With a vibrant nightlife, countless small bars and rich history, there’s much about Berlin that lures people from across the world. In recent years, the city has also become the home of some of Germany's most exciting young breweries, and it was this that helped draw in Cristal Peck and Richie Hodges.
Cristal, who hails from Australia, and her American partner Richie met while in the city, where they recently launched Parasite Produktions, with both working for Berliner Berg and Richie since going on to help establish Spreewood Distillers.
Whatever free time they have goes towards Parasite Produktions, the couple’s joint exploration of different types of alcohol production. In doing so, they are often hosted in different breweries – hence "Parasite". Past partners include Wolf Of The Willows, with whom they worked on the recently released Acidulus III, brewed with new German hops.
In her spare time, Cristal also writes for Beer, Bars & Brewers and is a part of her local Pink Boots Society. Well before she moved to Berlin to be a brewer, she grew up in the Gippsland region of Victoria, and here she is to tell us more in our latest Aussie Export story.
HOW DID YOU END UP RUNNING A BREWING COMPANY IN GERMANY?
There are two parts to where I work in Berlin.
I work in small brewery, which is relatively new in Berlin, Berliner Berg Brauerei. Berliner Berg has existed as a brand and company for a couple of years now but, up until recently, they have brewed their beers strictly off-site in other breweries in the so-called "gypsy", or "cuckoo" art, which Germany is becoming very well versed in given their rich history of numerous breweries over the country; I actually wrote about it here.
It is only in the last several months that Berliner Berg has been able to complete their own establishment in Neukölln, one of Berlin’s popular and relatively central neighbourhoods. Due to the quaint (five hectolitre) size of the now completed inner-city brewery, Berliner Berg will continue to supplement its range off-site in larger breweries, keeping the small new site exclusively for small-batch curiosities.
Due to my background in molecular biology and microscopy (I worked in a lab for many years before becoming a secondary Biology teacher) and of course, brewing, Berliner Berg and I were a perfect match for all things microbial.
Parasite Produktions is the personal project of my partner Richie and I, who, fuelled by our enthusiasm for beer, decided to embark upon our own company. Rather than strictly brewing beer, Parasite Produktions is an all encompassing label that umbrellas the many directions we’ve pursued thus far and plan for future endeavours.
The name "Parasite" allows us huge flexibility. Whether utilising an established brewery to produce our product, delivering freshly filled kegs to a venue we then deem our (proxy)taproom, or "hijacking" and then "infecting" one of the world's greatest beers to create something experimental and wonderful, our history to date as well as our concept for the future revolves around the pursuit of our passion to create (and consume) quality beer.
WHAT'S RICHIE'S BACKGROUND IN BREWING?
Richie [is an] American and German studied brewmaster and former brewmaster to two of Germany’s first successful "craft" brands, Crew Republic (in Munich) and Berliner Berg. He moved from Munich to start the whole Berliner Berg operation and has since moved on to work on establishing a local distillery’s mash for whiskey and bringing their operation into commission to achieve a "grain-to-glass" full circle; they are called Spreewood Distillers.
WHAT TYPES OF BEERS DO YOU BREW AT PARASITE PRODUKTIONS?
Our debut event was the culmination of an orchestrated hijacking of a series of our favourite beers in the world. Driven by many enjoyable discussions involving our personal opinions on some of our favourite beers, followed by further fleshing out how we’d alter them if given the chance, our premiere Berlin event saw a full house of curious followers scratch their chins with confusion as to whether they approved of what we’d done or not.
One thing was for sure though, we sold out that night and the beers were incredibly well received: a wood-aged refermentation of the Belgian classic Orval on a bed of white donut peaches; a Brett and lacto souring of one of the best doppelbocks on earth; or one of Belgians best krieks aged on chocolate. In the words of Greg Koch [co-founder of Stone Brewing] who was there on the evening: “I don’t know if I agree with it, but I like it.”
Our next event was the launch of our first proper batch-sized creation, a style we both have a deep affinity for: a wet hop beer. Richie and I worked together with our hop farming friend, Sepp, to create a dangerously lupulin laced wet hop IPA, named in honour of Sepp himself, the Sepp Hop IPA.
Driven by a need to maintain creative freedom, it would be difficult to pigeonhole the "type" of beer we brew, but for now the broader and perhaps most accurate answer to that is that we brew the beers we’d like to consume ourselves and that we feel are missing from the scene. We enjoy the freedom of having no core beers but rather an ability to, like any good parasite, adjust to our surroundings and exploit that.
WHAT'S THE BEER SCENE IN BERLIN LIKE?
Berlin is punk and decidedly unrepresentative as a city of Germany. It could well be a satellite country. Although Berlin is surrounded by some of the world's most historic and traditional beer culture, Berlin’s beer landscape became predominantly a monoculture of industrial (and mediocre) pilsners after Berliner-Kindl-Schultheiss-Brauerei, a division of the Radeberger Group swallowed up many of Germany’s smaller breweries in the 1950s.
In fact, it wasn’t only Berlin: this happened to the whole of Germany, but with Berlin’s cosmopolitan, complacent, poverty-stricken (“Berlin is poor but sexy,” to quote Klaus Wowereit, former Governing Mayor of Berlin) and tragic past of being ripped, divided and torn, the distracted nature of the city made a bounceback for beer essentially impossible. Due to this consolidation and monopolisation of beer production, distribution and sales, Berlin fell victim to a mono-variety of passe quality beer at rock-bottom prices.
To succeed, a humble "indie" microbrewery must find a dedicated market with principles that outweigh Berlin’s temptation to join revelers on the streets (yes, you can drink on the streets here) as they enjoy a half-litre of pils for 80 cents. Not easy.
What’s more, the unwitting shopper ... thinks they are purchasing from many independently owned companies, some of which were once independent and have since been taken over, but their "homemade", family-owned looking aesthetic retained.
So, what does this mean for the new beer movement in Berlin? Confused, tightarse, punk, but willing to (cautiously) try the new, but in a restrained fashion and not if it’s too expensive, Berlin always has been fertile and exploratory and now we are seeing more and more signs of a nascent change in the beer scene. But I believe that an education must accompany this.
WE OFTEN HEAR ABOUT GERMAN BREWERS AND DRINKERS BEING QUITE "CONSERVATIVE" IN HOW THEY APPROACH BEER. DO YOU THINK THAT'S A FAIR ASSESSMENT?
Yes! There is definitely an element of rigidity when it comes to trying new things for a large part of the German population. And fair enough: In a country with such a rich tradition and where beer is a cultural staple, many Germans have the idea that: "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."
"Why try something new when this lager I’ve been drinking for 20 years still tastes great?"
How do you argue with that?
YOU'VE WORKED CLOSELY WITH A LOCAL HOP GROWER, HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
Sepp (Josef Wittmann) has been a long-time connection of Richie’s. Richie brewed his first wet hop beer in conjunction with Sepp for Crew Republic back in 2013 and, since then, the professional relationship between he and Sepp quickly became a friendship. Their mutual love for hops and showcasing hops in fresh and well made beer was the basis of this friendship.
In 2016, while Richie headed to Bavaria to brew his annual wet hop (this time for Berliner Berg), I came with him and there I got to know Sepp and his wife Anneliese. Afterwards, our frequent visits to Bavaria involved regular meetups with Sepp with outings to his hop fields and, when the seasons of harvest rolled around, Sepp trusted our opinions on new hop varieties he’d established. Frollicking through his hop fields with yellow lupulin covered noses, dense green curtains of tens of never before grown hop varieties, pulling down limb after limb to sample his creations became a strong basis for an enduring friendship.
Last year, Richie finally worked together with Sepp under his own label – our label, Parasite Produktions. Sepp was over the moon to help Richie and I in our personal venture and, although the predominant two varieties we used were established German varieties (Herkules and Sepp’s very own creation, now owned by Barth-Haas Group, Monroe), we also included a handful of new sorts – never-before-used and, as yet, unnamed hops.
Our love for the wet hop style and its showcasing of unbridled hop characteristic also saw us create Berlin’s first (and to become annual) Wet Hop Festival. The wet hop variety is starting to enjoy more recognition and popularity here in Germany.
GERMAN HOPS ARE OFTEN CONSIDERED VERY TRADITIONAL, WHAT ARE THE NEW VARIETIES COMING OUT OF THE COUNTRY LIKE?
Historically, German hop varieties were seen as the bittering workhorses of the industry, much of it converted to oils for large industrial brewing. Nowadays, the hop farmers see the hype and excitement of (craft) beer in the US and there is a movement towards being part of this. The advent of more aroma hop varieties was inevitable after the craft beer revolution, with varieties such as Tettnanger, Hallertauer Mitterlfruh and Hersbrücker doing extremely well worldwide.
Jumping on the fruity hop bandwagon was also inevitable and, as we watch more and more fruit-sounding varieties hit the market (Hüll Melon, Mandarina Bavaria, etc), it’s exciting to gain a new breadth of varieties and also interesting to compare and contrast how terroir affects profile; for example, I am much more of a fan of German grown Cascade than I am of American Cascade, and absolutely curious how it’s tasting in Australia.
IS THERE MUCH AWARENESS OF AUSTRALIAN BEER IN GERMANY?
Largely not. It’s only really the new scene of microbreweries and contemporary brewers who are gaining more experience with some of Australia’s hop varieties: Galaxy, of course, which has had a fairly heavy impact on the NEIPA movement here in Europe, Ella, Topaz and Enigma are some Australian varieties that you hear mentioned from time to time.
WHAT KIND OF LESSONS DO YOU THINK THE AUSTRALIAN BEER INDUSTRY COULD TAKE FROM THE GERMANY?
Consistency and brewing to a high quality of standard in Germany’s larger breweries is pretty unrivalled.
WHEN AUSTRALIANS VISIT BERLIN, ARE THERE ANY UNMISSABLE BEER EXPERIENCES YOU CAN RECOMMEND?
Stone Brewing, Berlin, is an incredible achievement and well worth the journey out.
The Muted Horn is fast becoming one of Europe’s leading bars for showcasing the continent and abroad.
Berliner Berg’s taproom, Bergschloss, is a personal favourite of mine because it’s just so cosy and Berlin-ish. They also have all of our current small-batch beers on.
WHAT ABOUT GERMAN BEERS THEY SHOULDN'T MISS?
My advice to all beer enthusiasts travelling to Germany: plan a Franconian adventure. Bamberg and Forchheim as well as the surrounding countryside, the plethora of traditional neighbourhood breweries and taprooms, the abundance of some of the most incredible beers (Helles, Dunkles, Kellerbier, and Rauchbier).
These are designed for onsite and immediate consumption, not to be taken to a trendy bar in a big city where context and charm is largely thrown to the wind, but rather, the holistic experience of the beautiful countryside, the beer gardens (referred to as Kellers in Franconia), the family businesses, the carp ponds, the espaliered fruit trees growing up houses … it really is a beer drinkers dreams come true.
The rolling hills of Franconia contain the densest collection of breweries in the world (around 300 of Germany's 1408 breweries). Don’t miss that!