She was quite relaxed, she didn’t wear much make-up and she pleaded with us to hang around with her before the opening. A couple of minutes over a cigarette sounded amazing. A perfect chance to bring up the story of the academy and the unsurpassed bitterness that hops creates.
Berlin beer academy
The first steps are crystal clear. You can’t do anything by yourself because craft beer represents a cohesion of science and art. She said: “It’s sort of like cooking. The flavors, aromas and colors are simply endless.” Once you have joined the academy, it is important that you find a master brewer. Only one day in the week during the studies is allotted to books. You spend the rest of the days in your mentor’s microbrewery.
“Theoretical knowledge won’t do you much good if you haven’t savored the ingredients i.e. what intensifies them and what neutralizes them, what can in no way be combined with one another and what you can’t do without”, said Karin.
After 3 years of taking exams and the famous practice you get the right to make typical beer styles, as well as those which deviate from the typical. Karin started her training at Hops&Barley. She was so good that she was employed before she finished her studies. Today, she is the main brewer of this place which has a curious story behind it. Hops&Barley had been involved in the butcher business for 70 years.
Pigs are no longer slaughtered in the basement of one of the best breweries in Berlin. This is now the place where 7 types of beer are brewed. A couple of hooks, white tiles and a bunch of black and white photos from the previous century that testify to the times of divided Berlin are all that remains from the butcher’s store.
A few words about the magic beverage
She didn’t even put out her cigarette and we were already talking about the ingredients. 17 types of malt, 5 varieties of hops, 2 types of yeast and regular tap water, which in Berlin is ideal for brewing because it is not treated with chemicals.
Barley and wheat malt
Malt is sweet in itself. Something like cereals. It is obtained by soaking the grains in water. “The process stops when the grains start to swell up and when enzymes are released. The grains are then dried or roasted, depending on the type of malt. The lighter, the sweeter. The darker, the bitter”, explained Karin while we were nibbling barley.
Beer purity law, which entails only the use of the aforementioned ingredients, has dominated the German brewery scene for centuries. So, if you want to call your beverage a “beer” you have to use barley or wheat malt, although in many parts of the world rye malt is also used instead.
While the Belgians love fruity and the Americans overly sweet flavors, the Germans proudly and diligently brew according to the rules which were established more than 500 years ago (with slight changes up until 1987). It is therefore not surprising that 90 percent of craft beer is produced according to Reinheitsgebot (the original name of this law).
There are also strange concoctions and you can try them at almost every place. You can find Ginger Ale, Christmas Ale (Mexican coffee and cinnamon), Choco Stout and many other types of beer in the pubs in Berlin. Hops&Barley, also started experimenting in this way. These varieties are marked as Specials and Snakebite is the best seller. It is a combination of beer, cider and currant syrup.
Can’t get enough of hops
Hops is a story in itself. It is obtained in the form of pellets because the storage of the plant is very complicated. The beer that was in your hand on one of these days gets that peculiar bitterness because of this plant, i.e. the oils and alpha acids that can be found in hops. Believe it or not, there are alleyways in Friedrichshain district that are overgrown with this plant, which gives the place a special character, especially if there’s a brewery inside.
Hops, which is nowadays aromatized in more than a hundred ways, is the main culprit for the wide variety of craft beer in offer. High concentration of this plant opens new doors and in the so-called food pairing, beer is becoming more and more competitive with wine and other alcoholic beverages.
There are many reasons which contribute to the unique bitterness of beer. One of them is the fact that hops belongs to the Cannabis family (Cannabaceae). “This is exactly why beer has that sleep-inducing effect after you have drunk a couple of them, especially those that are more bitter. Just so you know, you can’t smoke it because hops really doesn’t burn that well”, Kerin warned us while we were still nibbling barley… you could say that now we were seriously hooked on it.
Brewing and storage
“I brew in the morning because I find it most convenient. There’s no one around so I can go about my business without anyone disturbing me. The tanks are noisy and smells can be felt all around. Personally, I love the smells, but they’re not to everyone’s taste. Brewing lasts from 6 to 9 hours, depending on the type of beer.”
It didn’t take us long to get to the brewing quarters because we were still at the same place, just behind the other side of the glass. This is how microbreweries and nanobreweries work. Small quantities of beer, about several hundred liters, are made in one of the rooms behind the bar. In some breweries, you can watch the whole process while sitting at a bar and enjoying your drink.
A whole 5 weeks must elapse from the moment Karin pours water into the tank to the moment beer drinkers raise their first glasses. One is required for fermentation, while the other four are required for conditioning and storage.
When storage is concerned, it is impossible not to touch on the topic of flat beers, especially in Serbia. Somehow the question „Do you have draft beer?“ is always followed by a thought whether you’re really getting a glass of fresh beer or some wish-wash. Karin found this baffling, because beer stored in barrels or kegs should not go flat. „It’s possible that the cap and gasket are not properly maintained or that the beer is not stored in a cold place at the ideal temperature of 3 degrees Celsius. If that’s the case, then the beer breathes inside the keg and becomes stale.“ What do you think? Is draft beer in your favourite bar or pub stored adequately?
Berlin scene and what you should try
Craft beer originated in America. The British followed soon afterwards and then the Belgians. Germany is trying to keep pace with the rest of the world, but truth be told, things aren’t running smoothly. Bureaucracy is the main setback, which is why there are more and more opponents to the Beer purity law. As far as knowledge and creativity are concerned, they’re not lagging behind at all. This is especially the case in Berlin where there are more than 25 craft breweries.
The freshest beer from the tiniest corner
The best testament to the fact that it’s all about people and not technology is a place the size of a newsstand, located on the outskirts of Berlin. Kopenick nanobrewery is the smallest brewery in the whole of Germany. What most guests see as a small exhibition space is actually a corner with the size of 2.2 square meters where brewing takes place from the moment the brewery closes till early in the morning.
These fellows like to experiment with aromas, so here you can try Kirsch-Chilli – beer with African peppers and cherries or Babylonisches – made according to a several-thousand-year-old recipe. Just a chance to hear about how Babylonian documents were translated where Kirsch beer was first mentioned in history.
Considering that brewing takes place every night and that small quantities are involved, after the process of fermentation and maturation has finished, the beer is drunk within 24 hours. You can’t get more fresh than that!
It may sound like a novelty, but smoked beer which originated in Franconia, has existed for centuries. The smoky flavor that you can distinctly feel in the first gulps derives from the malt which is dried over a fire made from beech wood logs before brewing. While there are many who produce this beer, Eschenbrau is the only place that does it perfectly, according to our interlocutors in Berlin. Their Rauchbier is made from Scottish malt smoked over peat.
Yet another concoction of this kind which is worthy of our attention is made by Vagabund. According to beer drinkers, their Social Smoker has a bacon flavor. We also felt the flavor of smoked cheese which some describe as the aroma of log fire, pork and prosciutto. Obviously, there are no two identical descriptions of the flavor of smoked beer. That’s exactly what makes it so special.
At the very beginning of the trade with India, Britain sent beer, of course. Since Pale Ale used to go stale during the long transport, the first idea that the brewers came up with was to use hops as a natural preservative. They literally filled the beer barrels with hops and a few weeks later the beer would arrive in India unspoiled, but with a different and much better taste. That is how, by a strange set of circumstances, IPA (Indian Pale Ale) came into existence.
IPA is nowadays the leader in the craft beer business. IPA and its American equivalent APA (American Pale Ale), which differ only in the variety of hops, are the basis for making some of the totally wacky flavors that push the envelope.
An unofficial competition in the strongest IPA beer is currently taking place in Berlin. These concoctions come under the label Imperial and contain even larger quantities of hops. The largest collection of these beers created by Johannes, a visual artist, can be found in Heiden Peters brewery. Which is better – Easy Citra, Black IPA, Mosaic or perhaps Mangopa? You’ll have to figure it out for yourself in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg, where a swarm of beer drinkers are served every day in the Neun market hall.
In Karin’s opinion, Lemke, which is perhaps the best known craft brewery in Berlin, makes excellent IPA varieties. Here, Imperial IPA is put into casks in which Irish whiskey used to be stored. The beer acquires the aroma, smell and flavor of the whiskey, becomes almost black in color and after 6 months of conditioning have elapsed, it is served to beer drinkers with a dizzy-making 11% ABV. When it comes to strongest beers, BRLO and Stone breweries are also mentioned, but because of a large number of awards, Imperial Stout made by Lemke brewery is still the booze that everyone is talking about.
It’s not that there aren’t any. Hops&Barley makes them perfectly, as well as the above-mentioned Heiden Peters. However, wheat beer with a distinctive banana flavor, which comes from the yeast used during fermentation, can be found in the south of Germany, i.e. in Bavaria. The sharp and bitter flavor is definitely characteristic of Berlin.
If you simply can’t do without wheat beer or you merely want to try something top-notch in this category, then look for Weihenstephaner. This beer, which comes from the outskirts of Munich, has been dubbed one of the best wheat beers in the world for the previous couple of years.
Our interlocutors also mentioned the most popular commercial beer brands in Berlin. Tastes differ, of course, but most people choose Flensburger or Berliner Pilsner. They also expressed a wish for us to bring them Balkan beers for testing. There you have it – a chance for a new story. Which is better? Zaječarsko or Nektar? Nikšićko or Karlovačko?
The future of beer
12% alc/vol beer, from a whiskey cask, with a whiff of coffee and cinnamon. While you’re drinking beer in Berlin, you’ll certainly ask yourself “What the fuck is this?” from time to time. Who pushed the envelope too far – the beer brewers or the beer drinkers who simply want to try everything but the kitchen sink? Even after 5 days of thorough testing, we still don’t know the answer to this question. But we do know the answer to the question whether you get hungover from craft beer in the same way as from commercial brands. However, we still haven’t tried 27 commercial beer brands in such a short space of time.
What’s the future of beer? The answer lies at the very beginning of this story: “It’s sort of like cooking. The flavors, aromas and colors are simply endless!”
Story written in cooperation with German tourist board and Hops&Barley microbrewery.