In Beer There Is Freedom

What’s Pilsner? The Berlin Beer Academy aims to educate Berliners in all things craft beer. Andrew Wilkin talks with founder and CEO Sylvia Kopp and PR Manager Felix vom Endt for MIXOLOGY ONLINE, finding out about their origins in the beer industry and their opinions on the Berlin craft beer scene.
Every fledging scene needs a base. You could argue the Berlin startup scene has the Mac-mecca of Sankt Oberholz, or third-wave coffee has The Barn. A place where outsiders get their first peek in, their gateway into a whole new world. And craft beer? Step forward, the Berlin Beer Academy. Educating the uninitiated is the aim of the Berlin Beer Academy, which was launched in November 2013. Described as a ‘beer savor school’, it aims to provide Berliners with some beer knowhow – a firm swerve away from Sterni towards Schoppe Bräu, from Becks to BrauKunstKeller. Settling down for a craft beer (what else?) at their site in Mitte, mere seconds from the gaudy, glittering Friedrichstadtpalast, MIXOLOGY meets with co-founder Sylvia Kopp and PR Manager Felix vom Endt.
Background in Beer
Imagine this. 10 years into the future, many brewers will claim in their MIXOLOGY portraits that it was the Berlin Beer Academy who inspired them to work in beer! So, what got these two into working with the good stuff? Sylvia began working in beer at the turn of the century, working for a beer magazine in Nuremberg, simultaneously discovering the existence of diplomas in becoming a beer sommelier. One bittersweet job-firing later, she became a freelance beer sommelier and writer, with her platform at
Sylvia says about her career ambitions at this point: “I just wanted any opportunity to talk about beer!” Felix’s origins also lie in Franconia – “in my opinion, beer region number 1 in the world!” 250 small breweries don’t argue with his assertion there. Whilst studying social work at University, Felix made trip after trip to the supermarket to pick up his favourite aus München beers until he made a realisation – one that beer didn’t have to only begin with Augustiner and end in Helles. The passion grew, and Felix started a blog: Lieblingsbier.
One of the first beer blogs in Germany, it also became arguably the most successful – and controversial. Felix stuck steadfastly to his opinions, and he admits: “Some breweries did get annoyed, but I got a lot of positive feedback for my honesty.” Lieblingsbier also championed craft beer from its very beginnings around 2010. 1 and a half years in the craft beer haven of Vancouver followed, working in a private liquor store and brewery, all the while keeping up with Lieblingsbier. By 2013, there was no doubt that Felix was well-versed in craft beer.
The Birth of the Berlin Beer Academy
We speed towards the point where the two timelines coincide, but there’s one important flashpoint first. How did Sylvia get the Berlin Beer Academy up and running? She talks of harboring the idea for some time, but being caught out by that pesky necessity – the business partner. And then brewer Olav Strawe came along. The caveat here? Strawe wanted to do it in Sonoma, California! Sylvia laughs – “anyone else would have said yes at moving to California!” Having just moved to Berlin, and unable to consider a transcontinental move at this point, Sylvia managed to convince him to establish the idea in Berlin. In comparison to what Sylvia terms a ‘saturated’ West Coast scene, she was convinced craft beer was about to take off in Berlin, telling Olav – “let’s be here when it happens!” And with that, Sylvia Kopp and Brauer Olav Strawe launched the Academy.
And Felix, back from his sojourns in Vancouver, made her a proposition just before opening: “Can I get involved?” Felix’s long-held passion for beer, and his conviction that the Academy was highly important, convinced Sylvia and she took him on. Thus a long story of beer appreciation, from  Franconia to Vancouver, taking in beer diplomas to beer blogging, ended up in the working relationship in front of me. Berlin’s craft beer-uneducated were about to get some real scholarship from a pair of very different, but perfectly harmonized craft beer aficionados.

A Wild Ride
It’s important to remember that the Berlin Beer Academy is still fledging, and in addition to their overarching optimism, both Sylvia and Felix talk of some teething challenges. “It’s been a wild ride”, Felix exclaims! Most notably, the World Cup. Bookings were a tougher sell during the Weltmeisterschaft – something that can’t have been helped by Deutschland’s victorious run. They seem remarkably in-tune on all issues. It’s a close working relationship, one of mutual co-learning, and this spreads to their appreciation of craft beer.
I ask what makes a good craft beer. Sylvia points out that it should be technically-clean and well-brewed, but they both land on the same buzzword as the key. Character. Both want to be surprised by the beer in their hands. Felix talks of his penchant for a summer Berliner Weisse, apt as the beer I was offered on my arrival, but says come the Berlin winter, he’s after a stronger, darker beer. Sylvia also loves Berliner Weisse, and also notes hoppy wheat beers and Belgium Orval as her all-time favourites.
Beer, Not Wine
We turn from beer to bars. Hopfenreich unsurprisingly gets a mention, where they have their very own tap! It’s applauded for the gutsy task of launching with 14 taps – something Sylvia notes in Berlin has never been done before. Felix adds Vagabund (just having celebrated its one-year anniversary!) and Monterey bar to the list, but bemoans the lack of good craft beer in restaurants in the Hauptstadt. A good meal with a good beer, Felix wonders – is that too much to ask? As for other drinks? They struggle to muster up enthusiasm, particularly Felix who claims there’s no need to drink anything else, when beer has so much variety! He’s still discovering new flavours, even within the Reinheitsgebot. Sylvia laughs, admitting that she sometimes enjoys wine, but it doesn’t always “do her so well”.
It seems doubtful the Academy will be diversifying into wine and spirits any time soon! The future looks bright, both for the Academy and the craft beer scene in general. BrewDog’s coming. Stone Brewing too. There’s the hope that eventually the term ‘craft beer’ will dissolve, and the whole concept of beer in Germany will be redefined. And the Academy? There will be an injection of new blood soon, but the big aim is to become recognised and established as a ‘real school for beer’. They are confident it will prosper. “Germany is a beer drinker nation, after all,” Felix laughs.


Foto: via Sylvia Kopp

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