The Best Places in Berlin to Break Germany's 500 Year-Old Beer Laws
Beer purity laws made lots of sense back in the day, but the rise of craft brewing means there are now some excellent spots to break the law.
Photo by Stone Brewing.
Allow us to apologize in advance that this story on where to break purity laws in Germany does not provide a how-to on how to nail virgins from the Fatherland, though if you seek that, may we redirect you to pretty much almost ANYWHERE ELSE ON THE INTERNET. No, this story is about our favorite places in Berlin to piss off the ghosts of Bavarian Dukes Wilhelm IV and Ludwig X who, exactly 501 years, ten months and 9 days ago signed the both revered and reviled Reinheitsgebot edict—the historically influential (yet currently underenforced) purity law that prohibits any German beer from containing ingredients other than malt, water, hops and yeast.
The rule may have made sense five centuries ago, when unscrupulous brewers added just about anything to their brews, including wood shavings and soot. But the Reinheitsgebot has also resulted in less fortunate outcomes, like the financial undoing of the era’s female brewers, most of whom couldn’t afford to use hops instead of their own preservatives and spices. So we say stick it to the Mann. Let’s tear down the walls of purity and patronize the following five breweries with the courage to serve beers containing every safe yet mind-boggling ingredient imaginable, including cocoa, coffee, vanilla, chilies, cinnamon, nutmeg, and milk sugar, all in one beer. Prost, motherfuckers.
BRLO: Sometimes Germans can’t help but parody themselves. You know you’ve arrived at BRLO (pronounced “beer-lo”) when a black tower of stacked truck containers rises ominously before you like some sort of Bauhaus prison. Co-owned by Katharina Kurz, one of the most beloved beer women in the nation, BRLO boasts 20 taps carrying house beers, guest taps, and collaborations with the likes of Utah’s Epic Brewing and Irish craft brewery The White Hag. Eat a veggie-centric dinner or order a five-course pairing that lines up small bites with all-natural beers like Berliner Weiss brewed with strawberries, gooseberries, or pineapple; an ale brewed with chilis called Brazilian Blowout; and another named Ceylon Chai Ale with … duh … tea.
Hops & Barley: Most beers here do follow the Reinheitsgebot with perfectly brewed examples of pilsner, dunkel, and weiss but around twice a year Brewmaster Philipp Brokamp slides in a law-breaker like coffee stout or abbey ale with candy sugar and orange peel. Don’t like beer? Don’t worry. House cider always hogs a tap. Food at the cramped, smoky former butcher shop is limited to a few traditional meats brought out on paper plates, but watching the more-tatted-than-thou crowd should make for entertainment enough to take your mind off any cravings for greens.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens: The first European outpost of Southern Cali’s brash Stone is taking over Berlin’s craft beer bars with its boozy Xocoveza, a high-octane stout brewed with the ingredients listed above: cocoa, coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Drink it at the source at Stone’s sprawling, funky food-and-drink emporium outfitted with live trees, a Steampunk garden and an indoor kid’s play area. Plan to get a cab to the off-the-beaten-path spot in a revitalized, historic industrial park located a long 20-minute walk from the closest train station. Don’t let the spot scare you off; as co-founder Greg Koch writes, it’s worth a visit. “As for the space itself, you have to see it to believe it. I wanted to create a craft beer destination where one can literally get lost in the space and the great beers,” he says.
Straßenbräu: Order a vanilla milk stout on nitro, a tart ale infused with wild berries, or a pumpkin seasonal brewed with gourds grown by owner Timo Thoennissen’s mom, and try to get a seat at the bar to pick Thoennissen’s brain on anything—we mean anything—related to the history and business of German beer. No food at this small-scale operation but opportunities exist to organize a private group tasting or learn how to brew beer on-site.
Vagabund Brewery and Taproom: Three American homebrewers bring their Yank-i-tude to Berlin by blowing up the Reinheitsgebot with brews like Pie Hole, a spiced pumpkin beer with Hokkaido pumpkins, lactose, brown sugar, cinnamon, butternut squash, allspice, and bourbon soaked on oak chips; and Figgy Pudding Spiced Winter Ale with apricot, rum soaked on mocha oak chips, raisins, coriander, orange peel, cloves, and cinnamon. Co-owner David Spengler calls his non-smoking, pet-friendly taproom “small and very cozy” and takes pride in the fact it attracts both tourists and “quite a few local Germans that call us their ‘regular.’"