Tag Archives: berliner weisse

How to Brew my Award-Winning Berliner Weisse

I recently brewed a Berliner Weisse, submitted it to SLOSH SOUR 2019, a homebrewing competition dedicated to Berliner Weisse, and I won! So here I’m documenting how I brewed and what’s the rationale behind it.

Since the homebrewing competition was about brewing straight Berliner Weisse, with no twists and no innovations, I decided to simply follow how Berliner Weisse used to be brewed according to historic brewing literature.

Grist

Naturally, I wanted to use large amounts of pale wheat malt. Historically, the wheat malt used in Berliner Weisse was high in protein and quite undermodified. Malt like that is practically impossible to get, so instead, I chose to use a large amount of chit malt. To bulk the grist up a bit more, I also added some floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt. The final grist looked like this:

  • 2 kg pale wheat malt (Weyermann)
  • 1 kg chit malt (BEST)
  • 0.5 kg floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt (Weyermann)

Hops

Berliner Weisse is classically mash-hopped, so I simply added 6 g of Tettnanger hops (3.4% alpha acid) to the mash.

Mashing

I mashed in all the malt with 10 liters of hot water. To stay authentic, I used untreated Berlin tap water. I slightly underestimated the required temperature, so the resulting mash temperature was 46°C. I then heated it up to 53°C and did a protein rest of 40 minutes.

I then heated up the mash up to 62°C, and did a brief saccharification rest of 15 minutes, then further heated it up to 72°C to rest and convert for 45 minutes. After these 45 minutes, the mash was completely converted.

Now this is obviously a weird mash schedule, but in fact I based it on the mash schedule documented by the former Groterjan brewmaster A. Dörfel. At Groterjan, an initial protein rest was done at about 53-54°C, then the mash was slowly heated up to 75°C. I did a brief 62°C rest because I assumed that on my homebrew kit, heating up would be much quicker than on Groterjan’s big kit. I also kept the temperature a bit lower to prevent any issues from potentially overshooting the target temperature. I also left out one step that Groterjan did: they boiled parts of the mash as a final step and slowly mixed it back, trying to keep the temperature at a maximum of 76°C. This just did not make sense for me to do on my homebrew kit.

After conversion was finished, I moved the mash to my lauter tun, briefly did a lauter rest, and then started lautering and sparging. I collected about 20 liters of wort, which I then brought up to 80°C to pasteurize it for 10 minutes. I then chilled the wort down to 20°C and pitched all my microorganisms.

Yeast and Bacteria

I pitched half a sachet (5g) of S-04 dry yeast, a pack of White Labs WLP672 Lactobacillus brevis and a pack of White Labs WLP650 Brettanomyces bruxellensis at the same time, and let it ferment together.

If you want to recreate this and are worried about infections: my protocol is to simply have a separate fermenter for anything involving Brett and Lacto fermentation, that hasn’t caused me any issues in the past.

Primary fermentation quickly started and was finished after about 3 days. The souring process took a bit longer, but after about 3 weeks, the young beer had attained a good acidity. Around the same time, a secondary fermentation, presumably from the Brettanomyces kicked off, which was done after about a week. I then let the beer sit in the fermenter for another few weeks, and then bottled it. As priming sugar I used common sugar, and went for a carbonation level of 6 g/L. Then I put all the bottles in a quiet corner and let it mature.

The OG of the beer was 8.8°P (1.035), slightly higher than the 8°P I had actually planned. At bottling time, the FG was measured to be 0.8°P (1.003). The calculated amount of alcohol is therefore 4.2% ABV. A bit higher than what I wanted to go for, but still low enough to make the beer low and refreshing.

At the time of the competition, the beer was about 2.5 months old, so still fairly young. According to one taster who described himself as hypersensitive to sulphur, it still had some hints of sulphur left. The overall flavour and aroma was quite pleasant though: tart, citrusy, but not overly sour, so that the beer was still balanced and refreshing.

I still have a few bottles left, so my plan is to keep some of them and age them for longer. This should definitely help the Brettanomyces develop more complex and interesting flavours. I also kept the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter, and I plan to repitch it in future batches. I’m actually thinking about brewing another Berliner Weisse soon, just to have something to age and maybe hand in for next year’s SLOSH SOUR competition.

Thanks to everyone involved, in particular THE MASH PIT who organized the homebrewing competition, and Berliner Weisse Kultur e.V. who made it possible for me to present my home-brewed beer to a wider audience at Berliner Weisse Gipfel.

Berliner Weisse Summit 2019

Berlin is one of those places that have a rich brewing history, not just because of literally hundreds of breweries that used to brew beer all around the city, but also because it’s home to one of the few old German beer styles that have survived to this day.

While the style was neglected in the second half of the 20th century, and had a hard time to keep its place in Berlin’s beer landscape, the recent surge in interest through the craft beer movement has helped repopularize it. When a few years there were only a few breweries like Brewbaker and Bogk Bier that restarted brewing the style the traditional way, this has changed: with local breweries like BRLO, Vagabund, and Berliner Berg, the landscape of locally brewed Berliner Weisse has expanded dramatically.

The rise in popularity also shows in the beer festival landscape: 6 years ago, Sylvia Kopp initiated the Berliner Weisse Gipfel (Berliner Weisse Summit in English), a beer festival centered about Berliner Weisse, but it’s also open for other “wild and sour” beers. On June 1, the fifth edition of this beer festival (now organized by Berliner Weisse Kultur e.V.) took place, and the number of breweries visiting and exhibiting their beers has been even greater than in the years before. And not just from Berlin, but breweries from all the over Germany as well as the Netherlands and even the US took part.

There were too many beers to try, but some of my highlights were:

  • Berliner Berg Schiller Weisse, very refreshing and easy drinking, exactly how it should be as a summer beer. Cristal Peck, Berliner Berg’s brewmaster, is incredibly enthusiastic about the style, and seems to be doing plenty of experimentation to get the beer just perfect.
  • Schneeeule Marlene. Less sour than some might expect, but with plenty of funk. A great beer to age.
  • Nevel from the Netherlands brought two golden sour ales, one called Alm seasoned with “forgotten herbs” which they forage themselves, and another one called Minne which was seasoned with Japanese flowering quince. Very complex, very balanced, quite refreshing even at 5+% ABV.
  • Oedipus, also from the Netherlands, brought a few of their sour beer creations, which so far have always been great, and this year was no exception.
  • Felix from Orca Brau brought an unboiled Berliner Weisse of 14 months age as well as Bretted Brokantie, a bretted version of his farmhouse ale. Both beers were good on their own, but what stood out was that Felix also offered pouring blends, and it worked: a shot of his Berliner Weisse added to Bretted Brokantie really brightened it up.
  • August Schell from New Ulm, Minnesota was there with a few versions of their Berliner Weisse. I tried Ulmer Weisse, their version of American Weissbeer, an obscure American version of Berliner Weissbier that is mentioned in the 1901 book American Handy-Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxilliary Trades. It worked beautifully, and I’m so glad that they revived this historic beer style and also brew traditional Berliner Weisse in a historically pretty authentic way. Jace Marti, August Schell’s assistant brewmaster, also did a presentation on how they brew Berliner Weisse, and he recently also recorded a podcast about the same topic.
  • Joe Stange brought bag-in-box Den Herberg Oude Lambiek, which was a real treat.

There were so many more breweries, but I couldn’t try them all.

Besides just visiting the beer festival, I also had the privilege of serving my own Berliner Weisse. This year, THE MASH PIT together with Berliner Weisse Kultur organized a homebrewing competiton just for Berliner Weisse, SLOSH SOUR. Since I wanted to get more into Weisse brewing, this was a great chance for me to take part. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a short notice period, so apparently one four or so people registered, and my beer was the only one that was actually submitted. The jury sampled the beer, and found it to be good, so I won the competition and could serve the beer to festival visitors. It was well received, and someone even took the time to add the beer on untappd!

All in all, I’m very happy this beer festival exists, and it’s become my favourite one in Berlin. This has been by far the most communicative, enthusiastic, exciting, and totally nerdy beer festival here in Berlin, and I’m especially glad about it because it’s one important part of the effort to keep this historic beer style alive.

An Outlandish Theory about Northern German White Beers

Since I started researching for my first e-book, I read quite a few things about white beers that were brewed in Northern Germany, and I noticed some similarities, not primarily in the ingredients, but in how the beers were described and compared.

Let’s start with the archetypal Northern German white beer, Broyhan. It is said that it was first brewed in 1526 in Hanover by a brewer named Cord Broyhan or similar. Said brewer had learned his trade in Hamburg, and then went back to Hanover to brew beer like in Hamburg. But allegedly, the brew didn’t quite work out, and the beer turned out to be different, but still tasty, so it was swiftly sold under the brewer’s own name. Most likely, Cord Broyhan wanted to brew Hamburger Weissbier. Now what was the difference between Hamburger Weissbier and Broyhan? We don’t know. The sources don’t say. But we can safely assume the beers must have reasonably similar. Maybe the malt was treated differently, maybe the local water had an influence, maybe the local brewer’s yeast yielded different results, maybe the brewer simply forgot to acquire hops (Broyhan is said to have been brewed without hops). But what we do know is that it was a slightly sour beer style.

The next one is Kottbusser Bier, a beer style from Cottbus. Several sources describe it as white beer “like Broyhan, but with hops”. Typical recipes include various malts in different ratios, all of them air-dried, then usually sugar, and sometimes honey, as well. Hopping rates suggest a very restrained or even unnoticeable bitterness, and no hop aroma whatsoever. Historic sources also confirm that it definitely was a sour beer.

Then there’s Berliner Weisse. It’s made from pale malts (which used to be air-dried), and it’s sour. The sourness was something that was only established in the 18th century through the introduction of yeast from Cottbus breweries. Interestingly, Berlin brewers had to constantly renew their yeast through new shipments from Cottbus, as the mixed fermentation culture was not stable and caused too much sourness when repitched several times. It also means that Berliner Weisse and Kottbusser Bier shared a common character through the yeast and the lactic acid bacteria, while also having a relatively similar grist. And then there’s this historic source from the 18th century that describes the production of Berliner Weisse and contains an interesting formulation: the wort was made without hops, while a separate hop extract was produced, and this extract was added to the Breihan (merely a different spelling of Broyhan), which in this context clearly refers to the unhopped wort. It’s unclear whether Broyhan was a generic term for any unhopped beer, or whether Berliner Weisse was brewed just like Broyhan at that time, the main difference being the addition of hop extract.

And finally, Gose. Nowadays, Gose is brewed with coriander and salt, and is also slightly sour, but historic sources mention nothing about coriander or salt, but do describe it as sour, in one instance even as essentially being the same as Broyhan.

And that’s how my outlandish theory is formed: since several historic sources describe close relationships between Broyhan, Kottbusser Bier, Berliner Weisse and Gose, either in taste or in ingredients, I think that this is a indicator that these four beers are the same beer style, or to be more specific, the respective local expressions of beer with a specific aroma, flavour and colour. Despite a certain difference in ingredients, the similarities were recognized, and so the beers satisfied the customers’ expectations of sour white beer. Each were individual in their own ways, but each would very likely be in such a condition that they could replace any of the other beer styles of that group and still meet the expectations of beer drinkers. And all four beers are representative of a beer fashion that dates back about 500 years ago.

That being said, there is a reason why I titled this theory to be outlandish. It is based on conjecture, riddled with assumptions, and probably too good to true. Nevertheless, whenever I read about the sour white beers of Northern Germany, I get the feeling that they’re just so similar to each other, almost like they’re related. In some ways, I want it to be true, but then, there is no way to prove such a strong relationship. And finally, there is another question that remains completely unanswered: whether there was any relationship between Northern German white beers and Belgian lambic or gueuze.

Brewing a Historic Berliner Weisse

It’s March, and I’ve been wanting to brew a Berliner Weisse for quite a while. So what better time to brew a Märzen-Weisse?

Relatively little is actually known about Märzen-Weisse. What is known is that it’s a stronger version of a regular Weisse. In his 1947 brewing notes, the brewmaster of Groterjan brewery mentioned a high-gravity version of 16-18 °P that some breweries produced occasionally. I don’t know whether that’s the Märzen-Weisse strength, but it definitely sounds intriguing.

For this brew, I teamed up with Franz Pozelt of Slowfood Berlin, to do one Weisse according to my recipe, and then one Weisse according to his recipe. Last Sunday was the first of two brewing dates.

We started off with a historic Berliner Weisse recipe that calls for 20 parts pale barley malt, 10 parts wheat malt, and 2 parts oat malt. We didn’t know where we’d end up in terms of gravity (because it’s a no-boil recipe, see below), so we used 4 kg Pilsner malt, 2 kg pale wheat malt, and 400 g oat malt.

The mash schedule was also based on historic methods: with dough-in at about 40 °C, we then slowly rose the temperature until we reached 50 °C to rest for 15 minutes. Then we continued to slowly heat up until we reached 62 °C, which we held for 45 minutes. We then drew a thin decoction and boiled it for about 5 minutes. At this point, we also added the hops, literally 3 leaves of Hersbrucker, to boil it. Mash hopping is another historic method in Berliner Weisse.

We then mixed the decoction back to raise the temperature to 72 °C, held that temperature for another 15 minutes, and then moved the mash to the lauter tun. With enough vorlauf to achieve a bright and clear wort, we then went on to sparge. Since this was going to be a no-boil Berliner Weisse, we didn’t know what efficiency to expect, so we simply collected enough wort until we reached 16 °P.

The wort was then heated up to 95 °C, and the temperature held for 20 minutes. This was a bit of a compromise, as older recipes lauter directly to the cooling tub resp. the fermentation vessel, but the Groterjan brewmaster mentions this as a possibility to prevent beer infections (such as Pediococcus) without having to resort to a boil. Interestingly, the resulting wort had 17 °P. That may be due to a measurement error earlier, and we didn’t mix the wort properly before (my experience is that during lautering, the runnings don’t mix well, most likely due to different specific gravity, so you get wildly different measurements with the refractometer depending where you take your sample).

Right after that, the wort was transferred to the fermentation vessel, and cooled down to 30 °C.

Fermentation itself is where my approach deviates from history: to better control the resulting sourness, I decided to sour the wort with a big starter of Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus buchneri, and when sourness will have approached a good level, yeast will be pitched. I decided for US-05, as it’s a relatively neutral ale yeast which has been shown to successfully ferment even in wort with a pH level of 3.38, plus it’s cheaper for me to get several sachets of it than e.g. a single vial of WLP029 or a smack-pack of Wyeast 1007.

Since the brewday went without any issues, the lacto is doing its work now, and I’ll keep measuring the pH levels and tasting the souring wort. The yeast will be pitched when the sourness is right. In addition to that, the fermentation vessel was used to ferment and mature a batch of porter with Brettanomyces, so I expect an infection with B. claussenii, as well, which is perfectly fine for the style.

I’ll report about any results. At the moment, the lactobacillus is slowly fermenting away, producing some CO2. I suppose that’s fine, as L. buchneri is heterofermentative.