I’ve had the itch to brew a Berliner Weisse styled beer for some time. I first had the style from White Birch, their version is much bigger than a traditional Berliner Weisse weighing in at 6.4% abv, a few years ago. My initial reaction was not exactly love at first taste. My wife and I shared the bottle, and by the time we finished it, we had both agreed it was one of the most unique beers we’d had. I didn’t exactly run out and stock up. Then I had Dog Fish Head’s summer seasonal Festina Peche, another non traditional version, closer to the traditional gravity at 4.5%, but it’s flavored with peaches. Both of these beers are tart and very refreshing, in the same way a lemonade is on a hot day. My research on the style lead me to believe that it’s a dying style, and I have been only able to find one year round available version, Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse. Traditionally the beer is served with either woodruff or raspberry syrup. In our sampling of the style I’ve made a fresh strawberry muddle, which we enjoy, but I prefer the tartness of the beer on its own.
That’s how I’ve come to enjoy the style, and I’ve been contemplating how I could brew the beer ever since. There are three typical ways to make this low abv tart beer. Sour mash, fermentation with lactobacillus and lactic acid additions prior to bottling. After listening to Jamil’s podcast, Basic brewing Radio’s Sour mash video cast and their interview with Michael Tonsmeire’s , and reading Michael’s Blogs on the topicNo-boil Berliner Weisse, No-boil Berliner Weisse 2 , No-boil Berliner Weisse 3, No-boil Berliner Weisse 4. I felt I knew what my recipe was going to be, and my approach to souring the beer. I was going to take a dual pronged approach, and sour mash and use bugs. This way I should get a sour beer, with a multi dimensional sour profile. I was concerned about introducing a known beer spoilage organism into my brewery, but I know through proper cleaning and sanitization, and isolation it really isn’t anything to worry about. I plan on limiting the carboy to sour duty only after this beer, as well as all soft goods.
The rest of the plan is to do a biab, non step mash, and a 15m boil. I missed my target mash temp of 150 on the high side, and didn’t have ability to cool it. Hopefully it won’t impact the fermentability of the wort. During the mash I started a 2l starter, and pitched 3/4 of the vial of white labs berliner weisse blend. After 60m, I moved the pot to my water bath and let it cool in the basement. Once chilled to 125, I pitched 1/2 cup of 2 row, and rest of the yeast blend. Then I covered it with saran wrap, and blasted some c02 into the pot, to minimize oxygen contact.
This was a two stage brew day, mash on saturday, souring overnight (about 20 hrs), and the final brew day Sunday. I was feeling quite under the weather, but I knew the sour mash is time sensitive. Despite feeling ill, I had to brew. So when I opened the lid I had to doubly fight back my reaction to boot. This was rank. Everyone who has written this up is 100% accurate. Yet their explanations cannot do it justice, it must be experienced to be appreciated. Then I brought the pot up to the stove for boiling, this was a serious mistake. Did I mentioned the smell? A a point of note, this is the worst smelling thing I’ve ever done intentionally. I warned my wife, and her reaction was, is that the thing that smells like vomit? I’m pretty sure the only thing that saved either of us is that we are parents.
The boil couldn’t happen fast enough, I tried my best to skim and avoiding directly smelling the wort. While it was boiling, I filled the sink with water and snow, no need to waste all the free ice and snow. My gravity was slightly high, 1.040, instead of mid 1.030’s I was aiming for. The good news is that by the time I was transferring the wort to primary, it was smelling quite a bit like a Berliner Weiss, so, there is hope. I plan to let this primary for about two weeks, the split this into two 3g batches, one getting some juiced black berries I picked from the driveway, making this a true Peppliner Weisse. I’ll then let the two age for a few months, hopefully ready for spring and summer time drinking.
Plans for the next time?
I won’t know until it’s drinking time if any recipe changes are required, and if I plan to brew it again.
Certainly lower the gravity, and get a good hot rinse of the grains.
I won’t be boiling a sour mash indoors again.
Links to learn about sour mashes.