A few years ago, it was very rare to hear about Berliner Weisses in the world of modern craft beer. The culture surrounding this beer was still on the streets of Berlin, where what Napoleon once called The Champagne of the North, was drunk.
Originated in and around Berlin, there is no complete precision about its history or when it was invented. This is another wheat beer from the German school, made in the days before Pasteur, where the lack of knowledge about sanitization and pure cultures led this beer to be born in a sort of wild way, with lactobacillus bacteria and brettanomyces yeasts to the mixture. It can be said that this was not a defect, rather it became a feature, giving the beer an acidity that became its main characteristic. Having once been produced by hundreds of factories, the second world war and the change in tastes that led to an increase of lager beer consumption that came with it, gradually reduced the appetite for this style of beer and its acidity.
Also, Napoleon and his troops unaccustomed to acidic beer, may have started a trend that lasted until modern times in Berlin’s bars, which is to order a “Weisse mit Schuss”. This is like saying, a Berliner Weisse that comes mixed with a sweet syrup, which is added when the beer is served and allows the customer to choose which flavor they want at that moment. In Berlin, the frequent choice is similar to a Lisbon dilemma, between the Raspberry Red and the Woodruff Green (sorry this one is a football/soccer joke). But wait, what the hell is Woodruff? It’s a plant, from which a green syrup is made, half sweet, some say that tastes like vanilla, others say that taste like hay. German things you know … Of course, this tradition has traveled beyond the Atlantic to the USA. Or at least got to a brewery on the West Coast, visited in 2015, with syrups in drink dispensers, ready to play with the acidity of the beer.
And it’s also in the United States, albeit on the East coast, that the next life of the Berliner Weisses is born. Inspired by this combination of the fruit flavors with the acidity of the beer, a new trend begins that resuscitates the interest in this style, the Florida Weisse. Without ever being an official style, Florida Weisse stands out for using fruit in the beer itself, during fermentation instead of being added through the syrup. But this was not the only change, and the other big change of this style was not at all consensual and concerns the acidification process, which started to be done “on-steroids”.
Instead of using the traditional strains of lactobacillus that work at temperatures in the twenties celsius, the discovery of new variants capable of tolerating temperatures in the thirty-many celsius, completely changed the production process of these beers, giving rise to a new process: “kettle sour“. Loved by some, hated by others (don’t tell me you don’t have a t-shirt like this), the kettle sour process promotes acidification in the kettle / tank instead of happening in fermentation. For this, the resulting wort from the mash is not immediately boiled, rather is cooled to temperatures around 35º-38º C depending on the strain used, and is inoculated with lactobacillus, for 24-48 hours. During this period, the heat accelerates the lactobacillus metabolism and the lactic fermentation produces acidity. Then the wort is boiled, killing the lactobacillus, which will do nothing more for the beer. Faster to get to the final result, yes, but also a less complex one. Each thing has its place and purpose, but don’t be confused, this is #notlambic.
Following this trend, our brotherly country Brazil, which is full of fruits, many of them exotic and that only exist there, followed a similar approach to create a new style. A concept based on the German Berliner Weisse, but slightly altered, created the Catharina Sour. Clean lactic acidity, without Brett character, with a little more alcohol and a mandatory inclusion of fruit, preferably tropical and typical of Brazil and still with space for some spices. And with that, since July 2018, Brazil has its first beer style with international recognition (at least at BJCP level).
So, after this historic trip, here we are in 2021, where (almost) everything is fair game in the beer arena. The once acidic, light and effervescent German beer is now converted into a thick fruit milkshake, with lactose or other sugars, and anything else any brewer (or marketing department) remembers …
And what about you, when was the last time you drank an old world Berliner Weisse? Well, it was a long time ago for us as well. Strangely – representing the current state of craft beer – it is difficult to find one available nearby.
What a shame. Let’s solve this problem (for us at least) by doing one then …
From the plan, we move on to execution, already with ideas of letting this thing age to be able to enjoy it in the upcoming summer. There is no room for kettle sour here. The old-fashioned way means that yeast and bacteria go to the fermenter at the same time and at the same temperature. And as this lactobacillus works slowly when in the company and temperature of the German saccharomyces, this results in an acidification process that lasts for months and not just a couple of days.
Ok, but we still have to brew before that, so let’s go. For the malt bill, simplicity speaks louder here, Wheat and Pilsner malt in a 70-30 ratio. That’s it. A simple mash regime to escape the decoctions and let’s ride for a 90-minute boil. A pinch of Hallertauer at one-third of the boil and let this baby roll. This is the ideal type of beer to make on a barbecue day (or some other Portugueses delicacies I won’t name here, in our case) and enjoy drinking other beers while doing this. This is why there are almost no photos for this article… and also why the pH of the mash was way too high…
At the end of the boil, we made pH corrections and we cooled down to 23º C, transferred to the fermenter and inoculated with the blend of yeast and bacteria from White Labs. In the end, the lactobacillus leaves this story alive and well to continue, albeit slowly, to acidify this beer. About six months maybe, we’ll see.
Well, it’s done. Simple and short brew day. Fantastic yield with few losses. There are not many beers that have an effort / cost / quality ratio as good as this one.
Someone said that Napoleon would drink some pints of this. (#notreally)
Old School Berliner Weiss
Total Cereal: 3,11 Kg.
Original Gravity: 1.032
Boil Time: 90 minutes
30% – 0,93 kg. Pilsner Malt
60% – 1,87 kg. Wheat
10% – 0,31 kg. Torrified Wheat
5 gr. Hallertauer (pellet, ~4,8% AA) @ 60 min.
For what? No, we will not put lactose in this beer. Stop with that, enough already.
White Labs Berliner Weisse Blend WLP630
SO4 to Cl Ratio: 1.3
Sacharification – 60 min. @ 64ºC
Mash Out – 10 min @ 76ºC
pH@40 min. 5… let’s not talk about this please…
20/12/2020 – Bottling. After 3 months in the fermenter, there is already some acidity. There is nothing more to observe and thankfully so. Time will take care of the rest.