Schönramer Hell at Foersters Feine Biere

Joe Stange

Bavarian Helles
First Brewed
Malt Varieties
100% German Pilsner Malt
Hop Varieties
Varies, but most recently Hallertauer Tradition, Select, and Saphir
House strain, likely descended from Weihenstephan 34/70
Landjäger sausage, potato salad with sausage, crusty pretzels, a sunlit biergarten, and good conversation.
Foersters Feine Biere
Joe Stange

The best way for a brewer to sell a lot of beer is to make it really difficult for us to stop drinking it. You get to the bottom of the glass, and all you really know is that you want to have another of the same.

When I think about beers like that, there is one in particular that lately comes to mind, because I drank a lot of it over the past five years. I would go to Foersters Feine Biere—the best pub in Berlin if you want to drink traditional German beers, perfectly poured, with sturdy caps of foam—and I would order a Schönramer Hell.

The Hell was always on tap there, and the Hell is where I would start. I usually meant for it to be a first beer—something familiar to drink while I scanned the variety for further adventures. Most of the time, when I got to the bottom of the glass, I’d decide that nothing else would do. So I’d order another. Often this would go on for a while, and in the end I wouldn’t order anything else.

Hey, what’s a Flagship?

Here: The brewery in the village of Schönram brews about 94,000 barrels per year. That’s not huge by Bavarian standards, but the people in this southeastern corner of Germany—not far from Salzburg and the Austrian border—are loyal to their local brewery. And, like most Bavarians, they drink a hell of a lot of beer. Specifically, they drink a hell of a lot of Hell. That one beer represents more than three-quarters of Schönramer’s production.

If you were lucky enough to live in this area—hey, those are Alps just yonder, bring your skis—the brewery can send a driver around to deliver fresh beer to your house. Most of what they deliver is bright, beautiful helles.

It’s like the milkman; you don’t even need to be home. You can leave a key with the driver and an envelope with cash near the door. (It won’t cost much.) The driver will make change, put your beer in the cellar, take away the empties, and do it all again next week if you want.

The brewmaster, Eric Toft, happens to be from Wyoming. However, as befits a man who owns several sets of lederhosen, he speaks excellent Bavarian dialect German and plays euphonium in a brass band. (The brewery’s website says, “He is just a genuine Bavarian with American roots.”) And he brews his helles in a very traditional way: It gets an elaborate mash schedule that includes a decoction; it gets open fermentation; it gets lots of fresh kräusen; it gets up to six weeks of patient lagering. Every piece of that puzzle is there for a reason.

The Hell is a sublime expression of light, fresh, sweet malt, with just a touch more bitterness than in the classic Munich examples. It’s well attenuated and finishes drier on the palate than you expect, begging another gulp, then another half-liter. That’s just how it works. The beer is addictive, and Toft brews it that way on purpose.

“The worst case,” he told me, “is that people stop at two beers.”

Author Joe Stange having his second or third Schönramer Hell.

Stopping at two is not a feat I’ve often managed, especially sitting there at Foersters in Berlin.

There are hundreds of great places to drink in Berlin. There are a handful of world-class new-wave beer bars, often pouring the types of beers that would be familiar to any North American craft beer fanatic. There are 30-plus breweries, and a few of them are real stars, whether the locals realize it or not. Then there are the classic corner bars—the Eckkneipen—which, while usually smoky, tend to be well-wooded gemütlich treasures with good, inexpensive beer.

At Foersters, Sven Foerster and his family have managed to combine a cozy neighborhood bar with a stunning selection of German beers. In the staid southwest of the city, it’s far from the hipper, edgier areas across town—but it’s busy anyway, and Foersters deserves to be a destination.

There are plenty of other choices on the menu, including six taps and a wide range of bottles. You can drink good Franconian kellerbier, like the beautifully earthy-bitter Knoblach. You can sometimes drink fresh Altbier from Düsseldorf, poured from a spigoted barrel atop the bar. You can drink local Schneeeule’s compelling, traditional, Brett-laced Berliner weisse. Hey, you can even drink an IPA.

But getting to any of those beers assumes you can first get past the Schönramer Hell. I wish you luck.

With Sven Foerster watching, Joe Stange prepares to tap a barrel of Schönramer at Foersters Feine Biere. [Photo by Louise Krenmair.]

Joe Stange is managing editor of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine and the Brewing Industry Guide. He also is co-author (with Tim Webb) of Good Beer Guide Belgium and author of Around Brussels in 80 Beers.

Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.

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