David Bowie once deemed Berlin “the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine”, and his words still carry weight decades later. Here, we champion five of the German capital city’s standout bars – and find out what happens when you age rye whiskey on volcanic stone from a vineyard…
Berlin has long boasted a thriving creative scene, and its cocktail culture is no exception. Ageing spirits in former wine casks is cool, sure, but ageing spirits using the very material that cultivated the vine? Ingenuity on another level. The idea was the brainchild of Australian native Matt Boswell, bar chef at stylish and sustainable cocktail haunt Tiger Bar, which lies across the courtyard from its pioneering sister, Panama Restaurant.
“I really wanted to figure out how we could add extra minerality and a little bit more depth and complexity into the cocktails we were making,” Boswell explains. He contacted German wine producers and asked them to send whatever they could from their vineyards. Three out of 30 responded, sending cases of rocks.
Working closely with the sommelier team at Panama, Boswell determined which wine characteristics were common across certain soils and set about pairing spirits with each stone. “It was very much a matching game,” he explains. “If we got laser focus and really clear minerality and tropical notes from blue slate, we’d pair it with gin. If we got extra tropicality and spice from red slate-grown wines, we’d try mezcal. Based on that intuition, they all paired pretty well.”
The ageing period varies according to spirit variety and ABV – lighter spirits like vodka evolve far quicker than a big, bold mezcal, for example – but there are variables between the stones, too. “Some of them are porous, some of them are really dense,” explains Boswell, “we’ve been resting white dog rye whiskey on volcanic stone and it can take more than two weeks before it starts to develop any specific flavour or character.”
The first menu combined rhum agricole with limestone, gin with blue slate, mezcal on red slate and pisco on phyllite. “We were really shocked at the development and character changes that happened,” Boswell adds. “Not only was there extra minerality and nuanced flavours; often it changed the character of the spirit entirely.” Once aged, the team create two cocktails with each spirit: a lighter highball serve and a shorter stirred drink.
Tiger Bar is a great place to start, but Boswell and his team are not the only bartenders drinking outside the box. Whether it’s through ingredient selection, menu style or spirits stock, we’ve championed the must-visit Berlin bars that aren’t afraid to do things a little differently….
Potsdamer Straße 91, 10785 Berlin, Germany
Why? Terroir-based cocktails
What? Four base spirits aged on German terroir, with one long and one short cocktail created from each. Take the black basalt-aged rye – it can be ordered as Rye & Dry, which sees it mixed with smoked tea and Moroccan soda, or combined with small batch vermouth and vintage cherry wine in a Boulevardier.
Ganghoferstraße 1, 12043 Berlin, Germany
Why? Seasonality taken seriously
What? An intimate cocktail bar in hipster district Neukölln, which forages ingredients “from Berlin and the surrounding nature”. Cocktails are named according to the main seasonal ingredient within, processed on a weekly basis. On the current menu? Sorrel, Young Pine Cone, Strawberry and White Asparagus.
58 Kurfürstenstraße, 10785 Berlin, Germany
Why? Mind-boggling spirits selection
What? Aside from the fact it used to be an illegal casino for Berlin’s most boujie residents, it stocks more than 600 kinds of rum, 400 whiskies, 150 gin bottlings and a plethora of other boozes that brings the total spirits count over 1,500. Oh, and Quentin Tarantino filmed Inglourious Basterds there.
Uhlandstraße 133, 10717 Berlin, Germany
Why? Sustainable cocktails made three ways
What? Six cocktails are on the menu, split down into three variants: classic, twist, and in-house creation. Take the Manhattan, traditionally made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, the twist, Brooklyn, sees the addition of maraschino and bitter aperitif, while the in-house version Womanhattan uses Scotch, sherry and plum liqueur.
Nollendorfstraße 27, 10777 Berlin, Germany
Why? The home of American whiskey in Berlin
What? Named after the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song, Stagger Lee is a Wild West-themed 19th century saloon bar, complete with old-school cash till and rustic-looking piano. Don’t get distracted by the decor – the menu is where the magic truly happens, with the likes of Greek yoghurt-washed rum and banana-infused Campari.