BRLO rides high

Richard Croasdale is back at BRLO, to hear more about the brewery’s crazy 18 months
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Last time we were at BRLO’s central Berlin brewery and taproom – fashioned from a stack of welded-together shipping containers – the paint was barely dry, light fittings were hanging from the ceiling, and the team was frantically preparing for the Stone Berlin staff Christmas party, booked into the space for the following week. A lot has changed since December 2016 though: the restaurant is among the city’s most highly regarded, top international breweries are flocking to collaborate, and BRLO even has a food concession in Berlin’s most prestigious department store. Oh, and the Christmas party went fine, even though they had to bring in patio heaters.

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It’s great to catch up with BRLO’s Katharina again, and to see how much the team is enjoying the fruit of all its hard work. Katharina freely admits that most of 2017 was taken up with getting settled into the new brewery and adjusting to the shift away from being a gypsy brewery. This year sounds like it’s been much more fun though, pursuing exciting opportunities including collaborations with some of the most respected names in international craft.

“Just recently, we’ve worked with Brussels Beer Project, with By the River Brew Co in the UK, Lervig in Norway. Now that we’ve emerged from getting the brewery set up, we’ve tried to to spread our wings and our contatcs, make new friends and see what’s happening in the rest of Europe.

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“We even did a collaboration with [US hip-hop duo] Run the Jewels. That was really fun – we had to take our first bottles to them at the concert, which was a real pain,” she jokes. “They’re really cool guys actually – we met them just before the concert so they didn’t have a lot of time, but they’re really into the beer thing, especially El-P.”

Another exciting development on the beer side has been BRLO’s involvement with a new production brewery inside Berlin, called CraftZentrum. Having opened in March this year, CraftZentrum co-owned by BRLO, and sells capacity to breweries of all sizes, as well as the majority of BRLO’s brewing for bottles.

The restaurant was always a key part of BRLO’s vision, but I’m not sure even they would have anticipated the acclaim and it’s enjoyed in its first 18 months.

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“We basically didn’t want to be the beer focused brewhouse that maybe does burgers and chicken wings on the side,” explains Katharina. “So our head chef developed a concept focused on vegetables, which we believe made us Europe’s first veggie-centric brewpub. So we have a menu of creative, intricate veggie dishes, smoked in our smoker, fermented, and served as sharing plates so you get a huge table of really nice things. We also do meat, but that’s more as a side dish.”

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The restaurant began being booked out pretty much from the day it opened, and began earning prestigious awards for its innovative approach, quality and great selection of beers. Plaudits so far include the Gastro Gründerpreis (gastronomy founders award), Szenerestaurant at the Berliner Meisterköche (hippest restaurant in Berlin, by the Berlin master chefs), the FIZZ Award for best beer concept and being the only German brewhouse restaurant listed in the Gault&Millau in 2017/18.

Katharina believes this has been hugely positive not just for BRLO, but for winning new craft converts.

“Particularly during summer, when our beer garden open, you get a lot of people coming in from the big park we’re next to,” she says. “They come for the gastronomy, but they end up getting turned onto the beer. They keep coming back and trying different varieties, which is so good for the local craft scene, because it’s nowhere near as big as it is in the UK.”

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This success has opened many doors for BRLO, perhaps most notably a concession in the food hall of KaDeWe, Germany’s equivalent of Harrods. The concept is BRLO Chicken & Beer (presumably in homage to Ludacris’s 2003 magnus opus), which serves three simple but delicious chicken dishes alongside eight taps. “It’s a really new customer base,” says Katharina excitedly. “West Berlin is untouched by craft beer. It’s like we’re doing missionary work!”

The craft scene in Berlin is definitely developing fast though, when you contrast it to Germany’s other major cities. Bars and restaurants now actively want a craft beer on the menu, though persuading them to invest in new taps is tricky, particularly when bar-owners are used to the big breweries paying them to pour their beer. There are also new brewing projects cropping up, mostly following the gypsy path laid by breweries like BRLO, and even major retailers are starting to make shelf space for craft (though persuading them to refrigerate them is entirely another fight).

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“Berlin’s definitely still the epicenter of craft beer in Germany, but it only takes a few restaurants and retailers to get the right idea and lead the way, then drinkers will start to expect better and it will spread very quickly. It feels like we’re right in the middle of that and we couldn’t be happier,” Katharina concludes.

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