Along the stretch of Potsdamer Strasse, a few blocks up from the bustling sleaze of LSD and the red light district, a few blocks down from the towering monolith of the Sony Centre, there’s a small, quiet courtyard. Elegantly decorated and easy to overlook, it’s home to Tiger Bar, perhaps the most unique cocktail bar in Berlin.
As we enter the bar, we’re greeted by Joshua Lange, the Food and Beverage Director, who looks every bit the idealised image of a hipster sommelier. Tattooed and pierced, Lange speaks with a friendly American twang and bustles about the bar with a busy confidence that shows we’re in his domain.
Not born to a family of foodies, Joshua instead found his calling at AQUA in San Francisco. Like many in the industry, Joshua used this experience as a ticket to travel through food, working in fine dining restaurants across the world. He finally settled down in Berlin, being drawn to the vibrant diversity of the city. Along the way, he’s picked up a lot of knowledge. Like any good restaurateur, Joshua is obsessive about drinks, he’s a trained sommelier with an incredible nose for wines and a passion for Riesling. He still remembers the moment he fell in love with wine and the concept of terroir.
There was this one guy sitting alone at the bar, it’s always these guys who end up doing this- He ordered a ‘26 Lafite, only drank half of it and gave the rest to us. Someone graciously gave me a little, and just from the smell I could tell it was something special. It was truffles and earth and spice. The taste stayed with me for hours. I remember taking the N train home and the aroma was still with me, that’s when the bug grabbed me.
Tiger Bar started as an addition to the restaurant Panama. Both venues are named after a children’s story beloved in Germany, about the idea that home is where you make it. To Joshua, Berlin is truly special, it might not have rich harbours or famous vineyards, but it has a little bit of everything and draws the most exciting and adventurous gastronomers from around the world.
It’s important to Joshua and the team that Tiger Bar marries great gastronomy with a casual, collaborative atmosphere. Tiger Bar isn’t a place for pretension and ritual, but instead a venue where the marriage of food and drink create something new and exciting.
The pride and joy of Tiger Bar is its Terroir cocktails, a brainchild of this innovative approach to food and drink. Inspired by a talk given to the team by a sommelier, Matt Boswell, the bar manager of Tiger Bar, decided to see how the unique taste profile bestowed by the stones from their favourite vineyards could be applied to the craft of cocktail making.
The crew spent months experimenting with the chemical and flavour reactions between spirits and stone before finalising their menu. By the time they’d figured things out, they knew they had something special, something totally original that hadn’t been tried before. They were so excited that they wanted the project launched as soon as possible.
Joshua introduces us to Sophia Rudolph, the Culinary Director of Panama and Tiger Bar. She’s soft spoken and taciturn, seeming to prefer the food to speak for her, which it certainly does. Our first taster is her Brotzeit inspired bar snack, a goat’s cheese quark with chioggia beets, topped with browned butter infused with chives, instead of a classic german bread, the snack is served with house made quinoa chips. It’s my favourite dish of the night, with a grassy, nutty flavour that tastes bright, light and refreshing.
Paired with this enticing snack is the first of Tiger Bar’s terroir cocktails, the Dapper Dan. Made with gin rested on grey slate, a housemade cucumber falernum and a bitter mandarin tincture. The grey slate gives the cocktail an incredible finish, one that I’d never experienced before in a spirit, it’s a faint, but fresh flavour, like the slight minerality of water over river stones. Combined with the brotzeit, it sparks a sudden flash of trekking through the Cairngorms, crushed grass underfoot, fresh water burbling somewhere nearby, the sky grey but pierced by lances of sunlight.
The second terroir cocktail is the grilled pineapple Martinez. The cocktail consists of Mezcal rested on red slate, then infused with grilled pineapple. Added to it is a rosé vermouth, jalapeño tincture and grapefruit bitters. The whole concoction is topped with a spicy grilled pineapple jerky as a garnish. Served alongside the cocktail is a pico de gallo and fermented corn taco topped with mole spiced fried shallots, the last ingredient proves to be so addictive that I end up eating a small bowl just of shallot. The Martinez is spicy, smoky, sweet and summery, with a touch of hot stone at the end, paired with the tacos, it feels like a street barbeque somewhere in the middle of a California summer.
The penultimate cocktail, and the last to be served with a food pairing, is the Rye and Dry. It’s made from White Dog rye rested on black basalt, infused with Lapsang Souchong smoked tea and mixed with fresh ginger juice and Moroccan soda. It’s paired with miniature pulled pork empanadas and a sesame and ponzu dipping sauce. The cocktail tastes like warm toast with a hit of acidic brightness that compliments the rich, salty umami of the impeccably moist pulled pork.
The final cocktail we’re given to taste is the White Sazerac. A variation on the classic, this cocktail uses pisco rested on phyllite instead of cognac or whiskey, it’s then paired with fasskorn, elderflower liqueur and Peychaud’s bitters. It’s the most unusual of the cocktails we taste this evening, at first it’s floral and fruity, like a south east asian sweet, but not overly sugary. Over time, the sweetness fades, giving way to sour apple and a slightly bitter, woody finish. It’s astoundingly complex, and wholly unique.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Berlin as a culinary scene is the space it gives the adventurous to experiment. It’s hard to think of another city where you’d see an idea as experimental as the terroir cocktail, and certainly no other city where such a thing would be as affordable and unpretentiously presented. While such an open atmosphere can occasionally result in the occasional misstep (the less said about the sushi-rito, in my opinion, the better), sometimes you strike gold, or in the case of Tiger bar, you strike a whole treasure trove of minerals.
Marcus O'Shea is a chef, writer, food activist and ex-distiller. When he isn't sampling the best of the world's culinary scenes, he works with sustainable farmers, passionate chefs and retailers to help transform our food system and help ensure access to good food for everyone.