Nick Carr on February 9, 2018 2 Comments The History of Berliner Weisse Funky. Varied. Sour. If you know a little about beer, these words probably make you think of Belgian brewers and their intricate, nuanced dance with wild yeast and bacteria to create some of the most interesting brews the world has ever seen. But, they weren’t the only ones who stepped off the well-worn path in pursuit of the untamed brew. While Bavaria was creating beer held in check by the rules of the Reinheitsgebot, and Lager was the name of the thirst game in southern Germany, brewers in other parts of Central and Northern Germany, influenced it seems, more by their wild-brewing neighbors in Belgium and Poland than their countrymen to the south, made interesting, tart magic. In 1573, Heinrick Knaust wrote of German Brewing, and described 150 different kinds of beer, most tied to a specific place. In F.W. Salem’s book ‘Beer: Its History and its Economic Value as a National Beverage’ we find a piece of Knaust’s listing; “There was a Lubeck Israel, an old Klaus (Bandenburg), a Gosauler Gose, a Hanover Braehan, a Soltzman at Saltzwedel, a Rastrun at Leipsie, beer of Crovey, beer of Harlem, Dantzie brew, Eimbecker brew” Sadly, most of these varied German styles have been lost to that enigmatic black hole of the forgotten past. Against all odds, however, some have hung on to the edge waiting for a more inquisitive century, a resurgence of interest in the odd and sour styles, to come along and haul them back into existence. One of these styles is Berliner Weisse. The Origin Story of Berliner Weisse The origin of Berliner Weisse isn’t clear. Some have speculated the style came with the Huguenots, protestant refugees fleeing to Germany from Catholic France in the 17th century. As they traveled north and east across Europe, they likely became acquainted the wild fermentations like Flanders Red, Oud Bruin, and lambics. It is possible, having picked up these brewing practices, that they used them when they settled. However, there is a lack of strong evidence to support this idea. This, along with claims the first historical documentation of Berliner weisse predates the Huguenots arrival by as much as a century, has made this premise unpopular. A more likely origin seems to be the development of Berliner Weisse from Broyhan beer. Broyhan was first brewed in 1526, Hannover, by Cord Broyhahn. It was a very pale, very low alcohol beer with a level of acidity. Broyhan became the most popular beer in Northern Germany for two centuries. A passage from Christian Heinrich Shmidt, translated by Ron Pattinson and included in his book ‘The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer’ states: “The geniune Broyhahn is very pale, similar in colour to young white wine, has a winey aroma and a pleasant sweetish yet acidic taste. Broyhahn differs from other white beers chiefly in that it is brewed from pure barley malt without the addition of wheat malt or hops.” Despite this passage’s claim of no wheat in Broyhan, Ron Pattinson points out that because of the style’s popularity and widespread reach it is probable many forms were brewed, often, with whatever grain was available. It’s likely that wheat became a standard ingredient as the Broyhan style evolved into Berliner Weisse. Early mentions of Berlin’s weissbier make little reference to the lactic acidity that would later become a signature of the style. In fact, Stan Hieronymus points out on page 150 of his book ‘Brewing with Wheat’ that the 1765 book Die Berliner Weisse even makes reference to brewers trying to keep their beer from souring. When exactly the lactic tartness became an excepted part of the style is unclear, but by the start of the 19th century, tart Berliner Weisse had become the most fashionable beer in the northern regions. Between 1870 and 1900, production of the Berliner Weisse style started to soar. Even Napoleon Bonaparte fell under its spell when he entered the region at the start of the 19th century, calling it “the Champagne of the North.” The Eccentricities of Berliner Weisse From its non-standardized production, to its flavors, to how it was served; Berliner Weisse was, and still is, a beer style of eccentricities. Top-fermenting yeast continued to be used in its production despite the overwhelming popularity of bottom-fermenting lager yeast across much of Europe in the 19th century. A decoction mash seems to have been the norm, and the wort was rarely boiled. Hops were often only added to the mash or to the first decoction, helping with filtration and adding the requisite few IBUs. Sometimes a small portion of hops were boiled and the extract added to the mash or wort. According to a passage, translated by Ron Pattenson, of the 1907 book Die Fabrikation obergariger Biere in Praxis und Theorie (The Production of Top-Fermented Beers in Practice and Theory), by Braumeister Grenell, early Berliner Wiesse recipes often made use of smoked malt. Berliner Weisse was sold young, and often watered down when the publican bottled it. More modern practices frequently put the style through multiple warm and cold conditioning periods. It ages extraordinarily well, unlike some other styles of wheat beer. In fact, many modern berliner weisse brewers consider 1 to 2 years aging requisite. To shorten this time, between brewing and distribution, a young batch is sometimes blended with some percentage of an older, more refined batch. The tart acidity is said to come from Lactobacillus delbrukii, though some references say it is Lactobacillus brevis doing the magic. The delbrukii strain was isolated by Biochemist Max Delbruck at the Institute of Brewing, Berlin in the 1930s. The ingredients (air-dried malt) used to make Berliner Weisse and some of the practices used (often no boil and limited use of anti-bacterial hops), made it especially susceptible to infection. The bacteria were likely an accidental addition, at least at first. The Lactobacillus added its flavors to that of the yeast profile, creating the fruity, dry, and slightly tart profile. Brettanomyces also played a role, due to the beer going through secondary conditioning in wooden casks. Serving Berliner Weisse: Past & Present During its heyday, Berliner Weisse was served in a three-liter glass tub, requiring the drinker to need assistance to help lift and control the glass. I guess they figured an eccentric beer needed an eccentric glass. This unwieldy glass later shrank to a large, flat goblet, before making a third and final transformation to the Beliner Weisse goblet or chalice common today. However, continuing its odd streak, today it is often served in its native country “mit Schuss, Himbeere” (with rasparry syrup) or “mit schuss, Waldmeister” (with woodruff syrup) and straws are used to sip the beer. The syrups cut the tartness, though any purist will tell you it should be enjoyed without this crutch to ease it down. The Fall and Resurrection of Berliner Weisse Like many ales of its time, Berliner Weisse was the victim of the slow spreading, yet overwhelming popularity of lager. By the close of the 20th century there were only a few breweries in Germany still making the once beloved brew. By the turn of the century, there were only two, Berliner Kindl and Schultheiss. Today, these two breweries are owned by Oetker Group, which still produces a Berliner Weisse. However, with the renewed interest in historical styles spurred by the craft beer movement, other breweries in Berlin have answered the call. It has also become popular in other countries. Here in the United States, beers like Dogfish Head’s Festina Pêche, released in 2007, and The Bruery’s Hottenroth, released in 2008, though not currently produced, were some of the first examples in a trend heralding the style’s return to some small part of its former glory… And, that trend continues to grow today. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Berliner Weisse are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Berliner Weisse should represent. BJCP Guidelines Color Range: 2 – 3 SRM Original Gravity: 1.028 – 1.032 OG Final Gravity: 1.003 – 1.006 FG IBU Range: 3 – 8 ABV Range: 2.8 – 3.8% Serving & Storage Temperature: 42 – 46°F Shelf Life: Several years Suggested Glass: Chalice, Goblet or Weizen glass The BJCP classifies the Berliner Weisse beer style under category number 23, “European Sour Ale” and it can be found in the guidelines as sub-category (23A). Other Styles Include: 23B — Flanders Red Ale 23C — Oud Bruin 23D — Lambic 23E — Gueuze 23F — Fruit Lambic Appearance: Color should be a sun-bleached straw and clarity can range from superb to somewhat hazy. Carbonation is spritzy, effervescent, and often compared to champagne. The head will be densely layered and large, however retention is often poor. Aroma: The aroma will change somewhat with age. Fresh; a sharp sour note will likely dominate, registering moderate to medium high. A restrained wheat character may be noticeable as raw bread dough, or even, in combination with the sour character, sourdough. A moderate fruity character, often of lemon or tart apples, is commonly present. A little age may increase the fruity character and create a restrained flowery aroma. There should be no hop aroma no matter the age. It may also have a funky character if Brettanomyces was used during fermentation. Mouthfeel: Extremely light body, combined with high carbonation and acidity to create a spritzy, springy run across the palate. No noticeable alcohol presence. Finish is crisp and drying. Taste: Flavor of strong, clean lactic sourness with a weaker background of doughy, bready, grainy wheat flavors. The sourness balances; no hop bitterness or flavor present. The balance is always tipped toward the sourness, but there should be a detectable undercurrent of malt. Sourness should never give the impression of being vinegary. It may have a low to low-medium quality of tart apple or lemon-like fruitiness. A low funky farmhouse-like character may be present if Brettanomyces was included in fermentation. Food Pairing: Berliner Weisse’s light body, highly refreshing carbonation, and low alcohol give it crisp tartness. How it works with food is very much dependant on how it is served. Berliner Weisse is often cut with some sort of syrup rather than served straight. As stated earlier, raspberry or woodruff are the most popular. Actually, with a few carefully selected syrups and a couple good bottles of Berliner Weisse, it is possible to blend toward whatever food you are serving, or pair across several different courses. Non-sweetened Berliner Weisse can be paired nicely with tart fruit; think desserts or fruit salads. Something like a mix of light greens along with strawberries and kumquats, or a dessert fruit bowl of cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and tart melon. Augment the dance by adding just a little raspberry syrup to your Berliner Weisse. Straight Berliner Weisse, or one with a little lemon syrup, can work wonders with fish dishes like ceviche or baked tilapia. It will also work great with Asian dishes showing just a little heat, or light spring salads of nuts and boiled eggs. Speaking of eggs, Herz and Conley, in their book Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros, use up almost three paragraphs singing the wonders of pairing Berliner Weisse with eggs Florentine and goat cheese. I have to admit it sounds pretty amazing. The goat cheese funk and little lemon tartness of hollandaise sauce partnering with the tartness and funk of a Brettanamyces brewed Berliner Weisse… yes, I think they’ve got a winner there. Snacks: With its crispness, Berliner Weisse is a great palate cleanser and its tartness makes it a no-brainer pairing for some snack foods like French fries, potato chips, and pretzels (even better make it a soft sourdough pretzel). Cheese: For cheese, go with the funk. Soft-ripened goat milk cheese, Havarti, Chevre; all are welcome. Serving & Storage: For best presentation and greatest appreciation, a Berliner Weisse should be served at around 42-46°F in a Chalice/Goblet or Weizen glass. That is, unless you have a three-liter glass tub and a friend to help you drink, then you’d have no choice but to make use of them. You can try mixing different syrups with your Berliner Weisse, play tourist to Berlin even in your own home. There are plenty of syrups out there and nothing says you have to hold to the raspberry or woodruff most commonly paired with Berliner Weisse. You may even have a good reason to use syrup if your palate hasn’t been trained by all the other popular sours out there. But in the end, try to wean yourself off the stuff or at least don’t make it a habit. You may be losing a lot of the beer’s character behind the sugary syrup and whatever you do, don’t you dare add syrup to one that has aged for any period of time. No. Look at me. Do you understand? That would be Berliner Weisse abuse and I’d be forced to call someone. They are best stored at cellar temperatures away from light. Berliner Weisse, unlike most wheat beers, and belying its low ABV, can age happily for several years. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Award-Winning Examples of the Style Kalliope from Captain Fatty’s Brewing (Goleta, CA) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2017 (Berliner-Style Weisse). Available: Rotating. Ringmaster Raspberry Berliner from Big Top Brewing (Sarasota, FL) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2017 (Berliner-Style Weisse). Available: Rotating. Blackberry Table Sour from Baere Brewing (Denver, CO) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bonze, 2017 (Berliner-Style Weisse). Available: Rotating. Volkssekt from Bend Brewing (Bend, OR) World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2016; Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2016. (German-Style Sour Ale). Available: Limited. Cucumber Crush from 10 Barrel Brewing (Bend, OR) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2015 (German-Style Sour Ale); Gold, 2014 (Field Beer). Available: Year-Round. Popular Options to Try Berliner Weisse from Brewbaker (Germany) Oarsman Ale from Bells Brewing (USA) Festina Peche from Dogfish Head Brewing (USA) Berliner Wiesse from White Birch Brewing (USA) Berliner Wiesse from Bayerischer Bahnhof (Germany) Stush from J. Wakefield Brewing (USA) Athena from Creature Comforts Brewing (USA) Berliner Kindl Weisse from Berliner Kindl Brauerei (Germany) Tartuffe from Heretic Brewing (USA) Marlin from Schneeeule (Germany) — This beer uses revived yeast from 50 year-old bottles. They make a whole line of Berliner Weisse. Cranberry-Quince from North Coast Brewing (USA) — They also make two other examples.