Matt’s Myriad of Beer Styles #15 – Berliner Weisse

We covered off Weizenbier in edition #10 of this column and Witbier in edition #12 – being the two main types of wheat beer. As mentioned in #10, another minor variety of German wheat beer is Berliner Weiße (“Berlin White”). This is the guest beer this time.

It is a regional variation from the Berlin region (as you might have guessed!) and is thought to date back to the 16th century. Some sources believe it may date back even earlier in the Hamburg region. Like all weizenbiers, it is also cloudy, but this variety is also sour and tart in flavour.

Berliner Weiße also uses a blend of barley malt and wheat malt (25% to 50% wheat nowadays, but originally up to around 80% wheat), with the malts kilned at low temperatures in order to minimise colour formation. The lactic acid taste is produced from a mixture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria or from a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

The late Michael Jackson (the Beer Hunter, not the singer!) suggested that traditional methods involved burying bottles in warm earth for several months to allow this secondary fermentation to take place. The ABV is usually between 2.5% and 3% ABV, which is one of the lowest of any beer.

The style had grown to become the most popular beer in Berlin by the late 19th century, with up to fifty breweries producing it. Sadly, this had decreased to two by the late 20th century. It now has Protected Geographical Indication in the EU, so it can only be called Berliner Weiße if it is produced by breweries in Berlin. That is the reason why UK versions do not carry that specific name, however, US & Canadian versions often do.

The two brewers in Berlin referred to above are Berliner Kindl Weisse and Schultheiss and both are now owned by the Oetker Group. Thankfully, other new, independent breweries have now entered to market too.

Somewhat uniquely (to my knowledge, at least), Berliner Weiße often has sweetened syrups, such as lemon, raspberry (Himbeersirup) or woodruff herb (Waldmeistersirup), added before drinking. I experienced this during a visit to Berlin in 2006, where the hotel barman was keen for me and a pal to sample a tradition Berlin bevvie. I recall the beer being served in a bowl-shaped glass with a straw and being green in colour. I think ours was also mixed with a pale lager, as I don’t recall it being very sour.

I have had the pleasure of enjoying the following Berliner Weiße-like beers over the past couple of years – a few of which are produced within the Yorkshire region: Magic Rock Contortionist (5%), Ridgeside Sourbet (4.5%), Abbeydale Unbeliever #1 – Barrel Aged Berliner Weisse (4%), Ilkley Bonaparte (3.2%), Siren Calypso Berliner Weisse (4%), Brewdog B Side: Blitz Cherry (3.2%) and Hawkshead Solar Sour (3.3%). So, if some fancy some lip-smacking sourness, why not try a Berliner Weiße in its home city, or from one of a number of fantastic breweries closer to home?

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