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Brewing a Berliner Weiss by a Friend of BLC

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image“Beer Loves Company? More like, ‘Everyone Loves Company.'” Yeah, yeah…we know a most of our posts lately have been guest posts, but other people have a lot of interesting stuff to say. Today, we give everyone a look at making a Berliner Weisse with digestive pills. See, we told you it was interesting. Enjoy!

The clerk at Wild by Nature didn’t even bat an eye at my response which was a sure sign she had no idea what I was talking about.  I decided to press on in the vain hope of trying to not seem like a nut, “There’s a particular strain of bacteria that was historically used in beer which I can only find in these digestive aid pills.”  She smiled politely, the way you do when finding yourself unexpectedly in a conversation with someone who has obvious issues, and then hoped it all works out for me.  In retrospect she was remarkably professional since I probably sounded like I was about to start cooking meth in my kitchen when I told her I was using the pills to brew a Berliner Weisse.

It all started a few weeks beforehand when I was doing research for an upcoming style study class I was holding.  I’m in charge of the education initiatives for my homebrew club Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts and one thing I do is hold style study classes, mostly for styles that are not the most readily available in our area or where there is a wide range. For example, tasting traditional Dusseldorf Altbiers or comparing Belgian vs. French Saisons, stuff that gets your average beer geek all hot and bothered.  For this month’s class I chose Berliner Weisse beers since it was basically a dead style that suddenly had a resurgence in the US craft beer scene over the last few years.

For anyone not in the know, the style originated in Berlin (duh) and was referred to as the “champagne of the north” by Napoleon’s troops. During the height of its popularity, in the late 19th century, it is estimated that Berliner Weisse production reached 40-50 million barrels in 1879 alone and was being produced by as many as 71 breweries in Berlin. (Heironymus p.152; 150)  However, today Berliner Weisse beers make up only a small percentage of the German Beer market and as late as 2012 were only being produced by one German brewery.   Like most things beer, the origins of the style are somewhat fuzzy with only a brief reference in a 1680 German wheat beer tax law.  However, it is suggested that the style may be the result of the cultural diffusion between the influx of French Huguenots settling in Berlin around 1685 and a mix of the brewing techniques from various regions of Germany. (Meyer)

Berliner Weiss beers are dry, effervescent, low alcohol, and have a mild acidic character all making them amazingly refreshing brews.  Berliner Weisse beers are also very often mixed with a shot of syrup in Germany to counter act their lactic sour character.  The beer can be ordered “red” with raspberry syrup or “green” with woodruff syrup, although most who appreciate the style heavily frown on this practice as it compromises the character of the beer. In past tradition Berliner Weiss beers could also be served with kummel (a caraway liqueur), “Weise mit Strippe”, or even mixed with unfiltered pilsner (“Stangenbier”).  (Jackson, Beer p. 108; Meyer)  Berliner Weiss is also sometimes drank through a straw in Berlin, although as you can imagine this also compromises the character of the beer.

I did a fair amount of research for my class but it was one of my sources in particular, a presentation at the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference by Burgard Meyer from the VLB Berlin, an institute in Berlin that provides research, training, education and service for the brewing industry, that really impressed me.  Apparently the VLB Berlin has a beer library where they have bottles of beer dating back decades used for scientific research.  Besides being completely bad ass, this is important because, as was mentioned before, all of the traditional Berliner Weisse manufacturers are either now defunct or were bought up by some conglomerate who has compromised the style.   Anyway, according to Meyer’s presentation the VLB conducted chromatography on old bottles of Berliner Weisse and found that the strain of Lactobacillus brevis, among other strains like L. lindneri, L. Casei, L.coryniformis and L. plantarum were commonly found in these tests.  So this is where my uber nerddom kicked in and I immediately wanted to brew a Berliner Weiss using these strains.  Unfortunately, at the time I was going brew back in February of 2014 there were no commercial yeast manufacturers offering these particular strains which only made me want to find them even more.  So, like anyone who needs to find a quick answer to anything, I typed “Lactobacillus Brevis” into Google and immediately in the “shop” section on the side of the page came up various pro-biotic pills for sale.  Out of curiosity I clicked on the products and found that numerous health supplement producers utilized the strains I was looking for.   What was news to me is that apparently lactobacillus, when ingested, improves your immune response and is regularly consumed by the elderly who need increased cell immunity.  How’s that for an excuse to go have a sour beer with Grandpa?  After a quick scan of the ingredients of these pills I saw that they were the perfect cocktail of microbial awesome sauce I wanted.  So I headed out to my closest health food store and, after a brief uncomfortable conversation with a very nice clerk at Wild by Nature, set out to make this beer.

While formulating the recipe and process I decided I was going to employ a number of things I came across from some of the sources I was using for my style class.  I knew I was going to use the Francke Acidification Method from the Meyer presentation at the CBC which consisted of pitching your lacto culture into your unboiled wort and holding it at around 115 F until you hit your desired pH.  In my case I was looking for a mildly acidic beer and went for a more restrained pH of 3.7.  Also, I had just finished reading Stan Hieronymus’ book Brewing with Wheat in which he talks about traditional German brewers using a ferulic acid rest in their mash schedule with beers using phenolic off flavor positive yeast strains for greater production of phenols like 4VG during fermentation.  I was also perusing Crooked Staves’ Chad Yakobsen’s awesome website on the Brettanomyces project he created to go along with his master’s thesis. In it he cites sources that also point to ferulic acid as contributing to greater phenolic production by different Brettanomyces strains. So I included a rest at 113 F in my mash schedule.

As far as yeast, I wanted to ferment cool at 66 F with neutral ale yeast (White Labs California Ale Yeast) to give the beer a clean lactic character.  I also decided to inoculate with brettanomyces bruxellis after primary fermentation was completed to add to the complexity of the beer as well as conform to traditional aged examples.

After I conducted my mash, I decided to run my sparge right into a food grade plastic 12 gallon container that’s now only good for sour beers and large batches of salad dressing.  I also rigged up a refrigerator with an old Johnson FE600 dial temp control monitor to keep the ambient temp at 115 F.  After doing some searching online I found that you can actually open up the controller and set it from cool to hot with one simple screw change and then connected a heat lamp, like the ones people use for reptile cages.  As some of you may know, the Johnson controller only goes up to 80 degrees but, I found if I put the sensor in water, switch it to heat, and then turned the dial to 80 my fridge was consistently over 100 degrees.  That being said, the temperature wasn’t very stable.  It would range from 100-120 degrees but that’s what I had to work with.  A word of caution: this method probably has the fire safety of a Great White concert so I am in NO WAY advocating trying to heat your wort this way.

After I cut open the capsules and pitched the contents of all thirty pills, it took about 36 hours to hit the pH I wanted (3.7).  As I was siphoning into my brew kettle the wort had these long protein strands floating around that made it look like a large batch of egg drop soup, not very appealing to say the least.  Although the Francke method suggested heating the wort to 175 degrees for 60 minutes I decided to just do the standard 15 minute boil since hopping would’ve been a bit of a guessing game with how the low temp was going to affect isomerization.  I ended up using 2 oz. of 2.5% AA Saaz hops in the last 10 minutes of the boil.

After the boil, my original gravity ended up being 1.039 in part because of a bit higher than expected efficiency.  I pumped pure O2 at pitch and after 10 hours at about 8-10 ppm and then sat back and let the yeast do their thing.  Fermentation was over in a week and I racked the beer into a corny keg and pumped it with pure O2 again before pitching the Brett.  I wasn’t sure whether I should aerate post primary fermentation but I had read in the White/Zainasheff Yeast book that high amounts of oxygen (4X that recommended for ales!) were ideal for increased acetic and phenolic production from your Brett fermentation so I went with it.  After about six months I reserved about a 12 pack and used the rest for the North Fork Craft Beer Fest, one of the bigger beer festivals on Long Island, where I gave the option of having it Mit Schuss with a shot of sweet Pyment mead I had made the previous year.  I called it “The Champagne of the North Fork”; people seemed to really get a kick out of it.

After about a year I tried a bottle with some friends and they seemed to really enjoy the Brett character but found the lactic character too restrained, which was my original intention, but am curious how that will affect its scoring in competition based on what judges I get.  I have 5 bottles specifically set aside for the 2015 NHC so we’ll see how it goes.  Fortunately for anyone reading this White Labs now specifically offers Lactobacillus Brevis for retail sale. However, if you’re in a pinch try your local health food store although you might want to avoid conversations about what you’re using it for.

Sources

  1. “2008 BJCP Style Guidelines.” BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines. Accessed 20 Feb. 2014.
  2. Hieronymus, Stan. Brewing with Wheat: The ‘wit’ and ‘weizen’ of World Wheat Beer Styles. Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 2010. Print.
  3. Jackson, Michael. Beer. London: DK Pub., 2007. Print.
  4. Jackson, Michael. Great Beer Guide. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2000. Print.
  5. Meyer, Burgard . Berliner Weisse. Presented at Craft Brewers Conference, 2012.  http://www.craftbrewersconference.com/wp-content/uploads/2012_Meyer_Berliner-Weisse.pdf.   http://www.craftbrewersconference.com/wp-content/uploads/2012_presentations/thursday/1611-06-Berliner-Weisse.mp3
  6. Mosher, Randy. Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2009. Print.
  7. Yakobsen, Chad. “The Brettanomyces Project.”  http://www.brettanomycesproject.com/ Accessed Feb. 2014.
  8. Zainasheff, Jamil, and John J. Palmer. Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew. Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 2007. Print.

Written by A+K

August 12th, 2015 at 11:06 am

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