Put down the knitting, the book, and the broom. It’s time for a German holiday for the Speakeasy. But in the cabaret city of pilsners and weiss bier, can we, should we order a cocktail? Is there room for cocktail culture in the land of hops? Well, yes and no. Bitte and Nein, danke.
That Germany is well known for its beer is obvious. According to the German Beer Institute there are about 1250 breweries in the country, almost as many as there are in the United States, which may not seem initially impressive except that Germany is about the size of Montana. With so many beers — and of such quality — it may seem nonsensical to even think about a Manhattan in Berlin, but surprisingly there is a strong American cocktail presence in the city. The bad news is that most of it isn’t any good. At least not yet.
Many of Berlin’s countless cafes advertise cocktail specials, but they usually run the spectrum from the Mai Tai to the Long Island Iced Tea to the Sex on the Beach, which is not much of a spectrum at all. Steering clear of cocktail menus written on street corner blackboards, you can find an enjoyable beverage if persistent and patient.
At one Mexican restaurant (it’s harder to find traditional German food than you would think), Santa Maria’s on Oranienstrasse, I found a Margarita with tamarind. The language barrier kept me from finding out just what form the tamarind came in — tamarind seed powder can also be used for glue — but it’s likely that the addition was tamarind ade. It gave the margarita a more earthy taste than a more typical American margarita. I appreciated the chance to try something not completely different but different enough. The great torta and the entertainingly lively street helped the flavor of the drink too. More on the fascinating tamarind here.
At Oscar Wilde’s (I told you it was hard to find a traditional sitdown German restaurant), I ordered an Oscar Wilde cocktail because I had to. It’s about time someone concocted a drink in homage to the great writer. I imagine one sip and epigrams come streaming from the lips to the laughing delight of all dinner companions, something along the lines of “work is the curse of the drinking class.” Unfortunately this Oscar Wilde is also the curse of the drinking class. The drink is made of Irish Mist, Amaretto, and orangensaft (orange juice): the fabulous Mr. Wilde will have to wait just a little longer for worthy recognition. It did, however, appeal to the American teenagers in the group because it did not taste like alcohol.
Speaking of the youthful drinker, Berlin has a variation on the beer cocktail that appeals to the child in the imbiber. Berliner Weisse beer is a wheat beer that is often served with a squirt of syrup to balance out its sourness. Raspberry (himbeersirup) will give the cocktail a purple-pink hue (below) and woodruff (waldmeistersirup) gives the beer a shocking green, medicinal color.
Also on subject of the technicolor cocktail, Absinthe has a profile in Berlin as well. Unfortunately I found this place on a Sunday: it was closed because everything is closed on Sundays in Berlin. For being a cabaret city, a party city, Berlin is unexpectedly conservative on Sundays. I suppose that when your bars and clubs have no closing time, there must be a time established for rest. More on absinthe later; it deserves its own column.
Maybe the misadventure was doomed from the beginning, looking for a cocktail in the garden of bier, but, as always, the fun was in the journey. Besides, who can complain about anything when it is white asparagus season?