Let’s start by saying that German beer is very good. There’s nothing like a cold Hefeweizen on a hot day. I’d even say that weisse beers are my favorite type of beers followed by ales and porters. And yet, German beer leaves many things to be desired.
GERMAN BEER TASTES THE SAME
If variety is the spice of life, then German beers are dead. All of the big German breweries like Paulaner, Weihenstephaner, and Erdinger make solidly good Hefeweizens, Dunkels, and Kristalls, but in a blind taste test I really doubt I’d be able to tell the breweries apart. This is probably due to the German Beer Purity Law, which limits German beer ingredients t0 barley, hops, and water.
To illustrate how boring this is, I recently learned the Norwegian term Tøffehelt which refers to a man “who’s kind, harmless, reliable […] He doesn’t provoke. He agrees with you. In short: He’s dull.” German beer is the liquid personification of a Tøffehelt. Beer should be strong, complex, surprising, with lots of interesting tastes. I say, down with Bavarian purity laws!
On the plus side, if you’re looking for a German beer with an edge, try a Schneider Weisse. Tap #5 is a partnership with Brooklyn Brewery and it’s amazing.
CRAFT BEER IN BERLIN IS A BABY
Thankfully, craft beer in Berlin is not completely missing in action. Much like craft beer in Madrid, Berlin has a growing craft beer scene with specialty drink shops, bars, cafes, and even microbreweries proudly promoting that they carry craft beers. Still, the craft beer scene in Berlin is nowhere near the levels of the craft beer scenes in U.S. cities like Boston, New York, or Portland. And if you’re thinking about picking up a craft beer at the supermarket or a spati corner shop? Forget about it.
IT’S NOT COMPLEX
German beer is smooth, drinkable, and not too complex. It’s simple tasting beer with nothing in it that’s going to make you really concentrate on what flavors you’re tasting the way you would with craft beers. Since Berlin is a bold, complicated, and unique city, its beer options should be too.
THE BERLINER WEISSE
There are bars and cafes that will add green or red syrup to your beer, effectively making it taste like soda. To me, a green Berliner Weisse tastes like a liquified Jolly Rancher. In theory, this is a good thing. In reality, no. If you’re a teenager who has just started drinking, I’m sure you’ll love having syrup in your beer. And if you’re a tourist in Berlin it’s worth a try…once. Otherwise, steer clear.
On the plus side, some Berlin bars serve a Bananenweizen (.5L Hefeweizen + a splash of Banana juice), a delicious German beertail.
Admittedly, pilseners were never my favorite, but for some reason Berlin is home to some extraordinarily bad ones. Berliner Pilsener being the absolute worst. When I first moved to Berlin, I tried one and I could only get through a few sips of it before a friend mercifully took it off my hands and finished it. Berliner Pilsener is not good. And not in a PBR, “it tastes like pee, but in a way you can get used to” sort of way, but just plain not good.
On the plus side, Czech pilsners like Pilsner Urquell, and the German pilsener, Quartiermeister, are drinkable, good and available at many places.
DIVERSE BEERS ARE RARE
Generally, any quality grocery store or corner store in America is going to be stocked with beers from a variety of states and countries. Not so in Berlin. Berlin stores are stocked with big name German beer and sometimes a Czech or Russian beer, but that’s as diverse as it’s getting. Want a beer from Iceland or America or even beer mecca Belgium? You’re probably going to have to go to a specialty shop for it.