Orchestrated Style Guide: Berliner Weisse
Those of us at Orchestra might be huge lovers of Beer – not to mention ciders, spirits, kombucha and more, though we’re generally really good at software. With that in mind, we wanted to delve into the world of beer styles that drive the industry today, all in the hopes of better understanding the styles we see our customers brewing, those we drink, and maybe even share some knowledge we stumble upon in the process.
One of the most popular styles that’s made a splash across the United States, especially over the past 5 years or so, has been the Berliner Weisse. Traditionally it’s a lower alcohol style (2.8-3.8% abv per BJCP), yet today’s American interpretations are often a 2 to 3 percent higher. Both this style and the Gose are generally known as Kettle Sours based upon the “souring process” taking place in the kettle before an extended boil, not during the fermentation process like more traditional sours (i.e. barrel-aged, lambic, etc.).
As you may have guessed, the style originated in Germany, though the origination story of how the style came to be varies. From being a specialty of Hamburg, to it immigrating with the Flanders Huguenots, and ultimately becoming a popular style in Berlin in the 1640’s. For a time it was known as “The Champagne of the North,” a term of endearment coined by Napoleon’s troops. While some claim it was brewed in Berlin as early as 1572, it’s quite clear that everyone was drinking enough of the stuff to lose track of time and ownership. Both this style and the Gose quickly fell out of favor, then nearly died a slow death in the second half of the 20th century, only to be resurrected in the 1980’s.
There are a number of ways to brew a Kettle Sour, as described by three prominent Portland brewers during the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, which is pretty cool and all, though we’re more concerned more about how it tastes! And it’s the unique flavors that truly set the style apart from others.
A true Berliner Weisse was originally brewed as a light wheat sour, then the publican would offer various syrups to provide a sweet balance to the tart base. The most commonly used were Raspberry (Himbeersirup) and Woodruff (Waldmeistersirup). Today, most all American Berliner Weisses have the sweeter component blended in before packaging and are commonly balanced with a citrus or berry juice, puree, or syrup.
Great Examples of the Style
One of the most popular Berliner Weisse brands today, especially on the East Coast, is Creature Comforts Athena. Named in honor of their hometown of Athens, Georgia, Athena “is brewed with a house blend of lactobacillus, which imparts notes of citrus, cider, and sauvignon blanc” and weighs in at a session-able 4.5%. Variants, including Athena Paradiso, include additions of cherry, passion fruit, raspberry, cranberry and/or guava.
Out on the West Coast, you’ll find one of the most classic re-creations of the original style in Bruery Terreux’s Hottenroth. Coming in at the low gravity of 3.1%, it’s soured with lactobacillus as well and balanced with a touch of Brettanomyces – just add your own syrup. Variations have included additions of peaches, strawberry and vanilla, mango, a Moscow Mule and Mojito.
Lastly, in New England lies a tart delight in Night Shift’s Ever Weisse. A new vintage has been made each year since 2013, with the abv ranging between 3.3% and 5.2%, though always flavored with kiwis, strawberries and dried hibiscus flowers. In fact, Night Shift just announced that they’ll now be canning all their Berliner Weisse varieties (Ever Weisse, Mainer Weisse and Rickey Weisse) as opposed to being in 750ml bottles as they have been.