The Berlin beverage scene in winter 2020

By Peter Eichhorn

‘We are one Berlin’ – that is the capital’s new slogan, which was launched in the middle of the coronavirus crisis and is accompanied by a friendly bear logo. This marks the retirement of ‘Be Berlin’ as Berlin’s senate seeks to move away from capital’s ‘poor but sexy’ image and leave its reputation as a failed city behind.

Now we are ‘one Berlin’ in lockdown, and we are doing our utmost to make the Christmas season and new year's celebrations as pleasant as possible as we look forward to the things that await us in 2021. What should be our motto?

 

Wait and see with a cup of tea?

Perhaps we should go with: ‘Wait and see with a cup of tea.’ That sounds suspiciously like a dry January, and it is in this spirit that Isabella Steiner and Katja Kauf, the founders of ‘nuechtern.berlin’ (‘sober.berlin’), have set up a non-alcoholic pop-up store in the ‘goeben’ gallery in Berlin-Schöneberg called the ‘Null Prozent Späti’ (literally the ‘zero-percent late-night convenience store’) that will remain open until the end of January. Here, they are presenting an exciting range of non-alcoholic spirits, wines and beers with suitable fizzy drinks from Thomas Henry and Bionade.

https://nuechtern.berlin/pages/null-prozent-alkoholfreier-spaeti-berlin

 

A new Berlin tea brand has also appeared as a tasty and helpful alternative. Their herbal blends, sold under the ‘My Herbal Diary’ moniker, are each dedicated to a particular purpose and have been named accordingly, including ‘In the mood for love’, ‘Moody Monday’ and ‘Hangover Treatment’. https://myherbaldiary.de/

 

The poet Heinrich Heine was well aware of the fact that a warm, wintry drink can be pepped up nicely with a shot of alcohol. As he once wrote in ‘Germany, a winter tale’:

‘Some tea the goddess quickly made,

And then the rum pour’d she in;

But she herself preferr’d the rum

Without a drop of tea in.’


This is a good occasion for us to congratulate Stefan Brinkmann and Dirk Becker on the ten-year anniversary of their Berlin Rum Depot a few days ago. The celebration was much quieter than normal, yet it remains the best place to go for distillates of sugar cane, molasses and sugar cane honey. www.rum-depot.de

Just around the corner, an attractive shop is being opened to kick off the celebration of a major anniversary. Sven Förster, known as the expert from ‘Brew Berlin’ at the BCB and operator of the beer bar ‘Foersters feine Biere’ (Foersters fine beers), opened up a finely stocked beer shop called ‘Biermeister’ at Gleditschstraße 70. Here, a carefully curated selection of beers from Germany ranging from pilsner and bock to IPA showcases the variety of brewed specialities that is available. https://www.facebook.com/WirtvonFoerstersFeineBiere

 

Drinking smarter with Father Brown

 

Perhaps we should now follow the advice of a notable writer of crime novels, G.K. Chesterton, who was the creator of Father Brown:

“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.”

And the new products on offer from young regional brands are sure to spread good cheer with their drive and creativity. Gin continues to play a dominant role here. The experienced Berliner Brandstifter team recently collaborated with photographer and Berghhain legend Sven Marquardt to release an Art Edition in which their classic Berlin Dry Gin is imbued with additional flavours from roses, blackberries and blackcurrants. The artistically labelled Art Edition is limited to 6,666 bottles. www.berlinerbrandstifter.com

Even if Berlin’s nights are not currently as late as is customary, it is still possible to make them a bit sweeter with Berliner Nacht Gin (Berlin Night Gin) from the Berlin Distillery. Featuring just five botanicals (juniper, lemon, Thai basil, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves), this gin is far more straightforward than their more daring creations using Beelitz asparagus and baked apples. https://berlindistillery.de

Those who prefer to reach for a stimulating barrel-aged spirit in the cold winter months will find what they are looking for near the outskirts of Berlin, where the team at Spreewood Distillers has lent its rye whiskey a touch of Laphroaig peat (among other things) during the barrel-ageing process. New on the market: Stork Club Smoky Rye Whiskey. https://spreewood-distillers.com

 

Wilde Berlin?

Is it a warning – or a promise? Either way, Oscar Wilde once shared the following piece of wisdom with us:

“Alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, may produce all the effects of drunkenness.”

You can be certain that there will always be sufficient quantities of subtle, creative and delicious creations available at the Deutsche Spirituosen Manufaktur (DSM) in Marzahn. A seemingly limitless selection of distillates, liqueurs and essences inspired by the art of distillation, international fruit-herb-food hunting, and an apothecary’s wisdom, are all available here to bartenders and chefs. And new specialities are continuously being created in keeping with the seasons. Recent inspirations released by the DSM include ‘Spanish Yuzu’ and ‘German Autumn Leaves’, while their ‘Ginger liqueur’ offers an ideal subject for experimentation in the winter season. https://d-s-m.com

The creations of Dr. Jaglas have also found their inspiration in the realm of medicine and apothecary science. Herbal bitters made from ginseng or artichoke have already proven their fascination, while their mulled wine herbal elixir goes surprisingly nicely with tonic or champagne, especially this time of year. www.dr-jaglas.de

Herbs have a long tradition in Berlin. A number of traditional brands have long been an established presence in bars and at the BCB, including Mampe (https://mampe.berlin/) and Wurzelpeter (www.wurzelpeter.berlin).

One historical brand that is currently undergoing a high-profile relaunch is ‘Gilka Kaiserkümmel’, a Berlin favourite since 1836. The beverage bearing the logo with a penguin wearing a spiked helmet and made from certified organic ingredients is not only excellent in its conventional role in a Berliner Weiße beer, but also as an ingredient in cocktails – something that a growing number of Berlin bartenders have been demonstrating. Apple and ginger have shown their worth as balanced accompaniments. https://gilka.info/

 

Or is it really the hygge capital?

Talk of caraway immediately makes us think of Aquavit, the Scandinavian schnapps that is also a welcome addition to a rich midday meal for our neighbours in the colder climes to the north. After all, a dash of comfort and pleasure is necessary in the cold and dark times of the year. It is the hygge lifestyle.

This is in keeping with a realisation made by an accomplished drinker, politician and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Winston Churchill:

“When I was younger I made it a rule never to take a strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.”

 

The Freimeisterkollektiv is known for listening to bartenders and working with a select group of distilleries to create high-quality products. This has already given rise to excellent shrubs, coffee liqueurs and vermouth spirits. Now it is offering two new Aquavit products that have been produced in cooperation with the Copenhagen Distillery. In Bottle 901, dill meets fennel, while in Bottle 902 caraway is combined with cocoa. https://freimeisterkollektiv.de

 

And as long as we’re already up north, we should say hello to a newcomer to Berlin, Mikko Koskinen. Koskinen, co-founder of Finland's rye specialists ‘Kyrö Distillery’, moved to Berlin to emphasise the importance of this market. He came with his Kyrö Gin, Malt Rye and Dairy Cream Liqueur made from whisky, milk and cream.

Perhaps he will even succeed in importing the Finnish tradition of ‘Kalsarikännit’, in which the Finns strip to their underwear before consuming copious quantities of alcohol. As denizens of Berlin, we can reciprocate with the secret to satisfaction as formulated by Berlin native Harald Juhnke:

“What is a perfect day? An empty diary and a couple of drinks under your belt.”

 

As you make your preparations for Christmas and look for gift ideas, please do not forget the brave Berlin bar managers and bartenders who are helping their customers get through this barless time with drinks to go and cocktail delivery services. Things are not easy for bars, so there has never been a better time to give a bar voucher as a gift than today!