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Blind Rate: We put popular Späti brews to the test

Our resident food and beverage expert put some classic Berlin Späti brews to a blind taste test - and the results might make you do a spit take.

Photo: Makar Artemev

For many (well, at least those who consume alcohol), the Späti beer fridge is a pillar of Berlin life, although that’s arguably more due to its convenience than the precise contents and quality of what’s in said fridge. I’m certainly guilty of grabbing Späti beers without paying attention to calibre. Having noticed my cavalier attitude, I decided to embark on a blind taste test of some of the most common Spätkauf beers to determine which is actually the best.

Since the average Späti has dozens of varieties available, I had to narrow my focus to a few top contenders. All the beers would be the same variety: pilsner (a dark beer or lighter helles would spoil the “blind” part of the test). To narrow it down further, I went for German beers only, ubiquitously available, and nothing too fancy (so, under €2). And to give the experiment as much scientific integrity as possible, a friend served the beers to me without knowing which was which, so I couldn’t judge based on brand name. After all, maybe I’d be surprised to find out that much-maligned Sternberg would be the best. In order of quality, this was the verdict:

5th place – Sternburg Pilsner

Costing only €1, even after the last year of inflation, the financially conscious part of me was naïvely hoping Sternburg would be a contender in this taste test. It was not. There was a moment of promise: the beer had a pleasant honey-like bouquet and a slightly darker colour than the other options. But upon tasting, it was just cloyingly sweet, in a pretty one-dimensional way. Sterni does seem a little easier to drink if you gulp it, but the aggressively sweet palate made it feel like drinking more than one bottle in close succession would be a pretty unpleasant prospect.

4th place – Krombacher Pils

Like Sternberg, this one had a darker hue and sweet aroma, although the scent was closer to plain sugar than something more nuanced like honey. This didn’t bode well, but taste-wise, this turned out to be a serviceable beer. As my nose suspected, the Krombacher did have a slight sugar-water vibe to it that reminded me of the iconic cheap American beer Pabst Blue Ribbon. Better when sipped rather than gulped, the Krombacher wasn’t exactly good, but it was drinkable, and unlike Sterni, it became more pleasant as time went on. However, at around €1.60 a bottle, it felt like the price-to-quality ratio was a little lacking.

3rd place – Rothaus Pils

This pilsner from deep in the Black Forest was on the lighter side of the taste test, befitting its origins in the sunniest part of Germany. It featured a brighter acidic scent with some citrusy notes, and a notably more complex palate than the lower-rated beers. Yet it was a little unbalanced: momentary sweetness gave way to slightly intense bitterness, more so than any other brew on this list (this could be either a plus or a minus, depending on your preference). But whether or not you’re a bitter beer babe, the maltiness of Rothaus was a little overpowering, keeping it from the upper reaches of this ranking – particularly considering it was the most expensive on our list at €1.80.

2nd place – Berliner Pilsner

This go-to cheap-ish local beer was the lightest of the bunch in appearance, with a distinctly crisp bouquet. Throw in some fruity notes (apple, mostly), and the aroma here was positively tantalising. In the imbibing portion of the taste test, that fruitiness shone through, coupled with pleasantly wheaty notes. My immediate response was that this was a highly drinkable pilsner, although the pizazz did seem to wear off after a few sips, costing Berliner the top spot – but it’s still a great deal at €1.30 to €1.50 a bottle.

1st place – Beck’s

The unlikely winner. Photo: IMAGO / Schöning

When the blind taste test was over and this was revealed as my top-rated beer, I was frankly stunned. Originally from Bremen but owned by enormous Belgian booze conglomerate AB InBev, Beck’s is probably the most ubiquitous, mass-market German beer out there, and my best explanation is that the corporate backing and the beer’s sprawling, tentacular reach has enabled the brewers to seriously fine-tune their recipe. It offered the most complex bouquet of the bunch, with a real mélange of floral, fruity and earthy notes. On the taste side, it hits the sour taste buds pretty firmly, and those aromas translated into a complex, action-packed flavour. Even the watery components of the beer felt clean and even hydrating. A tasty treat – but if you don’t want to throw your €1.70 at a soulless mega-brewer, there’s always Berliner Pils.