Berliner Weisse 4/2013

>> Sunday, April 14, 2013

24 hours after pitching lacto
Time for yet another sour beer; next weekend I'll be brewing a Berliner Weisse. I finished brewing my Saison a couple hours ago, so now I'm kicking off the lactobacillus starter.

I tried making a Berliner Weisse a few years ago. It wasn't bad but it wasn't all that great either. The level of tartness/sourness was much lower than I was shooting for. It really ended up tasting like a bland low ABV wheat beer with a slight "Belgian" character.

This style should be noticeably tart with a fairly intense sourness. I've heard stories of people visiting Germany and ordering a straight Berliner Weisse (minus the traditional Woodruff or Raspberry syrup) and the waiters refusing to serve them. My goal is to make it sour enough to make a German waiter want to shake his head at the silly Americans.

I did a little more research for this recipe including studying various other recipes and reviewing an NHC presentation on how to brew this style. Traditionally, Berliner Weisse's use a no-boil method. I don't like the idea of potential unknowns making their way into my fermenter, so I'll be using a short-boil (15 min) method. My plan is to use the following process:

  1. I'll be using 1/2 carbon filtered tap water and 1/2 RO water. This should help prevent any weird mineral/lactic acid flavors.
  2. Seven days prior to brew day, add one packet of Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus to 1L of 1.020 starter wort. Do not aerate! No stir plate! In fact, if possible, purge your starter container with CO2. Keep warm, preferably between 80-90F for a week.
  3. On brew day after cooling wort, pitch  the 5335 starter and allow it to ferment for one week at 68F. Again, do not aerate!
  4. After one week, add Wyeast 3191 Berliner Weisse blend and continue to ferment at 68F until finished.
The grain bill on this style is pretty simple and typically consists of only base malt and wheat malt. Gravity is also low; this is a light, spritzy, and refreshing style. I prefer to use aged hops in my sours as bitterness from hops can really clash with the sourness from the acid-producing bacteria. Below is the grain bill along with some additional process info.

3.75 # Belgian Pilsner Malt
3.00 # Weyermann Pale Wheat Malt
1.0 oz Aged Debittered Hops (Mash hops, 0.0 IBU's)
1 package Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus in 1L starter
1 package Wyeast 3191 Berliner Weisse Blend

Mash at 150F for 90 minutes. Mashout at 168F. 
Collect 5.5 gallons and boil for 15 min. Chill to 68F and pitch 5335. Ferment at 68F for 7 days before pitching 3191.

Brewing Notes 4/21/2013
Brew session went well with no issues. The 5335 Lactobacillus was pitched and will get a 7 day head start on the 3191 Berliner Weisse yeast blend. I tasted a small sample of the starter wort and it had a nice lemony tartness, so I think we're headed in the right direction. My ferm chamber still has my Saison in it so this one is fermenting in my basement which is pretty close to 68F.

Update 4/28/2013
I pitched the 3191 Berliner Weisse Blend today. The krausen from the lacto has dropped from a couple inches to about a quarter inch.

Update 5/6/2013
I pulled a sample today to get a gravity reading and do a little taste test. There's a bit of brett character in the nose...more than I expected considering it's only been in there for a week. More dominant than the brett is the lacto character. This brew has some absolutely fantastic tartness especially considering it was just brewed back on 4/21/2013. It's not as intense as my Flanders Reds but it's definitely noticeable. The flavor reminds me a lot of lemonade, but unsweetened. Even my wife who isn't a real big sour fan said she really liked it. Starting gravity on this batch was 9.8P (1.040) and it's currently at 5.8P (1.014) with an ABV of 3.32%. One thing really surprised me was the clarity of this brew. The recipe wasn't quite 50/50, but there was a lot of wheat malt in it so I was expecting it to be hazy. As you can see below, it's awfully bright for such a young wheat beer.
Berliner Weiss at 15 days old

Update 5/18/2013
Pulled another sample today. Gravity has dropped to 5P (1.009). I'm really happy with the level of tartness; this attempt is so much better than the first one. It looks like a hint of a pellicle is starting to form. I'm trying to decide whether to bottle it soon and let it age in the bottle for a bit or let it age in the fermenter. I'm leaning towards giving it another week in the fermenter then bottling.

Update 5/21/2013
I was in my basement this morning for a call with an offshore team from work and peaked in on the Berliner Weisse. This batch definitely has a dusty lacto pellicle forming. I may have to give it a bit longer than a week longer in the fermenter. I hope my most recent Saison finishes soon because I'm running short on fermenters.

Update 5/29/2013
I bottled this one last night. It's very drinkable right now but I'm going to try to let it go at least a month in the bottle before I serving them.

Update 7/1/2013
Not to toot my own horn, but this beer has turned out better than I could have imagined. I recently took some to the Big Ass Summer Solstice Beer Pow-wow and it seemed to be very well received. It has some great tartness going on and a very nice wheaty/bready finish. It's dry, light, and refreshing like a Berliner should be. I don't think there's anything I'd change the next time I brew it. This beer will absolutely make it into my regular rotation.