You HAVE to Meet Berliner Weisse

David | Blog | August, 13 2010 | No Comment

Before I forget, I want to thank everyone who came to The Small Bar Fullerton at the end of July for Freshly Fermented, our 5X5 cheese and beer pairing event. Small Bar’s Chad Lynd and I had a great time presenting the pairings, with help from the Small Bar staff. I can’t wait to do the Cremont and I-Beam Alt pairing (Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery and Metropolitan Brewing) again. Stay tuned for more tasting events at Small Bar, Marion Street Cheese Market, and the Map Room.

 We’re past the apex now of one of the warmest Midwest summers in recent decades. In Chicago, aside from the swarming mosquitoes, the heat and humidity have been pretty well received. Personally, while I don’t like the insect boom, I’m enjoying the heat and humidity. As some of you know, I Have Never Met a Beer I Didn’t Like.  And there are few beers better suited for quenching the thirst and embracing the hot hot, sticky season than the Berliner Weisse.  

 The wheat beers of Germany and the other brewing nations are an odd lot to begin with, but Berliner Weisse may be the weirdest of all. It’s typically brewed to very low gravity,  giving it an alcohol level of 4% or lower, and its chief flavor characteristic is a tartness rivaling that of the lambic beers of Belgium. While German brewing traditions, some of which are law, forbid the inclusion of fruit as a brewing ingredient, servers are permitted to add various fruit and flavoring ingredients while serving beer, and this is a key aspect of Berliner Weisse which is traditionally served with raspberry, or woodruff syrups to balance its tartness. That tartness, by the way is typically achieved by utilization of a higher fermentation temperature and/or a long mash regimen leading to the production of lactic acid, according to Wild Brews author Jeff Sparrow.  Berliner Weisse is typically served in a schooner, with a cocktail straw.

Label image from Weihenstephan 1809 Berliner Weisse

The history of this style can be traced back more than 300 years, having something to do with the  French  Huguenots. Among successful brands of the 20th century were Berliner Kindl and Schultheiss Berliner Weisse. Berliner Kindl in particular has long been imported to the U.S. More recently, Professor Fritz Briem, of Doemens Academy in Munich, worked with  Brauerei Weihenstephan to produced Weihenstephan 1809 Berliner Weisse, a historical interpretation of the style that is brewed to a slightly higher gravity than those currently exported. That beer is also now available stateside.  There have been some Berliner style beers brewed in the North America as well, including Festina Pechè, a peach-flavored beer from Dogfish Head Brewery, and versions from Southampton Publick House, Great Divide Brewing and Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel in Montreal.

 These beers are delicious  all by themselves, and they pair well with salads and other light, fresh fare.  With cheese, the temptation is to go with fresh or aged goat cheese, or a fresh cows milk cheeses like burrata, but I would not be afraid to experiment with other cheese styles too, including Cheddars and aged Dutch styles.
As a pop culture footnote, I came across some info about a German skinhead/Oi! band named Berliner Weisse with more than a decade of activity including several recordings.  This will be great for future installments of Ancient Punk Rock Trivia at Cheese and Cheers events.  
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