Sunday, October 18, 2009

Beer of the Week: Berliner Weisse

This week's featured beer is Berliner Weisse. I had my first one in 1995, when Christo & Jean-Claude wrapped the Reichstag building in Berlin. My family was living in Germany at the time, and my dad wanted to see the "urban artwork" so we took a trip up to the unified city. I'll never forget the that impressive oddity of a wrapped building, nor will I forget that tart, light Berliner Weisse with a sweet shot (schuss) of raspberry syrup. I also blame Berliner Weisse for my subsequent (but short-lived) belief that Hefeweizen had banana syrup in it.

Berliner Weisse is a style of unfiltered German wheat beer, but what primarily differentiates it from its other weizen cousins is the presence of lactobacillus bacteria. The bacteria will generate lactic acid during the fermentation, providing acidity and tartness to the final product. The grain bill is typically about 50/50 malted wheat and barley, and the starting gravity is pretty low at around 1.030 (+/- .002). This means that there aren't a lot of sugars in the beer to ferment out and the resulting beer is low in alcohol. You might have tried the 1809 Berliner Weisse at The Westside Local, but its alcohol content is nearly double what the style dictates.

Traditionally, the wort for this beer was never boiled. Some of the mash water would be drained off then boiled separately with the hops, to isomerize the acids from the hops. The water would then be added back to the mash, the wort drained off, the yeast pitched, and fermentation initiated. There was enough lactobacillus in the grain to create the sourness needed in the beer, but results did vary. In my own mini-research on this, it seems a lot of brewers these days perform a boil and add lactobacillus in controlled amounts; other options are to add acidulated grain or create a sour mash. Some home brewers add lactic acid to taste after fermentation.

Berliner Weisse is typically served in a goblet with a shot of green woodruff (herbal) or red raspberry syrup - and a straw. This is to temper the acidity of the beer and was an addition purportedly started by Napoleon who found the beer appealing but too acidic. He dubbed the beer the "Champagne of the North" in 1809.

I picked up a small bottle of this at Royal Liquor last weekend for a little over $3. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was made by the same brewery who created last week's beer, a Gose. And yes, as you can see in my picture, I poured it into the wrong style of glass. While it is a German wheat beer, Berliner Weisse should be served in a stemmed goblet, not a weizen glass. Somehow, I suffered through!

This beer smelled a bit like fresh, unbaked bread dough and its initial taste was citrusy and acidic, a little like lemon zest but not as sour. The mouthfeel was soft from the wheat and light-to-medium carbonation, but the acidity in the beer made it light and dry rather than creamy or heavy. The lactic acid is prominent in the beer, but this is a sour beer that is much more drinkable than, say, a Geuze or Flanders Red. There was just a hint of grassiness or fresh wet hay flavor from the lactobacillus, but not enough to warrant one of my favorite beer descriptions of "horse blanket" (that still makes me chuckle. Yes I am easily amused.)

This is a wonderful style for summer that is very easy to drink; with winter coming, consider this advance research for next year. With the low ABV and thirst-quenching appeal, it qualifies perfectly for a "session beer" designation. At its price point, however, this is definitely a beer to be savored. I hope we see more of these fill the shelves in the future. I am optimistic; Southampton just won a gold medal at the GABF for its Berliner Weisse and I hope that inspires other breweries to try their hand with the style.

For more information, a couple of recipes can be found in Brewing Classic Styles and on, and more information on the style can be found in Designing Great Beers and on


  1. Good write up. You can also get 1809 at Gomers in the Northland and at Lukas in Martin City.

  2. Yep, it's also at Lukas. However, since it's mostly "inspired by" Berliner Weisse and not true to style, I think this other one is a better representation of what Berliner Weisse should be like. That said, it's a very yummy beer.

  3. I think you can get Berliner Kindl Weisse at the Missouri Lukas. IIRC correctly they also had the syrup as well. It's pretty tart stuff on it's own, and I like sour beers.

  4. I've only had one Berliner Weiss, but I think it was a good one.... from the New Glarus "unplugged" series! YUM! Not as bracingly sour as something like La Folie or even Rodenbach, both of which I love, but sour nonetheless and in a slightly less acidic way, if that makes sense. It was GOOD, but that is a very limited availability beer, so it was a once in a lifetime try! lol

  5. Yeah, I think Berliner Weisse is a much more approachable "sour" beer, as is Gose.

    HBH, I had no idea they carried the Schuss at Lukas! I'll have to look for it; that'd be a lot of fun :) I didn't see the Kindl there, but that doesn't mean it wasn't on the shelf. I have a knack for staring right at something without realizing it.

    I promise to do a more normal beer style next week. ;)

  6. Berliner Weiss is all lactic sourness whereas Rodenbach and La Folie are acetic sourness.

    The former is usually a little softer at a given level.


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