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The Florida weisse: a primer

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Everything you need to know about Florida’s new tropical, tart beer style.

By Christopher Staten

Pints of nuclear orange, blinding yellow, and see-it-to-believe-it hot pink fit right in with palm-tree-dotted linen shirts and panama hats: They call these brightly colored beers the Florida weisse, an exotic spin on a German ale that’s become the calling card of the quirky beer scene bubbling up in the Sunshine State.

The Florida weisse is, at its core, a Berliner weisse fermented with fruit—often a Florida-grown, tropical one—creating a sweet-sour-fruity swallow that perfectly counters the swampy heat. But let’s back up: What’s a Berliner weisse, you ask?

Once called the “Champagne of the north” by Napoleon’s troops, the Berliner’s a tart wheat-pilsner-malt ale soured by Lactobacillus bacteria. Traditionally, this small beer (usually below 4% ABV) is offered mit schuss—that is, served with cloyingly sweet raspberry or woodruff syrup to counter its lactic, yogurty bite. Roughly 200 years after The Little Corporal said “oui” to syruped Berliners, Florida brewers said “no,” and fermented the sour beer with actual fruit instead. The Florida weisse was born.

Technically, that happened back in the spring of 2010, at Peg’s Cantina & Brewpub in Gulfport, Fla. Doug Dozark, the brewmaster, tapped a small-batch beer he called Ich Bin Ein Rainbow Jelly Donut—a Berliner fermented with limes and raspberries—and people went nuts. Then-homebrewer Jonathan Wakefield was one of the fanboys. Miami-based Wakefield had connections and clout in Florida beer circles, and ran with Dozark’s idea, releasing his own version as a guest brewer for Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing later that year. The radioactive pink-hued beer known simply by the fruit inside it, Dragonfruit Passionfruit Berliner, sold out in minutes.

“I swung for the fence when I did Dragonfruit Passionfruit the first time,” Wakefield remembers. “It went as fast as it did because of the color. When these dudes walk around with a fuchsia-colored beer, people say ‘What is that?’”

By the end of the year, breweries across the state were experimenting with fruited Berliners; eventually, Dozark dubbed them “Florida weisses.”

South of I-10, you’ll find up-and-comer 7venth Sun Brewing and its joyfully bizarre creations like Pinkberry Muffin-Blueberry Muffin Berliner Weisse. Cult fave Funky Buddha, who like 7venth Sun has toyed with the style since its early days, riffs on the concept with versions inspired by passionfruit and lemon meringue pie. On the panhandle, Pensacola Bay Brewing pours a raspberry version called DeSoto. Cigar City experiments with the likes of guava and kumquat, and has a mango-strawberry-banana version simply called Florida Weisse. Meanwhile, Dozark continues to champion his creation, as does Wakefield, who’s slated to open Miami’s J. Wakefield Brewing any day now with Dragonfruit Passionfruit as a flagship.

American brewers are taking notice: New Hampshire’s Smuttynose and Chicago’s Pipeworks have released their own fruited Berliners. But unlike the Pacific Northwest vs. New England grapple over who created the black IPA (or is that Cascadian dark ale?), there’s no questioning the origins of Florida’s totally bizarre, tart-and-tropical contribution to the ever-weirder landscape of craft beer.

 

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