Stop 1, Berlin and Berliner Weisse
Car tuned up; check! Steins packed; check! Lederhosen packed; check! We are ready to begin our educational beer journey to Oktoberfest and start down the “Road the Munich”. For our first installment, we begin in the Northeastern part of Germany, the city of Berlin. Berlin isn’t considered the land of beer gardens or steins full of liquid gold, but is till steeped in rich brewing tradition. There are many popular styles of beer in Berlin, but one stands out from the rest, and just so happens to carry the city’s name in its title; Berliner Weisse.
Berliner Weisse is a beer style with a bit of an unclear past, but beer historians date the style to have originated around the beginning of the 17th century. Two trains of thought exist as to how Berliner Weisse came to be. Some contend that the style was brought into the region by the Hugeunots, protestant refugees fleeing Catholic France. As they migrated North across Belgium, they would have picked up new brewing techniques and were introduced to wild, spontaneous fermentations. The other argument is that Berliner Weisse was developed as a spin off or interpretation of a popular beer style at the time, Broyan, in neighboring Hannover. Regardless of which camp you are in, a solid conclusion is that Berliner Weisse came to be through a combination of both theories. As the beer style evolved and became more refined over the following centuries, its prominent characteristics came into their own.
About the Style
To get us started, weisse in German means wheat. A traditional Berliner Weisse will use around 50 to 70 percent malted wheat in the grain bill. The wheat aids in providing some much needed body for the low ABV beer, and contributes incredible head retention; the tell tale sign you are drinking a good one. The wheat also helps to offset some of the sourness or tartness that comes from the beer style’s signature component, lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is a naturally occurring bacteria commonly associated with yogurt, but it is what gives Berliner Weisse its acidity and complexity in flavor. What is unique about Berliner Weisse is that the wort is not boiled, as it would with almost every other style of beer. Hops are boiled in water separately from the mash in their own “hop tea”, and added in throughout the mashing process. Since the wort isn’t boiled, lactic acid bacteria easily survive, giving the beer a hit of naturally occurring acidity. To finish the beer off, a brewery will let it carbonate in the bottle in “Champagne fashion” with the help of Brettanomyces yeasts. Today, Berliner Weisse can only be produced within the city limits of Berlin, similar to Burgundy or Bordeaux wines of France.
Common Characteristics and Taste:
The flavor and aroma of Berliner Weisse are certainly unmistakable. The flavors are a strong, but a clean sourness with a backbone built on flavors of bread, and grainy wheat. Although sourness is pronounced; it is balanced out nicely with a subtle, but noticeable malt character and incredibly mild, hardly noticeable hop bitterness. The sourness should be of green apple or citrus, and depending on the brewery, a mild funky, farmhouse-like character may be present if Brettanomyces was used during fermentation or bottle conditioning. These are low ABV beers, but are complex in flavor and aromas similar to cider, white wines, or tropical cocktails. They should pour a gold to light yellow, and most have a slight haze that comes from the wheat. Knock these back on a hot summer afternoon as a refreshing way to cool off.
What’s Next for Berliner Weisse
In the mid 2000’s, only two or three breweries in Germany regularly bottled Berliners, but in the last few years, however, it has enjoyed a resurgence among craft breweries both in Germany and in the United States. Much of the popularity is driven by American brewers who have put their own twists on the style by adding different combinations of fruit and brewing techniques. They are looking to push the boundaries beyond the familiar, and experiment to see what can be made possible with the beer while still staying within the realm of the historical style.
In our next installment of “the Road to Munich” we will explore Berliner Weisse through the lens of Terramar Brewing of Edison, WA. We look into why they decided to brew this style, how history and tradition played its part, and how they pushed the envelope by putting on a unique twist to make something one of a kind.
About the Road to Munich
Hop into your Bimmer and merge onto the Autobahn (rather your Subie and I-5 since we live in WA), and let BeerNav lead you on an educational beer journey to Oktoberfest
“The Road to Munich” is our new blog and social media series that will run monthly from May until the beginning of October. BeerNav will highlight six of the most influential, historical beer cities and beer styles across Germany, and how Washington Breweries are influenced by tradition but add their own unique twists to each beer style.