On the 500th anniversary of Germany’s famous Reinheitsgebot, we were given the chance to ‘un-celebrate’ the archaic and restrictive law with some delicious, rule-breaking beer, AND to see Stone Brewing’s new Berlin digs——Who could pass up such a tantalising offer?
Buzz about the American brewery’s invasion into the German market has gradually grown louder and louder over the past few months, as Greg Koch—known to some as ‘Beer Jesus’—repeatedly trumpeted the virtues of cans to a glass bottle-loving public, and poo-pooed all over their antiquated Beer Purity Law. But aside from a few tap takeovers and events, there hadn’t been many opportunities to experience Stone Brewing in the flesh. But that changed last weekend with ReinheitsVERBOT, an event celebrating beer forbidden under the Reinheitsgebot, held at the new Berlin Stone Brewing World Gardens & Bistro (whew, a mouthful) in an area of ‘south central’ Berlin called Mariendorf.
We made the trek, over the river and through the woods, down to Mariendorf by bicycle. It was a smooth ride but not exactly a quick one; about 30 minutes by bike from Neukölln, which is about the same amount of time it takes by train and bus (yes, bus). Far outside of the Ring, this obviously wouldn’t be a place we’d end up popping by for a drink or two on a weeknight.
Turning onto the final stretch at Altes Gaswerk Mariendorf, the site itself was pretty cool. As the name suggests it’s an old gasworks, and there were two large spherical gas containers at the entrance as well as a metal gasometer in the distance. There was a beautiful old water tower, lots of red brick, and the construction only added to the industrial feel. A cool space, very ‘Berlin’.
The only part of Stone Brewing World Gardens & Bistro that’s open right now is the Library Bar, and it also looked like they still have a bit of work to do in there. The space was really large with lots of beautiful natural light, and a looong bar on the back wall from behind which we were being told very bluntly, to TRINKT ECHTES BIER. Yes!
The theme of the event was echtes bier that gives a big middle finger to the archaic Beer Purity Law, so there were obviously going to be no boring pils or helles clogging up the menu. But wow, what a selection! Twenty-five taps offering very temping non-beers (according to German law), some utilising reliable adulteration like cacao or berries, while some had a few wild card ingredients like carrots, sage or mustard. It was surely the first time such a large, innovative and diverse tap menu had been available to the German public. USA! USA! USA!
One thing that was disappointing, however, was the price. The beers started at 4.70€ for an 0.3l (10 oz) glass, many spiraling upwards of 5.50€, making the Library Bar more expensive than big Berlin craft beer bars like Hopfenreich or The Castle. Perhaps this was because most of the beers are small-batch, special brews for the event (?), but after journeying so far to drink beer ‘at the source’, so-to-speak, it could have been a bit cheaper. Still better than London I guess…
Outside there were also tables for revelers to enjoy the elusive spring sunshine. There was a food truck emanating some pretty temping smells, but after taking a gander at the menu and seeing the size of the portions we decided to save our euros for beer instead.
The beer itself was as fantastic as you’d expect. We started off light and went with the Peppino Summer Wheat (wheaty and refreshing) and Fahrt ins Grüne (delicious but really tart), but after the first round we just couldn’t resist the line-up of dark beers. Next was Stone’s Xocoveza and Stones Porter with Cacao Nibs—both delicious, but you really just can’t beat a milk stout. The Belizean Chocolate Cherry Porter was nice, but definitely not as much chocolate or porter as I would have expected. Mook liked his Pumperknickle Porter much more. We finished off at the bottom of the beer list; I had a tangy and refreshing sour altbeer called Methusalem Johannisburger, and Mook challenged the Senf-Honig Bier and got exactly what he bargained for.
You could tell some of the staff were still trying to find their feet, and ordering both inside at the bar and outside at the tables was a bit of a circus. But the staff wore nothing but smiles, absolutely no sign of the horrible Berliner schnauzer that sours so many drinking and dining experiences in the city. One of the guys we were sitting with ordered an 0.3l glass of beer, and a few minutes later a waitress delivered an 0.15l glass instead. He complained and she took it back, but he was then forced to wait a good 20 minutes for his order to appear. His reward for the wait was two 0.3l glasses—yay! The head waiter said they’d sent two by accident and he wasn’t about to send the other back.
Along with the lack of respect for national traditions and the service with a smile, Stone Brewing brought something else with them from the USA: NO SMOKING. Even outside on the benches next to the smokey food truck, there was no smoking allowed anywhere except for the designated smoking area (“A smoking area is provided a short distance away for those that wish to pay their homage to the international conglomerate tobacco companies,” the website says, words I imagine came directly from Greg Koch’s lips or fingertips). This is a decidedly non-European move that probably won’t win them any fans with younger Berliners, but based on the location and the prices, I’m guessing this isn’t their target audience anyway.
One of the people we met, a lone German guy who had come all the way down from Charlottenburg by himself despite having a cold, summed up Germany’s craft beer situation the best: “I hope someday craft beer here is like in America, where there are small breweries everywhere and it’s easy to buy interesting beer.” And it’s true… I look forward to the day when we don’t have to get so excited about finally getting to drink a bourbon barrel-aged ale or a milk stout, when there’s no need to complain about the price of a glass or a bottle, and when I can choose between a micro-brewed coriander-infused hefeweizen or a weed killer-packed Erdinger at my local späti.
While I’m still not sure about a place with the name ‘World Gardens & Bistro’, Stone has done the important job of firing up local interest in unconventional beers in a country where some people still think of beer as a food. I thought the offerings from the German breweries were really great, and hope the ReinheitsVERBOT event is a catalyst for them to make more non-traditional brews in the future. The demand is obviously out there, and I for one don’t really care if the German government thinks it’s a beer or not.
For the curious, Stone Brewing’s Library bar is open for business:
Im Marienpark 23, 12107 Berlin
Monday – Friday: 4PM – Midnight, Saturday – Sunday: 12PM – Midnight