So, here’s the scenario: you’re in Berlin, minding your own business, and you happen to sit down and order a “wheat” beer. What is presented before you is not what is expected. Firstly, it is served in a glass resembling a wine glass in a way, and is accompanied by two odd-looking glass containers – one filled with a green and one with a red liquid?! At the point where you start to feel decided empathy for Alice in Wonderland (which in itself is disconcerting), you have your first sip of this decidedly odd-looking beer and…WooHoo!! That tart, sour taste runs amok on your tongue with much tingling from the high level of carbonation, leaving your mouth feeling..? Refreshed! The doughy texture of the wheat malt lingers for only a few moments longer before you reach out to take another sip of this wonderfully wayward little wheat beer. Let’s deconstruct this entire experience now, so that we see what it is we are, in fact, drinking: Berliner Weiss!
Berliner Weiss is a wheat beer peculiar to the city Berlin in Germany. It is a highly carbonated, refreshingly sour wheat beer that has been brewed for hundreds of years and is loved so much, that it has been referred to as: “The most refreshing beer in the world” by many authors, and has even been dubbed “Champagne of the North” by the conqueror Napoleon and his officers. Sound impressive? What are trying to create when we make this beer? Let’s have a closer look:
International brewer, Kirsten England, says: “The final beer should be very effervescent, and if done correctly have apple and pear notes with touches of bread dough in the nose,” he said. “The flavor should have a mouth filling, biscuity, wheat flavour and a crisp, dry, tart finish. These can range from having a touch of sourness to very sour. Most importantly, a Berliner Weiss should be crystal clear. Importantly, you have a lot of lame-o fakers out there, so a very easy way to tell if someone added lactic acid to their Berliner is the flavour. Lactic acid will lend a sharper bitterness and a salty-type quality to the beer. Lactate, produced by the lacto in a true Berliner, even though very sour, will seem rounder and won’t have that ‘salty’ character.”. Although Kirsten is of the impression that it should be perfectly clear – as most are – it depends on how it’s made and how long it’s been maturing. The BJCP guidelines say that it can be hazy in appearance too.
The brewing of this beer is reasonably complicated due to the fact that we are trying to marry standard beer yeast with Lactobacillus bacteria (which is the same bacteria that we use to make yoghurt). The grouping isn’t as easy to accomplish as it sounds, because you want the yeast to eat as much of the sugars as needed, but also allow the lacto bacteria enough food to munch and make lactic acid to create that wonderfully funky, sour character we are after in the first place. Try imagine house A and house B who are neighbors. House A is home to the village pastor and his spouse, both tending a beautiful garden and taking walks together in tranquility as husband and wife. House A belongs to our wonderfully familiar beer yeast that we all know and love. House B, on the other hand, is an remorseless, ceaseless 24 hour frat party full of drunk students, destroying common property and generally being the worst of neighbors! House B belongs to Lactobacillus bacteria – usually the bane of brewers everywhere! We try to keep these pesky little critters out of our beer with the utmost of care due to their usually unruly behaviour in spoiling our hard work in the mash tun.
Berliner Weiss (and a few others out there like lambics) is different, we want the sourness and the funk produced by the bacteria to create a beer of such sublime drinkability that we are prepared to venture as far as “House B” to get there – the drunk kid at the door gets a kick in the shins on the way in!
Traditionally, what is called a “turbid mash” is employed, followed by a lactic refermentation, but this usually takes a very long time to get the results you require. Having done it the traditional way, I usually opt for what is known as a “sour mash” (Jack Daniels anyone?). This is basically getting your grain in the mash tun, closing the lid, and buggering off for the next three days while all microbiological Hell breaks loose inside there. After that, it’s a case of making sure your chemistry is where you want it and then “calling the cops on the frat party” with a vigorous boil!
Now the big question – Where do you find my Berliner Weiss in India?
PUNE – Effingut Brewerkz (Right Now!)
DELHI NCR – Clock Tower Brewery (November 2016)
Please find the BJCP style guidelines for a decent Berliner Weiss below: (Tell me if I got it right!)
23A. Berliner Weisse
Overall Impression: A very pale, refreshing, low-alcohol German wheat beer with a clean lactic sourness and a very high carbonation level. A light bread dough malt flavor supports the sourness, which shouldn’t seem artificial. Any Brettanomyces funk is restrained.
Aroma: A sharply sour character is dominant (moderate to moderately-high). Can have up to a moderately fruity character (often lemony or tart apple). The fruitiness may increase with age and a light flowery character may develop. No hop aroma. The wheat may present as uncooked bread dough in fresher versions; combined with the acidity, may suggest sourdough bread. May optionally have a restrained funky Brettanomyces character.
Appearance: Very pale straw in color. Clarity ranges from clear to somewhat hazy. Large, dense, white head with poor retention. Always effervescent. Flavor: Clean lactic sourness dominates and can be quite strong. Some complementary doughy, bready or grainy wheat flavor is generally noticeable. Hop bitterness is undetectable; sourness provides the balance rather than hops. Never vinegary. A restrained citrusy-lemony or tart apple fruitiness may be detected. Very dry finish. Balance dominated by sourness, but some malt flavor should be present. No hop flavor. May optionally have a restrained funky Brettanomyces character.
Mouthfeel: Light body. Very high carbonation. No sensation of alcohol. Crisp, juicy acidity.
The Kruger Brewer