Protokoll x Siren
Meet the brewery making beer waves in Berlin
Saturday 08 April 2023
This article is from
Siren's 10th Birthday
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Protokoll’s founder and managing partner Vadim Kamkalov and Yvonne Poppendiecker are thick as thieves from the moment our call connects Edinburgh with Berlin. They finish each other’s sentences, kick each other under the table and make brutal, scathing jokes imbued with playful smiles of knowing affection; it goes without saying that Vadim and Yvonne, are also the best of friends. “I don't think we could have worked together for this long, under the amount of pressure that we have, if we didn't have this relationship with each other”, says Yvonne; “You must like each other, and you must be able to talk to each other, in this line of work. Between corona, the war and all these dramas in between, if you can’t make each other laugh, you’ve got issues”.
When I speak to Vadim and Yvonne, there are taps and yellow tiles in the background; they’re sat atop stools in Protokoll’s Friedrichshain bar, where the story of this now internationally recognised microbrewery all began. Yvonne met Vadim just a week after the Protokoll bar opened. She used to live in an apartment above the venue, which had previously been a punk, rockabilly bar where you could get a pilsner for €2. “That bar was like my living room” says Yvonne, so when the downstairs site changed hands, she was one of the first to know about it. She needed some cash at the time, and so asked if she could work there. As it happened, both she and Vadim had just quit fifteen year careers.The rest, as they say, is history.
“We’re in a very 'it' part of Berlin right now, meaning the area is quite rapidly being gentrified–” Vadim begins, before Yvonne jumps in to add, with a tone of dismay so sincere, I can’t help but laugh; “and we’re a part of that”. Vadim continues, telling me that Protokoll “started here in 2017. We can see that the area reflects the real mix that Berlin is right now; the city is changing and developing but it still has a lot of freedoms and a lot of informal things which are going on. In this way, we're very lucky to be here in this area, given that it really fits with how we are as people, what our philosophy and business morals are, and how the people around us perceive their reality.”
Intrigued by the depth of Vadim’s description, my next question naturally prods for further insight into what this philosophy is based around. The pair’s response is so fantastically bullshit-free, that I there and then hand Protokoll the keys to a special place in my candid and straightforward soul. “God, to put it in just a few words”, begins Yvonne, obviously considering the times before she and Vadim quit lengthy careers in their respective fields, to dedicate themselves to beer. “I guess we’re just really working with happiness. What we have is a gift, I mean, people work, they have their nine-to-five, full-time bullshit with just two hours a day before they go home and continue their miserable lives, and people choose to come and spend those two hours at Protokoll, with us!”
To this Vadim adds that around the time he was looking for somewhere to open Protokoll, craft was really starting to find a foothold in Berlin. “Stone Brewing came to Berlin, Mikkeller came to Berlin, and a lot of other bars were starting to open up” he says. “Things seemed to be getting very nerdy, in the way that craft beer can be, but we decided early on that we never wanted to be arrogant about the beer we poured at Protokoll. We were as contemporary as anyone else back then, and were like, importing Other Half direct from New York, but at the same time, we never wanted people to feel that they are kind of unwelcome if they didn’t know what a lambic was. If you were a pilsner drinker, we could pour you a great example of a pilsner, and if you wanted a sour, or an IPA, we had that too. We wanted to have a chill and easygoing atmosphere, but a quality product at the same time.”
The brewing aspect of Protokoll’s operations started as soon as the bar opened, but on a very small scale. “We started with little steps, producing a batch of one beer every three months, then two beers every four months, just gradually growing and developing,” says Vadim. “We basically needed to learn everything from scratch, and there’s just so much to be aware of between making the beer and managing logistics. We were learning by doing.” As operations scaled, Protokoll began to contract brew in a more serious capacity, and even began to export in small volumes. The team’s biggest expansions came during the COVID years, when Protokoll’s sister, Manifest Taproom, opened in the site of Stone’s old bar, on top of which, the company opened a small brewery of its own.
Given all the success and challenges Protokoll has faced over the last number of years, it seems to me that they take stock of their achievements in reflecting on their journey to date, and now working with Siren on this project. “Back in 2017, when we’d just opened the bar, Siren was such a huge name in the industry and there was so much hype around them, they were just everywhere” says Vadim, “so it’s super cool to be working with them now.”
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