Sessionable Fruited Berliner’s

While the weather here in New England is not indicative of it, spring has (allegedly) arrived, meaning warmer weather, outdoor activities and of course yard work.  I would be lying if I didn’t say a delicious beer goes hand in hand with all of these things, and that after a long day of working on the yard, or the garden, a refreshing beer is one of the first things on my mind.

Last summer I spent a lot of time drinking, exploring, and brewing sessionable IPAs.  While, that ever emerging style will continue to be one of my go-to’s this summer, I am also brewing a stockpile of Berliner Weisse’s to have on tap throughout the warm season.  For those not entirely familiar with the style, the Berliner Weisse is a play on the German White Beer/Ale.  Generally low in ABV, this refreshing and tart concoction is perfect for large consumption and as a quick refresher.  Brewed with a large percentage of wheat malt, although a blend of barley and wheat is perfectly acceptable, this beer is inoculated with sacc yeast and lactobacillus to help create that tartness, a staple of the style.  Berliner’s are generally very light in color, however since this particular beer is well-suited to have fruits and other additives used in collaboration, many berliner’s have come to have interesting colors ranging from red, to purple, to pink depending on what special ingredients have been used.

Notice the red and golden hues of this berliner that has been aged on Strawberries and Kiwis

Notice the red and golden hues of this berliner that has been aged on Strawberries and Kiwis

While the basic Berliner Weisse is a light golden white ale with a sharp lactic flavor, breweries and homebrewers around the world use this wonderful beer as a canvas for experimentation.  Among the breweries heavily involved in the Berliner revival is Night Shift Brewing Co.  out of Everett Massachusetts.  While this brewery brews a countless variety of styles, they have become very well known for an annual series of Berliner’s that release each year, including Ever Weisse aged on strawberries, kiwis and hibiscus flowers, Somer Weisse brewed with lemongrass and ginger, Codder Weisse aged on Cape Cod Cranberries and Florida Oranges, and Mainer Weisse aged on Maine Wild Blueberries and cinnamon sticks.  Even more recently the brewery released a “Mystery Weisse” which was aged on peaches and mangos, and a society only version using prickly pears.  As breweries such as Night Shift, continue to release unique berliner blends, the interest in the style continues to grow.  In fact, for many people who are wary of drinking beer, the fruited berliner’s are extremely palatable and a great crossover from wine or other summertime beverages.

A label shot of Night Shift Brewing's Cape Codder Weisse.

A label shot of Night Shift Brewing’s Cape Codder Weisse.

While I have always enjoyed brewing Berliner’s and other variations of the style such as Lichtenhainer, I have never put a serious focus on having several versions of the style on tap at once and having it be, in a way, my style choice of the summer.  However, that changed a couple of months ago, when I woke up one morning, brewed 20 gallons of my berliner recipe and started playing around with them.  The results have been interesting and very tasty and I am excited for the variety I will have on tap throughout the summer.

While the recipe and brewing process is extremely important, I find that a lot of what builds the character of a berliner occurs during the aging process, while it is marinating, sitting on fruits or other ingredients, and most importantly souring due to the lactic bacteria.  This is where brewers have the most control over their final flavor and where the important decisions really must be made.  As is the case with most things, the longer something sits on a flavoring, or is allowed to sour, the stronger or more pungent those flavors will be.  Thus, as the brewer you must decide do I want a beer with hints of fruit, or one that is very fruit forward.  Do I want a puckering tartness, or a light tartness that balances well with the malt profile.  These are decisions that a brewer can manipulate during the aging process and are decisions that greatly effect the final product.  Is there necessarily a right answer to timing during the aging process? No!  Is there a way to know “where your beer is” in regards to flavor, yes!  It’s called tasting.  Of all the beers I brew I find that consistent tasting during aging is perhaps most important with sour beers and especially one as fragile as a berliner weisse.  With it being such a light beer with a low ABV, flavors pop and are very distinct in the beer.  While having a super sour, super fruited berliner is perfectly acceptable, not everybody will enjoy something with such an intense flavor, thus the need to test.

When aging a berliner whether on oak or in a vessel such as a carboy, rack from primary once F.G. has been reached.  Depending on how you plan on souring your beer, either the lacto will already be in the beer (if you did a sour mash) or you can pitch your lacto starter at this point.  Personally, I like to make a big lacto starter and and pitch it in the primary fermenter.  I will then give the lacto 24-48 hours to begin doing its thing before I pitch any sacc yeast.   After giving the lacto time in primary, the bacteria will be hard at work and will have already dragged the gravity of the beer down towards its F.G.  Once I introduce the sacc yeast, (also with a starter) the remainder of the fermentation flies by, and I am ready to move to secondary in less than a week.  Furthermore the lacto will graciously transfer over to secondary without any issues and will continue to work its magic in secondary.   I also tend to wait a couple of weeks to add my fruit or other flavors simply because fruit flavors tend to build up quite quickly in such a light beer, and I don’t want the fruit to be overly dominant in the flavor.  Since I am aiming for balance, I have learned I can wait on the fruit, add it later and still get the results I am looking for.

As is the case with any sour you are looking for that fantastic white pellicle to form at the top of the beer.  Once I see this forming I know it is time to periodically taste test the brew.  My personal preference in regards to my final flavor is to let the beer sit in the aging vessel once pellicle is formed, until I feel it is close to where I want the tartness level to be.  At that point I introduce the fruit or other flavorings.  Again since I find that these flavors grow at a faster pace in the beer, I wanted to get the beer close to sour enough so that all the flavors are on the same pace to finish.  It also allows me to let it sit with lacto for extended periods of time to get even more sour, without the fruit sitting in their the whole time which could result in too strong a fruit flavor or muddled flavors.

Occasionally, depending on what fruits and flavors are being used, I will rack to a tertiary just prior to kegging. Some fruits can really cloud up and make your beer hazy.  Some of this can be fixed with the use of pectic enZyme, however filtering out all the material and allowing the beer to clarify without the fruit can also be effective.

So far I have prepared two Berliner’s for the nice weather with several more being brewed shortly.  Both of these variants were fruit based, one being Starfruit and Pepino Melon  and the other being Strawberry Kiwi.  The Strawberry/Kiwi was kegged just a couple of days ago and will be the first of the berliner’s to get tapped and poured!

So, whether you’ve been a fan of berliners for a long time, or are looking for a new warm weather beer this year.  Think about giving the sessionable, delicious and tart berliner a try!  Below is one of the base recipes I use for my berliners.  Once you can successfully brew this or another similar recipe then you can really start experimenting with your weisses!

Cheers until next time!

 

Base Berliner Recipe

Grist

4# Pilsen Malt
2# White Wheat
8 oz Acidulated Malt

Hops

.5 oz Willamette @ 60 minutes

Yeast

Personally I will make a large lacto starter and pitch it at the beginning of primary.  24-48 hours later I will pitch a sacc yeast.  I prefer a nice german yeast such as wyeast 3068 Weinhenstephan.  While this is my personally preference, any basic german wheat/ale yeast will do the trick.

Mash

Mash at 148 degrees for 60 minutes for a nice crisp/dry beer.  Then simply follow a basic 60 minute boil schedule adding hops right at the beginning of the boil.

 

Leave a Reply