As summer and summer temperatures drag on here in southern California, I’m spending my brewing energy on light, flavorful, and refreshing beers. This often means lagers, but sometimes it’s nice to play on the sour side of the street. A few years back, I brewed an award-winningBerliner Weisse, which tasted fantastic. I’ve been wanting to revisit that style and that recipe for awhile, and finally made some time this summer.
For my 2020 brew, I rolled with a similar recipe to my 2016 version, except for the sour pitch. Last time, I used Omega Labs OYL-605 lacto blend. This time around, I had a satchet of Lallemand’s Wildbrew Sour Pitch, which had already been opened for my Raspberry Belgian. Not wanting to waste a good culture, I made the decision to use this instead. I didn’t have to make a starter, which was a nice bonus. I switched in 2-row for pilsner malt, to up the malt character a little for such a low gravity beer. Finally, for the main fermentation, I made the very minor substitution of US-05 instead of WLP001.
0.5 oz. Cascade whole hops (5.5% alpha), 8 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
1 pkg. Amercan Ale Yeast (US-05)
1.031 s.g., 1.007 f.g., 3.2% abv, 3 SRM, 5 IBU
Full volume, no-sparge infusion mash, 152°; 10 minute initial boil, kettle sour; 60 minute secondary boil with hops, nutrients, and finings
Claremont water, unadjusted
I mashed in with 4.8 gallons of water at 155°, to hit 151° in the mash. I added 2 mL of 88% lactic acid to adjust mash pH.
After 20 minutes, the mash was down to 149°. After 60 minutes of total mash time, I vorlaufed and collected the runnings. I only had a gravity of 1.026, for 65% efficiency.
I boiled for 10 minutes, chilled the wort down to 102°, and added 2.5 mL of 88% lactic acid to bring down the pH. Then, I added 5 g of Sour Pitch culture, and let it sit on a heating pad for ~100° temperature maintenance. This was started on 24 July 2020.
After 24 hours, I sampled the wort. It wasn’t quite tart enough yet, so I decided to let it go another 24 hours. When I sampled it on 26 July 2020, it was less tart than expected, but I figured 48 hours at 100° was enough time for the bacteria to work their magic.
I boiled the soured runnings for 60 minutes, and added the hops and other finings per the recipe. After 60 minutes, I chilled the wort and transferred it to the fermenter.
Starting gravity was 1.031, with ~3.25 gallons into the fermenter on 26 July 2020. I started fermenting at 66°.
I moved the beer to ambient temperature on 8 August 2020, to let it finish up.
I kegged the beer on 13 August 2020, putting it in one of my 2.5 gallon kegs. I added 3.95 oz. of corn sugar for natural carbonation, sealed it up, and let it sit for awhile.
Final gravity was 1.008, down from 1.031, for 3% abv. At the time of kegging, the beer had a gorgeous floral aroma, almost like orange blossom honey.
I checked on the natural keg pressure over a few days, as the keg sat at ambient temperatures. On 21 August (8 days post kegging), the keg had hit 32 psi (~2.4 volumes of CO2). On 23 August, the keg had hit 40 psi (~2.8 volumes of CO2). I gave it another day or two, there was no change in pressure, so I put the keg in the lagering chamber and topped up the carbonation level.
I measured the final pH at around 3.6.
Pale straw color and hazy, with a creamy white head that completely subsides after a few minutes.
Tart, citrus blossom aroma, with a bit of floral honey. Really pleasant! There is a bit of a raw bread dough character behind all of it.
Lemony tartness dominates, with the doughy malt character in the background. The level of sourness is moderately high, and it is a clean sour. I don’t really pick up any hop notes, which is expected given the low level of hopping.
Crisp and dry, but not astringent. Effervescent and highly carbonated, with a light body that makes this very easy to drink.
Would I brew this again?
Yes! This isn’t a style I want all of the time, or in massive quantities, but it’s really nice every once in awhile. This is a different take on the beer from the 2016 version I made, as expected with a different sour culture. It seems a bit less sour, but is still really nicely balanced. The aroma really is fine on this one, and a true highlight of the beer.
This Berliner Weisse was my first award-winning brew! So, I wanted to do my own tasting to see how it compares with the judges’ assessment. It seems like an interesting exercise to calibrate my taste buds, and reflect on how my tasting skills are developing.
Starting gravity = 1.032; final gravity = 1.010; abv = 2.9%; IBU = 5
Low malt, mostly dominated by a tart pear aroma.
“slightly sweet, tart, honey, bready”
“Aroma is low lactic, low hop (grassy), lemon, dough (medium), grainy”
Brilliantly clear and pale straw color, with a low white head that thins fairly quickly.
“pale golden, very clear”
“Pale yellow, brilliant clear, medium head with medium head retention and medium lacing. Head is white and creamy.”
Pleasantly tart, with a gentle bready character at the back end.
“lemony, tart, wheat, buttery aftertaste, lemon zest, slight diacetyl, clean”
“Malt is fresh bread, dough, grainy, lemon tart, all in medium intensity. Nice and clean lactic soureness balanced by malt. Low bitterness. Finish is dry with lingering malt and lactic flavors.”
A fairly thin body and effervescent carbonation, with a dry and crisp finish.
“good mouthfeel, creamy, decent carbonation, could take more”
This is a very nice beer! I’ve noticed that some of the “barnyard” character from initial samplings has receded a bit with age and under cold storage, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can’t say that Berliner Weisse is a style I would always drink, but this has been a tasty experiment that bears repeating.
BJCP Judges Overall Impressions
“Great beer, could have more aroma, but it’s very pleasant; could lower acidity.”
“I enjoyed this beer! It’s highly drinkable, refreshing, still supported by nice malt and lactic sourness that balance with each other. Great example!”
What Did I Learn?
It’s interesting to compare tastings by various people; on looking them over, I have a few immediate reactions.
First, the overall characters of our assessments overlap pretty broadly. The judges think it’s a good beer, and I think it’s a good beer. The overall style characters–tartness, etc.–are also on everyone’s palates.
For areas of difference, I suspect a few things are going on. First, I wasn’t tasting in the context of a BJCP competition, nor was I tasting in the midst of a flight. I also would bet my beer vocabulary is less developed–or developed in different ways–than the people who judged the entries. For instance, the differences between “doughy” and “bready” are still a bit mysterious to me. A lot of that is perception, of course, and maybe some of it is a bit of over-analysis. In any case, I can certainly do more to refine my vocabulary.
One thing that puzzles me is the judge who saw the entry as slightly undercarbonated–I would suspect that just is from where they saw it in the flight, or maybe pouring technique by whoever was pouring. It is comforting to know that the other judge saw it as well-carbonated, which matches my own perception.
This has been a worthwhile exercise all around. My tastebuds aren’t horribly out of alignment, I can do a little more to develop my vocabulary, and my first attempt at a sour was a success. Time to brew some more!
After about a month in the primary fermenter, I finally got around to bottling my Berliner…err, Claremonter…Weisse. The beer has a pale straw color and a definitively tart flavor, with just a touch of grainy malt alongside that.
The final gravity was 1.010, down from 1.032, which translates to 2.9% abv. I had a yield of approximately 4.5 gallons total, which I primed with 4.05 oz. of priming sugar (dissolved in 2 cups of water), for a target of approximately 2.6 volumes of CO2. This is approximately in the middle of the range for the Berliner Weisse style (2.4 to 2.9 vols).
I made the decision to bottle rather than keg, because this doesn’t seem like the kind of beer that I really want to plow through quickly. It is supposed to keep fairly well due to the high acidity, so I’m happy to let it stick around for awhile. Bottling yielded a total of 6 22-oz., 5 18-oz., and 24 12-oz. bottles. I’ll let this carbonate for awhile before sampling (and will also make some syrups).
Wort in the kettle, after souring and just before the boil
Sour beers don’t do much for me; like most brewing fads, the majority of examples I have tasted are too over the top to be enjoyable for more than half a glass. Occasionally, something grabs my attention–for instance, I experienced a Lichtenhainer at NHC that was absolutely delicious and refreshing. More recently, fellow homebrew club member Jason brought a tasty Berliner Weisse to our club meeting. I was intrigued, but didn’t think souring was for me. I had heard that once you go down that road, you basically have to commit a set of fermentation equipment to sours (to avoid cross-contamination of non-sours). It didn’t seem worth it for a type of beers I don’t plan on brewing frequently. This all changed when I learned that Jason’s Berliner Weisse was made using a technique called kettle souring*. Basically, everything is soured before the boil–no need to contaminate carboys, hoses, or kegs! Quick, easy, and mostly painless. With some additional information in hand (both from Jason–who also gave me an extra lacto culture–as well as an online presentation via Five Blades Brewing), I set out to give souring a try.
The grist for this is simple, and the techniques (outlined below) are fairly simple too. Although it’s technically a Berliner Weisse, more or less, there are enough American twists that I renamed the beer to reflect its geographic influences. Apologies to my German friends.
*This is a great example of how joining a homebrew club has paid off for me; I’ve tasted all sorts of styles I wouldn’t have otherwise, and have been clued in to new techniques by my friends in the club. I probably never would have made a sour beer if not for my homebrew club!
1 pkg. California Ale yeast (WLP001), prepared in 1L starter 8 hours in advance
On Tuesday, October 20, I prepared a 1L starter at ~1.040 gravity (100 g of extra light DME in 1 L water), and adjusted the pH down to 4.4 using 88% lactic acid. I boiled the starter in a 2L flask, and cooled it down to 100°. Then, I added the Lactobacillus culture and let it propagate for two days.
Because this was a fairly small batch, and because I wanted a quick mash with minimal equipment to clean, I followed a brew-in-a-bag protocol for the mash. On Thursday, October 22, I heated 6.85 gallons of water to 154°, and added the grains in a big bag. The mash stabilized at 150°. After 30 minutes, I added a little heat to slowly bring the temperature up to 152°, and let it ride back down slowly until 60 minutes had passed after mash-in. At this point, I raised the temperature to 168°, and let it sit for 10 minutes. In the end, I had 6.1 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.027. This is 86% efficiency!
I added ~3.3 tsp of 88% lactic acid to the wort, to bring the pH down to ~4.5. I added some ice packs to cool the wort to 95° and pitched the bacterial culture. I covered the wort with saran wrap to minimize oxygen. 12 hours later, I turned on a heat pad to help raise temperature a bit, to 85°. I let the Let sit until 2 pm on Saturday, October 24.
The pH was down to 3.4 by Saturday afternoon. A thin white pellicle covered the entire surface, and the wort had a slightly cidery aroma. I took the relatively pleasant odor as a good sign.
I removed as much of the pellicle as I could, and started a very hard and vigorous boil. After 40 minutes, I added the hops for 5 minutes and then removed them. After a total of 50 minutes on the boil, I turned off the flame and chilled the wort to 78°. I transferred approximately 4 gallons of wort into the fermenter and pitched the yeast.
The official starting gravity is 1.032. The yeast was pitched on Saturday, October 24, 2015, and I had signs of fermentation by that evening, with a good krausen by the next afternoon.