Restaurant Beer Profile:  Berliner Weisse

 
 

Florida-style Berliner Weisse pleasantly tart

by Charles Bockway

While sampling beers recently during Tampa Bay Beer Week, I came across one brew that made me reassess my whole understanding of a particular northern German wheat beer style.

In the past I had too often found the traditional Berliner Weisse beer, when drunk straight, to be a bit too sour for my liking. To me, its sharp sourness overpowered the more subtle, yeast- and grain-derived wheat beer character of the base brew. Some Berliner Weisse even seemed to have a funky aroma that made me think of sauerkraut.

Sure, it ages well, but it only seems to get more sour and out of balance. I believe this is why Berliner Weisse is so commonly served today with some sort of sweet syrup added—because most people just find it too harshly sour otherwise. Not surprisingly, you don’t find much Berliner Weisse consumed straight these days, not in Germany and not in American craft beer pubs.

When I could get past the puckering sourness, however, I always thought Berliner Weisse had much going for it, as in qualities desirable in a beer for quaffing on a hot afternoon or for anytime you wanted something bright and refreshing. It was light in color, body, and alcohol (maybe 3.0% to 5.0% ABV). The non-funky examples even had some attractive fruity aromas that were pushed to the front by their typically high carbonation. The better ones were barely bitter, but due to the acidity you didn’t miss it, and they finished very clean and dry.

With a modicum of re-engineering, I thought, this beer style seriously could be the next big thing.

Since today’s brewing ingredients, equipment, techniques, art and science allow tight control over the amount of sourness one allows to develop in a beer, I often wondered why more brewers didn’t just take a wheat beer to pleasantly tart rather than all the way to sour and put the emphasis on fruity esters while avoiding funk.



Justin Stange, head brewer at 7venth Sun Brewery in Dunedin, FL brews an exceptional Berliner-style
Weisse beer.

 

7venth Sun Brewery finds the sweet spot

When I walked into the little 7venth Sun Brewery in Dunedin, Florida and tried their Midnight Moonlight Berliner-style Weisse, I felt as if my prayer had been answered. These guys absolutely nailed my idea of a what a light yet tasty, slightly tart wheat beer could be. It will free my taste buds forever from those ubiquitous, flabby, bland American Wheat beers. You know the kind. They’re everywhere, and they can be pretty boring.

While I am not sure if Midnight Moonlight is technically a Berliner Weisse (you know, made exactly in the über-traditional North German fashion), I don’t really care. What I do know is that I’m ready to name it the perfect American Wheat beer for summer. It is certainly ready-made for the sub-tropical Florida climes—climes that cry out for a lighter, refreshing beer, but one with some character and structure. After a hot, humid walk back from the baseball park, its under 5% ABV lets me enjoy a couple for liquid replenishment without worry of getting cross-eyed. Its tartness and carbonation work together to massage my taste buds and stimulate my appetite. Yum, just enough malt. Man, this beer has balance, with plenty of acidity to give it zip, but not so much as to require the drinker to be an extreme sauerkraut fan to appreciate it.

While I was standing there lauding his beer, 7venth Sun head brewer Justin Stange was quick to point out that there are at least five Florida craft breweries today making some type of Berliner Weisse (including the nearby Peg’s Cove and Cigar City breweries). He was admirably humble and hesitated to take credit for inventing this new lighter style. He gave a lot of credit to his brewery partner Devon Kreps, saying that she was the one with the culinary palate who was responsible for tweaking the tastes of their beers. However, wherever, whoever. It doesn’t matter. If this style of beautifully crisp wheat beer is taking off in Florida, can it be far away from the rest of us who suffer through hot months too, even if fewer of them. I certainly hope not.

7venth Sun also produces fruit-augmented versions of its Berliner Weisse. The Kiwi Cherry Coconut version was a veritable taste explosion, with each of its flavor components discernible either in the nose or in the mouth. Here, the Berliner Weisse tartness carries the sweeter fruit flavors so much better than any plain old American Wheat beer can. Its acidity certainly gives Berliner Weisse the versatility to take on a wider array of ornamentation. It is something artisan brewers can have barrels of fun with. And so will their customers.

Restaurant Notes


7venth Sun's Midnight Moonlight Berliner Weisse is light and refreshing, with a lemony aroma and a spritzy, tart citrus taste over a lighter wheat-malt base. It has a clean, dry finish and is under 5% ABV.

 
7venth Sun’s Midnight Moonlight lightly tart style of Berliner Weisse is a more than worthy warm-season beer. It is also an all-around good beverage at the summer dinner table. In its fruitier versions Berliner Weisse might even be a reasonable substitute for soda pop and sweet iced tea. Restaurateurs take note.

If you are not in Florida, Berliner Weisse may be harder to find, especially the straight, non-fruit-added variety. Breweries that have made one type or another include Dogfish Head, The Bruery, Iron Hill, Sly Fox, Great Divide, Nodding Head, Sixpoint, Samuel Adams, Devil’s Backbone, Deschutes, and South Hampton Public House. Be on the lookout because Berliner Weisse is commonly released as a limited-time seasonal or one-off specialty. Your distributors should be able to help you find it.

Tartness (perceptible but not overpowering acidity) is a taste quality that is very rare in beer. Most popular beer styles just do not have much of it. Tartness not only aids refreshment, but in restaurant use, it is wonderful for food pairing. A tart beer will pair with foods differently than will a beer that emphasizes bitterness, such as a IPA or Pilsner. Having a tart beer on the beer menu will offer another dimension in food pairing.

In the wine world, acidity (tartness) is a well-recognized and sought after taste component for many popular wine varieties. We surely would not be drinking nearly as much Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling al fresco if they were flabby instead of crisp.  A tart beer, like a wine with good acidity, is a great complement to a dish that is rich and creamy, like something Primavera or Alfredo; a Bisque or a Caesar Salad.

Food and Berliner Weisse

  1. Spicy hot food > the beer will taste more tart

  2. Sweet food > the beer will taste more tart

  3. Sour food  > the beer will taste less tart

  4. High umami food > the beer will taste less tart

7venth Sun Brewery can be found at 1012 Broadway in Dunedin or on Facebook at SeventhSunBeer.

 














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