Beer in Berlin: Weihanstephaner, Hackescher Markt
As well as Brauhaus Lemke, we were lucky to have Weihanstephaner near to our hotel in Mitte and we returned to it a couple of times during our trip. Weihenstephan, north of Munich,claims to be the oldest operating commercial brewery in the world, with the abbey there having obtained brewing rights in 1040. For over two centuries now the brewery has been owned by the state of Bavaria; it seemed appropriate to be drinking nationalised beer in East Berlin, albeit a Western one.
I’d heard of Weihenstephan before visiting its outpost in the German capital, but wasn’t particularly familiar with the beers. I was pleased to find that, although the pub only served beers from a single brewery, it at least provided a range of styles. In our week in Berlin, we didn’t stumble upon the type of beer bar you might gravitate to in London, Copenhagen or even Leeds, with a wide range of styles from different breweries. In that context, finding 12 or so beer styles, or at least sub-styles, from one brewery was very welcome.
All of the beers we tried were very enjoyable, and (as far as I could tell from my limited experience) good examples of each style, from the Hefe and Dunkel Weissbeirs to the Pilsner. The two most interesting beers we tried were the strongest: the Korbinian Doppelbock and Vitus Weizen Bock were both north of 7% and packed with flavour: respectively rich, spicy and malty; and packed with banana and tropical fruit flavours.
On our second visit we also had dinner at Weihenstephaner. I had a posh version of Currywurst, which came as a delicious veal sausage smothered in spicy, brown curry sauce (fruity and more like chip shop curry sauce than a British Indian restaurant curry) and some roasted new potatoes. Kate had a dish translated as a potato hotpot, which was a slightly thin broth which thankfully came with some tasty, thin, spicy Wurst.
The bar is also a nice setting to enjoy your beer. A kind of upmarket Bavarian beer hall, upstairs is white, neat and ordered like a minimal restaurant. Downstairs there are very many more seats in a maze of cellars under brickwork arches, which seems more like a beerhall as I imagined it, but at the same time was civilised, chatty and not too loud, with families, groups of work colleagues and celebratory but restrained birthday parties all able to enjoy the same space.
Happily full of good beer and tasty German food, we experimented with a couple of different schnapps and wondered why our local attempt at a German beerhall wasn’t more like this, with a genuine appreciation of Bavarian beer and food, rather than catering primarily for the worst British stag-and-hen doings.
Conversely, although I enjoyed our week in Berlin a lot, it did make me pine for the best of Leeds and the variety of beers offered by English craft beer bars. North Bar, for example, provides the best of all worlds: the hygge of a Danish cellar bar or Belgian brown cafe, along with the conviviality of the best British pubs and a range of beers from across Europe, America and beyond. Not that I want to go to Berlin to drink anything other than German beer, but there’s an equivalent in Berlin in terms of range, I’d be grateful to know for next time.