Berlin Wurst & Bier Fest

Going to a sausage & beer festival in Germany might sound like attending a lobster & salt water fest in Atlantis or an elf & snow fest in the North Pole, but admit it, despite how obvious it is you’d love to go. Such was my luck when I found myself in Berlin during the first Wurst & Bier Fest.

The craft brewery revolution, or privatbrauereienas I sensed they’re referred to in the native language, is at full throttle in the land of tradition and Reinheitsgebot with some 90% of the over 1,300 breweries classified as private. But before I get to the double IPAs I sampled…

Because my life has been a succession of moving to smaller and smaller cities, the slight uptick in moving to Amsterdam back in October was a tad unnerving. Visiting Berlin for the first time was downright frazzling. With 3.5 million people making it the second largest in Europe and fewer of them who speak or acknowledge speaking English than you’d imagine (not that, in light of the Coke controversy, they need to learn an outsider’s language but I’d have considered it a solid if they did), the highlight of my trip was stopping in at MarktHalle Neun (Market Hall Nine) in the Kreuzberg
neighborhood that, from my understanding, is the Portland, er, hipster neighborhood of Berlin. Although MarktHalle Neun actually felt more like a less precious version of San Francisco’s Ferry Building with its wall-to-wall food stalls, and the adjacent Görlitzer Park looked and felt like SF’s Dolores Park on ‘roids.

The event welcomed 20 beer venders, just over half of which were brauereies and the others bottle shops and beer bars, so I felt like a kind in a süßigkeitenshop. It was free to enter and judging by the size of the crowd, not everyone was partaking—certainly not my IPYae and all the other kids romping around the awesome play area in the very center of the marketplace. Score another one for Germany. After buying a glass and tokens (pours were officially ,1L or 10 deciliters or 3.3 oz.) Most of them were based right in Berlin, though I was most excited about getting to sample beers from Freigeist based in North Rhine-Westphalia near Cologne. Braumeister Sebastian Sauer’s beers are a far cry from their famous Kölsches. The name Freigeist translates to Free Thinker or Free Spirit (or, as their beer-loving Casper logo depicts, Free Ghost). Serendipitously, Sauer means sour and Freigeist is acclaimed for their sour beers like Abraxxxas, a Lichtenhainer-style smoked sour wheat ale. Having said that, one of my favorite beers of the day was Kampot Black, a multi-grain schwarzbier with black pepper. This black-on-black beer derived more than a tinge but less than a ton of spiciness from rye malt and just the right amount of black peppercorn and is now tied for my favorite Steak Beer (it’s not better than Dieu du Ciel’s Route des Epices but equally amazing). Half Pint and I have already talked about planning a trip to Cologne. Now, after meeting Sebastian, I have the perfect side trip.

Speaking of black beers, I tried one from MarktHalle Neun’s own basement nanobrewery called Heiden Peters. The beers can be found at a little bar all the way in the back but if you’re just walking around the hall, it’d be easily missed. I think they brew something like 500 liters, or four barrels, a month. Good stuff.

As for Berlin-brewed beers, my heart was stolen by some Holy Shit. As brewer Thorsten Schoppe explained it to me, his Schoppe Bräu already made XPA, an extra pale ale flavored with American hops. But he wanted to do a DIPA. And he wanted it to smack of German hops. The result is Holy Shit Ale (clearly the German version of TTB is more lax), bittered with two hops I was unfamiliar with: Polaris, a high-alpha hop lending pine and mint flavors, and Mandarina Bavaria, think Hallertau’s answer to the PacNW’s Citra. This sticky h-bomb approaches 10% ABV and proves the Germans do DIPAs right.

The other DIPA I had was from a brand new Berlin brewery called Vagabund founded by three expat Americans. (I believe we’re still waiting for the official launch of Salem’s Vagabond, yeah? Yes, they know of each other. Now the race is on for who makes a T-shirt in toddler size and take note, Dean, James, and A.J., I’ve already put in a special order with Vagabund.) Started with the help of a crowdfunding project on the German platform, these guys are making worldly craft beers such as a Szechuan Saison and a Hoppy Weizenbock though they only one they were sampling was the DIPA made with grapefruit and orange peel and coriander. It worked because it actually tastes like those are purely hop-derived flavors.

Another excellent find was Mandarina IPA from BrauKunstKeller(Art Brewing Cellar) in the southwestern city of Michelstadt. As part of their series of single-hopped IPAs brewed to the Beer Purity Law restrictions, this one naturally delivered sweet orange flavors thrown off a touch in the aroma by a small portion of smoked malt. KunstKeller also poured a series of wood-aged red ales and while I didn’t try all of them, the Kirsch (Cherry) wood one was quite sweet and rich with lots of vanilla and only a touch of sawdust. As for other kirsch beers on the floor, somewhere near the end I tried one from a brewery I don’t recall but saw the label “Kirschchili.” I had to know. Sure enough, the reddish-orangish wheat beer packed a big, sweet cherry punch with a faint chili heat tickle. It was no Burnside Sweet Heat, but hey, as far as a slap in the face to Reinheitsgebot goes, it was a valiant effort.

Oh, I almost forgot. Die wurst. All I know is that there were sausages of every shape, size, and color—from white weiβwurst to black blutwurst—made mostly from pork but other animals were certainly slaughtered for our gastronomic delight. Both IPYae and I had a favorite stall that offered a good assortment and what I believe was un-cased, spreadable leberwurst (liverwurst), think liver pate, that they sampled on toast. Another vender served bockwurst plucked from a pot of hot bockbier and served with warm mustard on tap. If I have to brave the megalopolis again, I’m gonna do it during the second annual fest.