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Will authentic Berliner weisse catch on in Berlin, of all places?

Americans are keen on the style, but it's prime for a revival in its homeland.
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Photo by Joe Stange

Last year, breweries worldwide released more than 1,000 beers that could be classified as Berliner weisse. In Berlin itself, you can still count the number of existing brands on one hand.

Soon, though, you might need two.

Refreshingly acidic, low in alcohol, and often spiked with fruit, Berliner weisse as a style has caught fire the past couple of years. The review site Ratebeer counts more than 2,100 listings for beers classified as Berliner weisse, according to founder and CEO Joe Tucker. Users added more than 1,098 of those to the site in 2015, after adding 566 the year before. (Just for perspective: Back in 2007 the site added only nine new Berliner weisses.) The majority of those are brewed in the United States.

Those numbers are not comprehensive, since the site relies on users to add new beers to the database. In other words, the real numbers are higher. The data strongly suggest that the rise of Berliner weisse has been meteoric.

Scientific graphing by Joe Stange

Scientific graph and photo by Joe Stange

Meanwhile, back in Berlin, things have been moving a bit more, er, deliberately. Those looking to try an authentic, made-in-Berlin Berliner Weißbier do not have many options.

This might sound odd, but Berliner weisse is not especially popular in Berlin. The last major brand leftover from its heyday—Berliner Kindl Weisse—survives as a novelty. Guidebooks mention it for tourists, who often try one. Bartenders might spike it with sweet syrups, a dubious practice gradually being replaced by the heinous pre-mixing at the plant. Local fans—and this is just an anecdotal observation on my part—mostly appear to be curious teens or nostalgic senior citizens. Generally speaking, it’s uncommon to see people drinking them and even rarer to see them drinking more than one.

The sweet versions appear on most local drink menus, while the unmixed version is often not listed at all. A few old pubs still drop shots of various liquors into them. The most famous is the brassy, cozy, nostalgia-laden Alt-Berliner Weissbierstube, in the old Nikolaiviertel district—a quarter destroyed in World War II but rebuilt by East Germany in the 1980s. Here the classic way to drink it is “mit Strippe,” dosed with a shot of caraway-flavored schnapps. It’s better and more comforting than it sounds: the caraway taste evokes rye bread while the alcohol, obscured by the beer’s acidity, warms the belly.

But the Weissbierstube is basically for tourists, while Berliner weisse in Berlin is a funny cult drink well outside the mainstream. We are long removed from the time, around the end of the 19th century, when the city counted more than 70 weissbier breweries.

But as we know, today’s beer drinkers seem to have a limitless thirst for variety, and funny cult drinks are more commercially viable than they once were. Plus, the huge surge of people interested in Berliner weisse are bound to wonder: What’s a proper Berliner weisse from Berlin taste like?

Germany’s capital has barely tapped the export potential for its signature beer style. But a new crop of small, independent brewers based in Berlin are adding the style to their repertoire:

Photo by Joe Stange

Photo by Joe Stange

Brewbaker Berliner Weisse (2.5%) is the longest running brand besides Kindl—the brewery started in 2005. This sharp, lemony beer is only available in a handful of places in Berlin, but it is exported to the States. If you come to Berlin, the best place to drink it might be the Arminiusstrasse market hall, home to several great food counters and a beer bar affiliated with Brewbaker.

Bogk-Bier Berliner Weisse has been known among local Berliner weisse fans for a few years now—though it’s exceedingly rare—and revivalist Andreas Bogk has only settled on a location in the past few weeks. His small kit is now operational at the former Willner brewery in Pankow in northeast Berlin, on the same site as punkish, post-industrial Emil’s Biergarten. That will be the place to drink his throwback beer, fermented with a mixed heritage yeast blend that includes Brettanomyces.

BRLO is a beer firm—not a brewery yet, but it plans to open one in Berlin eventually—that includes a Berliner weisse in its stable. For now the gently tart BRLO Weisse (4%) is made at Brauerei Landsberg, 100 miles southwest of Berlin.

Berliner Berg is a not-quite-open new brewery in Berlin’s Neukölln area, expected to launch in the next month or two. Meanwhile, the American brewmaster Richie Hodges, formerly of Germany’s Crew Republic, has overseen the brewing of a well-hopped, unfiltered Lager and Pale Ale. However, Hodges and the brewery’s ownership team expect their bottle-conditioned Berliner Weisse to be a flagship. Like Bogk, Hodges goes for a more traditional approach by including Brettanomyces with the lactic bacteria in the yeast blend.

Schneeeule is led by brewer Ulrike Genz, who borrows Bogk’s kit at the old Willner brewery to make the newly launched Schneeeule Original Berliner Weisse to her own recipe. She also uses a mixed yeast strain with Brett.

Vagabund is a draft-only brewpub in the Wedding area. Berliner Weisse is not a regular fixture yet, more like an occasional plaything.

Finally, Stone will soon open its large Berlin plant south of the center. There are no known plans for a Berliner Weisse, but we wouldn’t put anything past them.

 

Author
Joe Stange is the author of Around Brussels in 80 Beers and co-author of Good Beer Guide Belgium. Follow him on Twitter @Thirsty_Pilgrim.

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