First home brew review in quite a long time.

I brewed this berliner weisse back in early November, opting for a pretty straightforward grain bill of half pils and half wheat, an ounce of Tettnanger in the mash and a no-boil approach to minimize hop utilization (and thus hindering of bacteria development). I pitched lactobacillus delbrueckii up front, waited a day and pitched the brewer’s yeast. Primary went just fine, secondary was good, and I dosed with another shot of lactobacillus when I bottled several weeks later. Here’s the original recipe for anyone interested.  

So how’d my first attempt at a sour turn out?

Poured a very pale straw coloring, like weak lemonade. Copious carbonation and loads of spritz, like a champagne. Aroma is boldly lactic and sour, very nice and promising. Taste is immediately sour, but mildly so. Not as puckering as I would have hoped, which I attribute to lack of sugar in primary for the lactobacillus to consume (pitching the lacto 24 hours ahead of the yeast may not have been enough time, but I was concerned with pH levels). Soft wheat flavoring that leads to a smooth finish. The 2.5% ABV is obviously not a factor here. Mouthfeel is medium, with the sour and carb providing a nice prickly sensation.

Overall, not bad for my first attempt at the style (I know I did something right, because my wife who despises sour ales hates it), but not what I’d call a home run. Definitely very refreshing and I can see myself drinking lots of this on the patio this summer. I may experiment with a sour mash next time I brew this.

Rating: B

Just a real quick post on this because I know several people have expressed interest…

The Berliner Weisse I brewed a couple weeks ago seems to be doing very well. I racked the beer to secondary last night after a nice primary fermentation, and it smelled amazing. Beautiful sour aroma set on a solid wheaty background. Very light and delicate.  No hops to speak of, which was expected given the no boil approach. Taste was also pretty good, the faint beginnings of tartness, but not as sour at this point as I was hoping. I’ve been reading that the lacto will take some time to work its magic. All in all, I’d say somewhat reminiscent to Festina Peche, minus the apricot thing.

The beer finished at 1.002, putting it at about 2.5% ABV. When I bottle in a week or so, I’ll dose with a second helping of lacto, which will help promote the souring as the beer conditions in the bottle over the next couple months. When the time comes, I may even try to concoct my own syrups to accompany the beer, an homage to the traditional way the beer is served in Germany.

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Forget hops…over the past several months, I’ve been slowly becoming what can be called a sour head.

After having a few phenomenal sours at GABF, and more recently sampling stuff like Russian River Consecration and Supplication at a friend’s beer tasting event, I’ve been itching to brew my own. I did some research into styles, bacteria and brewing processes, and decided to focus my first foray into the category on making a Berliner Weisse, a very delicate, low-alcohol beer that originated in northern Germany several hundred years ago.

When Napoleon’s troops marched into Germany and sampled the beer, they called it “the champagne of the North,” and it does indeed resemble a champagne with its high effervescence and dry acidity. They generally come in between 2-3% ABV, with extremely little (or no) hop bitterness or aroma, and are often served with various syrups to balance the trademark sourness. The grain bill is very simple, traditionally made up primarily of pilsner malt with about a third (sometimes up to half) wheat. The puckering sour in the beer comes from lactobacillus delbrueckii, a bacteria that can be imparted in the wort any number of ways, either naturally using a sour mash or via inoculation from a prepared culture as I did, figuring the sour mash procedure seemed like too much of a crapshoot on the level of sourness you’d ultimately get.

It’s fairly difficult to find commercial examples here in the Twin Cities. But if you’re willing to order beer online or travel to Hudson, you can find a few nice ones (often seasonal) including The Bruery’s Hottenroth, New Glarus’ Unplugged Berliner Weisse, and Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche.

Here’s the recipe I went with for a five gallon batch:    

3 lb Pilsner
3 lb White Wheat
1 lb Carapils
1 oz Tettnanger (4.4%)
Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus Delbrueckii
Wyeast 1338 European Ale

Saccharification rest: 152 degrees for 60 minutes
Sparge: 170 degrees for 45 minutes
OG: 1.028

This is a no boil recipe…yes, you heard me right…no boil. And the reasoning behind it is two-fold. First, while I decided to inoculate the wort using a bacteria culture from Wyeast, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to let any naturally occuring lactobacillus from the grain husks in the mash play a less significant role in upping the sourness of the beer (assuming any survived the saccharification rest). I suppose that also means there’s potential for other unwanted bugs to get in the beer, but I’ll take that chance (the style is also known to have low levels of brettanomyces, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Secondly, hops play an extremely small, almost non-existent role in this type of beer, so I hopped in the mash using a small amount of the low alpha acid German Tettnanger as opposed to boiling which would have extracted and utilized more compounds than required. Hop compounds can also inhibit the growth of bacteria (ever heard that hops have a preservative effect?) which is counterproductive for this style.

Once I had collected my wort, I cooled down to about 85 degrees and pitched the bacteria into the carboy, thinking that the bacteria would work more effectively at a warmer temperature as opposed to cooling to the preferable 65-68 degree range for ale yeast. I gave the bacteria a 24 hour head start before I pitched the yeast, as I wanted the bacteria to get some sugars before the yeast came into the picture and gobbled everything up. However, the bacteria can quickly cause the pH level in the wort to become too acidic, creating an unsuitable environment for the yeast to do its thing. So 24 hours seemed like an appropriate timeframe between bacteria and yeast.

Within 12 hours of pitching the yeast, I saw a small but active krausen in the carboy. The beer’s original gravity is only 1.028, so very small. I’m anticipating this will finish out around the 1.002 range, giving me about 2.5% ABV. After primary fermentation and a diacetyl rest, I’ll condition in secondary for a few more days before I bottle. When I do package the beer, I’ll dose it with another shot of lactobacillus and let it bottle-condition for at least a couple months.

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Anyone who’s read The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver’s eloquent, foundation-laying book on the relationship between food and beer, already understands that creative pairing can take what is essentially a good meal and turn it into a memorable event.

However, for some of us, how you go about determining what types of foods work well with different styles of beers to provide that eye-opening cuilinary experience can be somewhat murky. Tools like Great Brewers interactive pairing guide are very useful, as well as several other resources including Beer Advocate and the Brewers Association (found on the right side of this page).

But as I learned at this year’s media luncheon at the Great American Beer Festival, all you really need to remember about beer and food pairing are the three C’s, according to Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association and one of the country’s more than 50 certified Cicerones (the beer world’s version of a sommelier).

“Finding the beer styles that either complement, contrast, or cut the flavor profiles of food is the real key,” Herz said. “Matching the strength of the food with the strength of the beer is very important.”

For example, a classic complementary pairing would be a nice, malty stout with chocolate cake, as the rich, sweet flavor profiles work to elevate the experience of each. On the flipside, pairing an earthy bleu cheese with a hoppy, bitter IPA is an example of contrasting flavors, with the beer’s bitterness also helping to cut the fattyness of the cheese.

Beyond flavor, beer is also very useful for cleansing the palate, as the fine bubbles work to scrub the tongue with each sip and prepare you for the next bite, unlike wine which has no carbonation.

To showcase these concepts, we were treated to a fantastic five-course meal that included several expert pairings presented by brewmasters from around the country. As I discovered, it’s one thing to have a nice meal and appreciate how a fine craft beer augments the experience. It’s a whole different thing to sit next to the person who brewed that beer, as I did with Brett Porter at Deschutes Brewery, and discuss their thought process that went into making the beer and how they feel it works with the dish.  

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Munich and Chocolate Malt, Cascade and Saaz Hops
Our meal started off with more of an educational session on the core ingredients of beer, using a handful of malts and different hop varieties to demonstrate how these components impart their flavors in the finished beer. Love the smell of fresh hops. 

First Course
Buffalo Carpaccio with Avocado Tile and Cajun BBQ Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits

Paired with Manana Amber Lager, Del Norte Brewing and Rocksy Stein Lager, Bend Brewing

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A wonderful combination of sweet flavors from the thinly sliced meat and barbequed shrimp that worked well with both beers, but for different reasons. The Manana Amber Lager from Del Norte cut the Cajun spice in its slight bitterness, and the Stein Lager from Bend Brewing delivered a complementary profile thanks to the caramelized wort, a result of the 300 pounds of red hot granite brewmaster Tonya Cornett dropped into the seven barrel batch. 

DSC03065Second Course
Organic Greens with Macadamia Nuts, Colorado Peaches, Jicama and a White Balsamic Vinaigrette
Paired with Hottenroth Berliner Weisse, The Bruery

The acidic vinegar and fruit were fantastic with the biting sourness of the Berliner Weisse. The intense effervescence of the beer, akin to a champagne, helped to refresh the palate for each wonderful bite.

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Third Course
Hibiscus Flower Granite with Fresh Horseradish
Paired with Long’s Peak Raspberry Wheat, Estes Park Brewery
While the beer was great, I found the food to be somewhat distasteful, what seemed like a raspberry snow-cone gone bad. I understood their intentions in coupling the sharp tang of the horseradish with the citric raspberry of the beer, but the dish didn’t do it for me.

Fourth Course
Three Day Beef Cheek with Mashed Potatoes and baby Root Vegetables
Paired with Black Butte Porter, Deschutes Brewery

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As we savored this expertly constructed dish, Brett Porter at Deschutes entertained us with his favorite English saying, “beef steak and porter make good belly mortar.” The dish was anything but a lead weight in my stomach, perfectly complemented by Brett’s Black Butte Porter that he explained is the country’s best selling porter, even though they only distribute to 14 states primarily in the west (amazing!).

Fifth Course
Molten Chocolate Cake with Hazelnut Brown Ale Gelato and Garnish of Fresh Chinook Hop
Paired with Hazelnut Brown Nectar Ale, Rogue Ales and Maracaibo Especial Brown Ale, Jolly Pumpkin
The density of the cake was amazing, with the gelato elevating the dish with a creamy texture that really worked for me. Sebbie Buhler at Rogue explained that Oregon is the nation’s largest producer of hazelnuts, accounting for 97% of production, and it’s clear they’ve perfected the incorporation of the ingredient in their beer. Both the Rogue Hazelnut Brown and Jolly Pumpkin’s offering were a nice way to cap off what was a very memorable meal.

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