There’s more to Germany than beer. Head out to Brandenburg to discover some of the best wines, ciders and whiskies around. If you’re looking to get tipsy, Brandenburg has got you covered.
What comes after coal? How do you recultivate landscapes made lifeless from mining to create space for something new? A vision for the future grows on the slopes of the Wolkenberg vineyard, named for the Sorbian village that once stood here before the excavations started in the late 1980s. When the works stopped in 1993, it was unclear how the land could be revitalised: then, in 2005, the idea to plant a vineyard there was born. The project would resuscitate the near-forgotten, centuries-old wine tradition of East Germany, and use it to create new life in an industrial void.
“The project would resuscitate the near-forgotten, centuries-old wine tradition of East Germany.”
This isn’t to say it was easy. While conditions seemed ideal for wine-growing – gentle, sun-drenched slopes, rich soil with lots of clay – it took the partnership of Bettina Muthmann and Martin Schwarz to make it happen. Martin, a well-known winemaker in Saxony, teamed up with Bettina in 2014 to bring creative solutions to a myriad of problems, like an ever-changing microclimate, lack of reliable groundwater and depleted soil. One solution: the soil is now fortified with elephant dung sourced from local Cottbus Zoo.
The result? Classic white wines and pinot noirs, but also more rare finds like red Riesling. There are experimental flavours like the “Feierabend,” a dry Rotling that smells intensely of wild berries and strawberries and tastes the way a warm summer’s day feels. Or the velvety, spicy Cabernet Dorsa, partially aged in oak barrels and marked by rich cherry base notes. The red wines have won several awards, and have even caught the eye of Tim Raue, famed Berlin fine-dining chef, who serves Wolkenberg wine in his Potsdam restaurant, Villa Kellermann.
Of course, if you can make the trip, the wines taste best on site. Between May and October, Muthmann offers individual wine tastings every Sunday in the vintner’s hut at the base of the slopes, with optional regional cheese accompaniment. You’ll want to combine the wine tasting with a walk along the grape-laden slopes, taking in the vineyard’s past and imagining its future. —Aida Baghernejad
- Directions: from Papproth, head in the direction of Spremberg until you see a small green sign pointing to the Wolkenberg vineyard. 03116 Drebkau
In autumn, the trees of the Uckermark overflow with fruit. Spotting an opportunity, Florian Profitlich and Edda Müller launched Gutshof Kraatz, a waste-not-want-not apple wine and cider retreat. Over the years, they’ve developed an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of regional apple varieties and a keen eye for hardy trees – Florian found one of the orchards he purchased via satellite photos of the region. Now they press ciders and age wines in the back of the old barn, and entertain overnight and day trip guests on the rest of the countryside property.
Arriving at the couple’s farmhouse, it seems relatively unchanged since its heyday in the mid-1860s. The front of the red brick barn houses the café, which doubles as the wine bar and farm shop. The space has simple interiors of polished-wood furniture and weathered brick floors, and serves locally-sourced, seasonal comfort foods like potato pierogi in creamy yoghurt sauce and pumpkin apple buckwheat goulash, alongside signature wines.
Gutshof Kraatz boasts a daunting number of ways to get tipsy, from the traditional wild wines and sparkling ciders to experimental sweet plum ports and quince fizz. Of the apple wines, the Adams Parmäne 2018 brut is a favourite, somewhere between a dry white and a sweet cider. For something a bit lighter, try the Kanada Renette brut – endlessly drinkable even at a strong 8.5 percent. Lovers of English scrumpy should taste the Apfel Cider, which has a more intense body and a smokier finish than its West Country counterparts.
The most fun wines to try are Florian’s experiments, which are largely influenced by the whims of nature. The Zwetschgen port is a sweet, earthy dessert wine made from the hardy plums that survive the spring frost. The Wilde Kerle (Wild Guys) wine is made from the spoils of lone apple trees that Florian spots on his drives through the countryside. The quince fizz is sourced not from wholesalers but from locals with an overabundance of fruit – Florian points out that if your grandmother planted a quince tree 60 years ago, you can find yourself with an excess of almost 200 kilos a year in quince season. The Gutshof isn’t just for those looking for a tipple: if you want to skip the alcohol, they also offer hot non-alcoholic cider.
- Schloßstr. 7, 17291 Nordwestuckermark
- OT Kraatz, café, farm shop & wine bar open Thu-Fri 14-21, Sat 9-21 & Sun 9-18
- Book overnight stays for groups of up to 8
Who would have known that one of Europe’s few rye whiskey hotspots could be found just a train ride from Berlin? Stork Club Whiskey opened in 2016 with Bastian Heuser, Steffen Lohr and Sebastian Brack at the helm. The trio came to the Spreewald to pick up a case of whiskey from the previous owner and ended up buying the whole distillery. Remnants of its former life remain, from the outbuildings made of local stone collected by the former distiller to the “liquid library”, a collection of samples from every cask of whiskey left when they took over.
“It turns out rye whiskey in Brandenburg is a bit of a no- brainer.”
So why rye? It turns out rye whiskey in Brandenburg is a bit of a no-brainer. Rye is the dominant grain of the region and the only one that seems to grow plentifully – you also have it to thank for the thin, dark German bread you know and (maybe) love. As Bastian takes you on a tour of the distillery, a combination of yeasty sweet-cherry smells and gleaming Willy-Wonka-esque copper equipment, you’ll be introduced to the process of turning rye into liquor. The procedure is more delicate than one might imagine, including the preparation of malted vs unmalted ryes, precise temperatures and cook times, and barrels special-ordered to elicit specific flavours (you can request a barrel tasting of coconut and vanilla, for example). Bastian explains that although whiskey production is steeped in tradition, there is a collaborative nature to the process.
Whiskies soak up the flavour of the barrel they are stored in, from German pinot noir barrels to American oaks with toasted interiors. Stork’s Experimental Series came about through a collaboration with Berlin-based BRLO Brewery: Stork’s whiskey barrels were sent to BRLO, who aged their beer in them before sending them back to Stork to house a second round of whiskey. The result is a caramel-y, malty, round flavour. Their Full Proof Whiskey (at 55 percent alcohol, a hangover guarantee for the overeager) gets its blend of fruitcake-like notes from Spanish sherry barrels.
A favourite is the Smoky Rye, not quite packing the peaty punch of its Scottish counterparts but hinting at them. This one is great for drinking on its own, but the classic flavour of the Straight Rye Whiskey is probably best for a long drink or Old Fashioned. The most daring mix, the Rosé-Rye, is a weirdly delicious smoky-fruit combination – courtesy, Bastian tells us, of a tipsy evening with the owners of a winery.
- Dorfstr. 56, 15910 Schlepzig, tastings, tours & dining
- Apr-Sep 10-17 daily, Oct- Mar Thu-Sun 11-17
- Book via website