Beer Style Guide: BERLINER WEISSE beer

Rory Lawton

berliner weisse

The real Berliner Weisse beer is neither green nor red. Meaning: No syrup added! (Foto: StP)


The BERLINER WEISSE beer is for you if you:

  • are looking for a thirst-quenching, refreshing break from the summer heat, not too high in alcohol
  • enjoy a tart, sour, dry wheat beer with unique ties to Berlin’s brewing history
  • don’t mind fighting off the ill-informed who wish to sweeten it up with a cheap, coloured syrup…

 Style History

As its name suggests, the Berliner Weisse beer is a pale wheat-beer, with links to the German capital. Tart, top-fermenting wheat beers had been brewed in the north of Germany for several centuries. By the mid 19th century, Berlin had become one of the brewing capitals of Europe and hundreds of breweries were brewing the style that had (allegedly) been titled the “champagne of the north” by Napoleon’s troops.

Unfortunately, the 20th century wasn’t kind to this beer style. In the 1920s it started to be dumbed down with green (woodruff) or red (raspberry) syrup, to knock off the sour edge. By the beginning of the 21st century, only one German brewery (Kindl) would be making a beer called “Berliner Weisse” at all. Fortunately, the style is now in revival, with several interpretations being brewed in its birthplace once again.

Brewed with a combination of wheat- and pilser-malt, the low-gravity wort is fermented with a neutral top-fermenting Saccharomyces ale yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria. Bottled young, the beer is allowed to condition for several months in the presence of Brettanomyces, giving it the mild funk, earthiness and extremely dry finish.

Like Kölsch, Berliner Weisse is a regionally protected style. In Germany, only Berliner Weisse beer brewed in the capital may use this name.

Beer Style Guide

Appearance: Very pale straw coloured. Usually cloudy.
ABV:Traditionally 2-4 % ABV.
Aroma:Lactic sourness dominates with mild apple, mild funk. Sometimes hint of wheat/cereal aroma in the nose.
Flavour:Tart, sour and dry. Earthy tones. Very low, almost indiscernible bitterness (hop bitterness is almost irrelevant for this style).
Body:Dry, due to the low gravity and high attenuation. Crisp and refreshing, with high carbonation.

Recommended Saison Examples

    • The poster-bier: Berliner Weisse by Bogk-Bier Privatbrauerei, in Kreuzberg, Berlin. The brewer, Andreas Bogk, uses both an ale yeast and lactobacillus together in primary fermentation and adds Brettanomyces that he successfully cultured from an original bottle of Berlin Weisse (VEB Getränkekombinat Berlin) from the 1980s. Brewed in very small batches, try to track a bottle down for this “authentic” Berliner Weisse, brewed to style in Berlin: uncompromisingly sour and tart.
    • The other genuine Berliner Weisse: Brewbaker Jahrgangs Berliner Weisse is another authentic version from Berlin. Light and well-balanced, this 2.5% ABV beer is extremely refreshing.
    • Sour with a twist: Onkel Herbert Rhabarber Weisse, by Onkel Bier is from a new German gypsy brewery. Brewed at De Proefbrouwerij in Belgium, this “Berlin Style Weisse” has 3% rhubarb purée added to it before bottling, giving a very mild fruitiness to this otherwise dry style.
Berliner Weisse

Perfect Berliner Weisse. Not. Remember: No syrup. No straw. No nonsense. (Foto: NAK)