Style Portrait: Berliner Weisse
First things first: Berliner Weisse is an acquired taste! To the uninitiated, their first encounter with a glass of Berliner Weisse usually results in an upturned nose or a grimace. I have witnessed the same response on many occasions. To be fair, this beer is an oddity: very sour, very cloudy, low on hops – and low in alcohol to boot – why would anyone wish to drink it?
However, its popularity is growing steadily. At the brink of extinction a decade ago, this refreshing summer beer has recently made a comeback. At the moment, Berliner Weisse is trending as a hip style (particularly across the Atlantic), with sophisticated craft beer drinkers in San Francisco, Portland and New York hunting down new versions as the local breweries brew their own interpretations of the style.
Since Berlin is the home of MIXOLOGY, we wanted to give our own native style some attention. In order to appreciate this beer style properly, knowledge about the history and the brewing methods is required.
History of the Style
As you can tell from the name, the Berliner Weisse style is a type of wheat beer. Although the north of Germany is no longer associated with wheat beer brewing, this has only been the case for the last century. Of course, we think of Bavaria, when we think of Hefeweizen today. (It is still the most popular style in the south).
However, tart, top-fermenting wheat beers had been brewed in the north of Germany for several hundred years. Although there are few breweries in the capital today, by the mid 19th century, Berlin had become the mecca of brewing in Europe and hundreds of breweries were brewing the style that had (allegedly) been titled the champagne of the north by Napoleon’s troops.
Berliner Weisse has simple grain and hops bill. It is the unusual choice of yeast and bacteria that are responsible for the fermentation that really make this a unique style. Brewed with a combination of wheat and pilsner malts, the low-gravity wort is fermented with a neutral top-fermenting Saccharomyces ale yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria.
Traditionally, it was bottled with Brettanomyces yeast and allowed to mature for several months, giving it a mild funk, earthiness and extremely dry finish. Although not all breweries brew their Berliner Weisse with Brettanomyces today (it is a time-consuming process and this being seen by many brewers as a spoilage organism), it is an important part of the style.
On the Addition of Syrup
Like with the Belgian Lambic beers, the sour and tart Berliner Weisse was considered by some to be too challenging and the edges were knocked off it by serving it with a sweet flavoured syrup. Andreas Bogk, an authority on this style, has traced the earliest record of this practise back to the 1920s, when bars would add green (woodruff) or red (raspberry) syrup to the beer in the glass.
This practise is now getting a lot of heated debate; with one side claiming that the addition of any fruit or syrup spoils the beer, while others feel that the addition of syrups is an accepted part of the traditional way of serving it.
Like Kölsch, Berliner Weisse is a regionally protected style with an appellation d’origine contrôllée. In Germany, only Berliner Weisse brewed in the capital may use this name.
Beer Style Guide
|Pale straw coloured. Usually cloudy
|Traditionally 2-4% ABV
|Lactic sour notes dominate with mild apple, mild funk. Sometimes a hint of wheat/cereal aroma in the nose, particularly with younger versions.
|Tart, sour and dry. Earthy tones. Very low, almost indiscernible bitterness (hop bitterness is almost irrelevant for this style).
|Dry, due to the low gravity and high attenuation. Crisp and refreshing, with high carbonation.
Five You Should Try
Berliner Weiße from Bogk-Bier Privatbrauerei (Berlin).
The brewer, Andreas Bogk, uses both an ale yeast and lactobacillus together in primary fermentation and adds Brettanomyces that he successfully cultured from an original bottle of Berlin Weisse (VEB Getränkekombinat Berlin) from the 1980s. Brewed in very small batches, try to track a bottle down for this “authentic” Berliner Weisse, brewed to style in Berlin: uncompromisingly sour and tart.
Berlin Jahrgangs Weisse from Brewbaker (Berlin).
This interpretation is the second authentic version from Berlin. Available seasonally, it is light and well-balanced, this 2.5% ABV beer is extremely refreshing.
Potsdamer Weiße from Braumanufaktur Forsthaus Templin (Potsdam).
Just outside the border of Berlin, this “Potsdamer Weisse” is a traditional Berliner Weisse in everything but name. This interpretations has a pronounced lactic sourness.
Onkel Herbert Rhabarber Weisse from Onkel Bier (Düsseldorf)
The new brand stems from a German gypsy brewery. Produced at De Proefbrouwerij in Belgium, this “Berlin Style Weisse” has 3% rhubarb purée added to it before bottling, giving a very mild fruitiness to this otherwise dry style.
It’s Still Weisse from The Monarchy / Stillwater.
A co-brew between The Monarchy in Köln and Stillwater Artisanal Ales in Baltimore, this is another light, refreshing Berliner Weisse. It is available in kegs from Bier Kompass.