Summer of Sours: The Berliner Weisse


After years of apartment living, my wife and I have a yard again.  Our own real yard, our own real grass, and even some nicely done landscaping which I admit we completely, totally inherited.  And best of all, there’s a real patio from which to gaze upon it all.

Of course, this real yard requires real mowing as well.  This is perfectly fine by me, because it makes for a bit of a workout and I enjoy doing it, although I’m not sure it’s as much about the exercise as it is the required post lawn mowing beer.  Now I’ll admit to some personal indecisiveness over the years when it comes down to my personal go-to beer style for the sweat through your shirt, warm weather, beach cooler, and now, post lawn mowing beer.  And if you’ve read this blog at all, you know that I’m not a big fan of the term ‘seasonal’.  But sometimes a particular kind of beer just fits the given situation like a glove.  For times such as these, I’ve tried IPAs, Ambers ales, Pilsners, and plenty of others.  Who knew, then, that for the first time that I tackled the yard, what really hit the spot was a Berliner Weisse style beer – a low abv, centuries old, sour wheat ale from Germany with (of course) with that typical cloudy, white pale, wheat beer like appearance to have inspired such beer names as Tropic Sneeze.

But when you truly taste a good example of one, the ability to quench my thirst makes plenty of sense.  For someone who’s never tried a Berliner Weisse, the common, easy fit description is that it tastes a bit like lemonade (without the sweetness) from its sour tartness and acidic nature.  And in many examples, the tartness can snap your head back a bit.  Nevertheless, these beers can be very refreshing, just like lemonade might be.

If you read this blog at all, you’ll probably know that I am a big fan of the beer blog Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, by beer historian Ronald Pattinson.  If you’re interested in where beer has come ‘from’ through the years, his posts are filled to the brim with great info, and more importantly than anything, he is a staunch believer in going to original sources for beer history.  I’ve read through several of his posts about Berliner Weisse, and along with some of my thoughts that are hopefully fairly accurate on the style, here are a few points I gathered up:

German Weissebier in its various forms as we have come to know them now has been made for centuries.  (So should you still think that sour wheat beers such as this are some sort of American made, craft beer madness, beers like the Berliner Weisse predated Pilsners.)  They are part of a small family of sour wheat ‘styles’ of mostly German heritage, which would include the Gose as well.

At different times during its history, Berliner Weisse was likely made with smoked malt, which continued up through the mid 19th century, before enjoying the same success other styles had in using a paler, “cleaner” tasting malt.  This may explain for some American craft brewers making the occasional sour wheat beer with smoked malt lately – Deschutes has a brewpub only smoked Gose, and Stillwater Artisanal recently released a collaboration beer called Smoke Signals, also a smoked/sour wheat beer.

Just how the bacteria that is responsible for the sour nature of Berliner Weisse got into the beer originally is still somewhat hazy.  But one of the texts quoted on the Barclay Perkins blog mentions the usage of an open – and wooden – cool ship type of container during brewing.  In that particular post, Pattinson wondered if this was the step in which bacteria made it into the beer to begin making it sour.  The manual addition of lactobacillus (bacteria that produces lactic acid) to sour the beer would come into being later, and is of course a common method used today.

There are quite a few other interesting points made in Pattinson’s research, of course.  They include that for a large portion of its history, Berliner Weissbier was delivered relatively young directly to pub owners for bottling and the fact that the beer can actually age quite well, which came as a complete surprise to me.  There are plenty of other points, and if you’re curious, I strongly urge you to check out some of the blog posts that I did.

I suppose that no post about Berliner Weisse would be complete without a mention of the traditional use of flavored syrups that some folks put in their beer to help cut their sourness.  The practice does continue today, with some brewpubs occasionally offering all sorts of fruit and herbal flavored syrups, and some inventive locations even make their own.  But when it comes to the Berliner Weisse style beers being made today by American craft breweries, these syrups seem to have given birth to the great numbers of Berliner Weisse style beers that are bottled today with all sorts of additional ingredients added to them.  Just one example would be Perennial’s good “Hopfentea”, a Berliner Weisse style beer “steeped on a tropical tea blend”.

Here is a breakdown of this often refreshing style, with “just the facts”, followed by a few examples of ones that you might be able to find:

The Berliner Weisse: A lemony tart and somewhat acidic beer, using wheat and barley malts, with a white/pale yellowish color, coming usually in at 4% abv or lower.

Perhaps my favorite go to example so far:

Evil Twin’s Nomader Weisse (can pictured above) – Only its somewhat limited availability and the typically higher than average, Evil Twin pricing would keep me from stocking the fridge with this all summer long.  There’s a near perfect level of lemony tartness and acidity on the tongue that this beer achieves without going completely overboard into face inside out sour territory, and then maintains all the way through drinking it.  Making it even more interesting was a slightly higher mouthfeel than expected.  For a style that sometimes gets slammed for being too one dimensional, Nomader Weisse has more than I’d expect going on, but not enough to detract from its primary tart qualities.

Champion Tart 2Other more mainstream examples are not difficult to find, but some of the easier ones to locate include The Bruery’s Hottenroth, Bell’s Oarsman, and Perennial’s Peach Berliner Weisse.  For a Virginia produced example, Charlottesville’s Champion Brewing is set to release their “Tart” Berliner Weisse in cans in the coming days and weeks.

Of course, any beer with the description “Berliner Weisse style” is certainly a very different creature from one made ages ago.  But we can thank those older examples for their current incarnations nonetheless.  And trust me, I’ll be keeping plenty of them in the fridge this summer, whether I’m working in the yard, or just sitting on the patio looking at it.


~ by thebeerroad on June 19, 2015.

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