Field Trips: Exploring Berlin's Whisky Scene
Ahead of this year’s Bar Convent Berlin, here are some of the best shops and bars to visit for whisky lovers
Berlin is not the world’s whisky capital—Dufftown (Scotland) and Tennessee and Kentucky (USA) stake loftier claims—but whisky fans would be sated by the city’s offering. A bunch of historic bars and shops run by serious whisky aficionados have run the roost for years, and they’ve been joined recently by some sprightly newbies. This includes the much welcome arrival of pub culture, something sorely missed (at least for a Brit like me) for many years.
This comes in cohesion with some domestic rumblings. German whisky might only account for 0.4% of the world’s market (compared to around 25% for Scotch) but it’s commonly perceived as being on the rise. There’s the acclaimed likes of Habbel’s Hillock Park Distillery or Spreewood Distillers, the latter flying the flag for rye whiskey in Brandenburg outside Berlin, focusing on local ingredients to create a distinctly local product.
On the events side, there's Whiskyherbst—translating as “autumn whisky”—held in September. Last year saw the fantastic Finest Whisky Deluxe inaugurate itself in the fabulous confines of Schloss Charlottenburg, whilst Spreeside Whiskey is setting up shop next year in the city’s (well worth a visit) Holzmarkt development. It’s clear the city’s assorted drinking parlours don’t just service the international heavyweights, they’re also responding to a vibrant and thriving domestic scene of distillers and businesses.
In advance of this year’s Bar Convent Berlin, I took a look around Berlin’s whisky scene. There are, of course, many other places to check out—bars that don’t specialize in whiskey per se, but have sensational whisky cocktails on their menus. Ones to note: Buck and Breck, Green Door, Windhorst.
Mark the 1st March 2020 in your diaries. This is when one of Berlin’s mainstays hits its 20th birthday and owner Lars Pechmann is planning to throw a party in Berlin’s Wedding district—the eternal “it’s next” district. It’s been a location for frivolity even longer, as this location has always hosted a pub. Before the wall fell, it was Bauernstube (“farmhouse”). Arguably the first visible bar after the border crossing into West Berlin at Bornholmerstrasse, this later became Offside, which set up shop in 2000.
Cozy vibes predominate here, where Scotch undeniably has a priority, but Irish and American too. Seven types of draft beer and cider are on tap, as well as a whole host of other drinks, which together make up the menu that offers a mind boggling 1000+ varieties. And footie fans can get excited: there’s a big screen at a bar that aligns itself with the city’s Hertha Berlin team, but is never intimidatingly partisan. There’s darts too!
It’s Pechmann’s passion that fuels Offside’s two decade long strike rate. He’s fully focused on keeping his ear to the ground with regards to world whisky trends, hosting regular tastings in Wedding and spreading the knowledge he’s gleaned from his world travels—whether it’s to the distilleries of Scotland or less famous global outposts. It’s all this that has led to their selection as "Germany's Best Whiskey Bar" at Germany's Best Whiskey Awards in 2015—a well deserved accolade for this temple to the dram.
OFFSIDE Pub & Whisky Bar, Jülicherstr. 4, 13357 Berlin, Germany
Europe and Britain are supposedly breaking up, but some ties will be harder to break. Here’s two: Berlin’s new fad for pubs and its permanent love for Scotch whisky. One of the first pubs in Berlin is well worth a visit, located near Savignyplatz, in Berlin’s cosmopolitan City West. In an area famed for its bourgeois nature, it’s refreshing to drink somewhere convivial, down-to-earth, and drinks focused—which is what Union Jack provides and then some.
Expect an atmospheric pub serving Scottish whiskies, whisky tastings, British snacks, and beers. 850 types of whisky are on offer, including malt whisky, blended scotch whisky, American bourbon, Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskies, as well as cider from the barrel. When you feel like supplementing your dram with some education: there are regular tastings and lectures from the "Friends of Scottish Landwein e. V. " as well as other presentations.
Note: Union Jack Pub is owned by the fantastic Uwe Wagmüller who also owns the city’s Finest Whisky shop, which also hosts a number of highly recommended tasting events, and has an impressive range of whisky rarities to boot.
Union Jack Pub, Schlüterstr 15, 10625 Berlin
Finest Whisky, Winterfeldtstr. 48, 10781 Berlin
Grungier in vibe, this shop, emblazoned as Tabac Center but with a big whisky focus, is well worth a visit when in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Since the turn of the Millennium, under the umbrella company Whisky Manufaktur, the center stocks more than 250 single malts. Whiskies from India, Japan, Taiwan, and Germany exist alongside rum, gin, vodka, and, as befitting the name, a broad range of tobacco and cigars. There’s a focus too on independent bottlings.
Owned by Jack Wieber, on my last visit there I encountered his extremely friendly daughter who runs both this particular shop, as well as their Potsdam shop (Potsdamer Whiskymanufaktur). They’ve got a whole host of places across Berlin running as franchises and they’ve established quite the global outlook too, with a whole host of independent franchises across the globe, including ones in Salzburg (Austria), Switzerland, Singapore, and more.
If you fancy a quick dram in the area afterwards, then make Cafe Bar Madonna—who source from Whisky Manufaktur themselves—your next port of call.
Tabac and Whiskey Center, Ohlauer Str. 2, 10999 Berlin
Timeless, nostalgic, old-fashioned: Whisky Kabinett is a welcome trip to the past. Clad in the coziest tinge of green and brown, it’s a library of endless possibilities from both the traditional and newer whisky offerings. It’s run by Markus Rosanowski, who himself has a bit of a background in the biz: having worked for luminaries Werner Hertig (Wein & Whisky) and Uwe Wagmüller (Finest Whisky) prior to making the decision to open his own shop down in the more suburban Steglitz district, creating a haven for whisky fans.
450 whiskeys are currently in stock, including a huge range of single malts (around 420), in addition to a whole host of whiskies and independent bottlings from all around the world. I’d like to point out the German specialties, which include a 15 year old Slyrs, as well as Glen Els, Falckenthal, Old Sandhill, and Preussischer Whisky. In addition, Rosanowski has also collected some amazing rarities, including a 60 year old Octomore 8, and OTL, Classic of Islay bottlings, and Laphroaig Cairdeas, to name just a few.
Whisky Kabinett, Schönebergerstr. 12, 12163 Berlin
Wein & Whisky has been a hotspot since 1986 for whisky fans, even when the stewardship switched from Werner Hertwig—who some call the “whisky chancellor”—to Jens Praßer in 2013. Situated in Friedenau, the shop is definitely out of the centre, but worth the trek.
1500 different kinds of whisky are available here, but with a distinct focus on Scotland and Ireland, and especially smaller family businesses. The name doesn’t lie, as it’s also a place for those looking for wines and grape distillates, including grappa, sparkling wine, Champagne, armagnac, calvados, and cognac. For rarities, the legendary Hertwig is still available for consultation.
Wein & Whisky, Hedwigstr. 2, 12159 Berlin