, but it's so convenient I usually pop in for one if in the neighborhood. I can't remember what the house Pils is, but it's decent and costs maybe €3.80 for a half-liter. Compare that to between €6 and €7 for smaller 40 cl measures of the variety ales. Consolation: They have those rotating snack dispensers for various nuts and Pringles. Those are cheap, anyway.

Beereau: Opens at 2 p.m. six days a week, basically at Oranienburger Tor, just off Friedrichsstrasse. Formerly known as Berlin Beer Academy, and still hosting the occasional tutored tasting, the shop/café here has taken on an identity (and name) of its own. Its selection of 300-odd beers are mostly on display in fridges next to the small bar, where there are also a few more on tap (including, recently, gorgeous Keesmann Herren Pils out of Bamberg for €2.50 per half-liter). The emphasis is on local Berlin breweries -- including every Berliner weisse they can get their hands on -- with choice bits of Franconia and international independents. Something for everyone here.

A few others to mention: Along the walk from Kaschk to Brewdog (or vice versa), Mikkeller Bar Berlin opens at 3 p.m. Nearer to Alexanderplatz, Marcus Bräu (noon weekdays; 2 p.m. Sat; 4 p.m. Sun) is an old-fashioned, underrated, cozy little brewpub doing it all themselves, while Lemke am Alex (noon) is impressively large for a brewpub, with more choices, but tourist-pricey. Meanwhile nearby Aufsturz (noon) is an underrated arty bar that does some alt-Berliner cooking and about 100 bottled beers that include classics like Schlenkerla, St. Bernardus and Achouffe.

The Bavarian spots: I have no problem recommending these to tourists who only rarely get to Germany and aren't able to visit Munich -- or to anyone, really. Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt (10 a.m.) offers the real experience, plus spigoted barrels of Edelstoff lager poured starting at 6 p.m. daily; Hofbräuhaus Berlin (10 a.m.) is a big proper beer hall with huge Sunday brunch buffet (kids eat free) and live oompah; while Weihenstephaner Berlin (11 a.m.) is an elegantly wooded, casual restaurant on Hackescher Markt featuring the usual pitch-perfect Hefeweissbier and Helles, among others. And even as I write about them I think, "Oh yeah, I should go there more often."

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Session: Jay's Three Questions. My Answers. That's It.

Been a while since I've done the Session. Years, probably. So ask me if I feel bad about responding three days late.

This month Jay asks three questions and says not to think about them too long. Here goes.

1. What one word, or phrase, do you think should be used to describe beer that you’d like to drink?


In the beers I try I'm not looking for one-night stands. I'm looking for future wives. I'm looking for the ones you invite into your house because you might want to live with them, to grow more familiar with them; they walk in on you in the bathroom and you don't even mind. Few beers are so easy to get along with. Few offer the sort of depth that allows a lifetime of getting acquainted.

2. What two breweries do you think are very underrated?

Schönramer and Oud Beersel.

Both are highly regarded and oft-awarded, so maybe "underrated" isn't the best word here. But Jay sets a high mark when he suggests that "everything they brew should be spot on."

If there is a dud anywhere in the Schönramer lineup, I've never had it. For my money the Pils and Hell are two of the best in Germany -- very repeatable, very comforting beers.

Meanwhile I think lambic geeks tend to look past the Oud Beersel blendery, maybe because people still associate them with the larger Boon brewery. They lavish much hype upon Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen and increasingly Tilquin -- all with good reason -- but those prices have risen and bottles are harder to find. Meanwhile Oud Beersel is relatively accessible, quality is very high, prices are reasonable, and the character of the beers has grown in confidence over the years. In particular I'd single out the fruit lambics, especially the Oude Kriek, as among the juiciest and most fun beers to drink in Belgium.

3. Name three kinds of beer you’d like to see more of.

1. Czech-style pale lager, properly decocted, hopped and poured.
2. Bitter. Plain old beautiful bitter.
3. Baltic porter.

Why these three? See No. 1.