Friday, July 20, 2018

A Floating Fest on the Spree, and Its Variety Beers.

Berlin Beer Week launches this evening at 7 p.m. local time. That's when a passenger boat carrying about 330 people pushes off into the Spree for a three-hour floating beer festival.

The sold-out Craft Beer Cruise is the first event among more than 70 -- see the full list here -- planned for the Week's fourth year. It concludes July 28 with a big bash at Stone Berlin.

Cruise tickets sell out months in advance, snapped up by those in the know almost as soon as they are released.* Some of these folks work on the local beer scene in one way or another; many more are the fellow geeks and enthusiasts one tends to see at bars around town -- familiar faces. (Though I like to think there must be a few tourists with uncanny foresight.)

Berlin's beer scene is insular but friendly -- but I reckon most city's beer scenes are the same in that respect. That's what makes them "scenes" after all: like-minded folks gravitating toward something they enjoy. So if the scene is clubby, it's certainly not unwelcoming. That's a biased take from someone who often writes about these folks and their beers and bars.

The cruise features 44 beers from 44 different brewers (not counting several collaborations), plus the official Berlin Beer Week beer -- a "double dry-hopped India pale lager" called Intense Pulse Lupulin, brewed by Heindenpeters and Hops & Barley. Overall the list leans local with a good smattering of others from Germany and abroad. So each participating brewer (or firm) chooses one beer to send -- a presumably special beer, for a special event.

It may be instructive to break down the numbers, for a skewed snapshot of a Berlin-based variety-beer hootenanny.

Of those 44 beers, based on their own descriptions:

  • Sixteen are some form of "IPA," plus one IPL. How do those IPA's break down? Three are "sour." Three are "New England," plus one "Mango Milkshake." Three are "double" or "triple." Three are "session." So there is variety, sort of.
  • Fourteen appear to have been brewed with fruit, plus one cider. (Reinheitsgebot, schmeinheitsgebot.) Other ingredients include hemp, chamomile, Earl Grey tea, and black salt.
  • Ten use the words "sour" or "wild."
  • Four are billed as "DDH" or double dry-hopped, including the official BBW beer. Double dry-hopping is not new and it's weird that people make a thing of it now, but hey, people like adjectives.
  • Speaking of the BBW beer, the India pale lager... that's the only lager on the entire list.
  • There are four Berliner(-style) weisse beers, though only one of those (Berliner Berg's new cherried Kirsch Weisse) is actually brewed in Berlin.
  • There are three Goses, two of them fruited. One is Dutch, another Hungarian, and the third is Berlin-brewed in collaboration with a Russian brewery. No doubt the brewers, over their kettles, bowed in the direction of Leipzig.
Quick take: The selection is postmodern, not having much to do with Berlin or Germany. Based on the styles we could imagine it transposed with nearly any other "craft" beer festival, anywhere in the world. Also, not many sound especially drinkable. Interesting and taste-able, sure. Anyway, what would happen if one of them turns out to be a great quaffer? Would my 15 cl tasting glass magically turn into a half-liter? Nah. It ain't that kind of party.

Other Berlin Beer Week events: There are more than 70 of them. These sorts of schedules can induce FOMO among unseasoned tenderfoots. You can't do it all. If I had to pick three, I'd do these:
  1. Berliner Weiße Gipfel, at Brauhaus Lemke, tomorrow (July 21) from 14:00-21:00. A celebration of Berliner weisse, and a quasi-annual event that has helped spur a local revival of interest. (But are the locals actually drinking the stuff? That's a different story.) The €20 admission includes wonderfully geeky talks and as much low-pH beer as your tummy can handle.
  2. Hof ten Dormaal meet the brewer, at Bierlinie, July 26 from 16.00-20.00. I always enjoy talking to the Janssens. They are free with their opinions and genuinely enjoy what they're doing. Also I could drink their undersung Saison pretty much all day.
  3. Cantillon tap takeover, at the Muted Horn, July 27 from 15.00. Self-explanatory. You know, on second thought, don't go to this. I'm sure it won't be any fun. Everybody stay away.

* Disclosure: I have a press ticket for the cruise, as I write for a couple of local magazines (WHERE Berlin and Bier, Bars & Brauer) and previously wrote about Berlin Beer Week for DRAFT.

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