The Berliner Weisse is an extremely refreshing German wheat beer! It makes for one of the best summer or lake beers in my humble opinion. In this article, I’ll walk you through my berliner weisse kettle sour recipe!
What is a Berliner Weisse?
The berliner is a very light, tart, and refreshing beer. As with the gose, wheat makes up a large part of the grain bill, often up to 50%.
This beer was referred to as “The Champagne of the North” by Napolean’s troops in 1809 due to its high carbonation, liveliness, and dry finish. It was often served with syrups such as raspberry, woodruff, or Caraway Schnapps. This was to balance out the sourness of the beer.
However, the base berliner weisse is a very delicious beer on its own, often with slight doughy character.
The Berliner Weisse is not a strong beer, falling in the 2.8-3.8% ABV range.
As with the gose, the berliner is fermented by both lactobacillus bacteria and yeast. Some brewers argue that the addition of Brettanomyces is necessary to obtain the traditionally correct aromas and flavors. However, these funky yeast notes should be restrained compared to many brett beers that we are used to.
The very low bitterness, tartness, and high carbonation make this an extremely refreshing beer. As I said in the introduction, I think the Berliner Weisse makes for just about the perfect session lake beer!
As always, let’s include the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) guideline for this style! The 2015 BJCP Overall Impression for Berliner Weisse reads as follows ” A very pale, refreshing, low-alcohol German wheat beer with a clean lactic sourness and a very high carbonation level. A light bread dough malt flavor supports the sourness, which shouldn’t seem artificial. Any Brettanomyces funk is restrained.”
How to Brew a Good Berliner Weisse
Let’s talk about how to brew your best Berliner. As with every beer you brew, you will want to use the highest quality and freshest ingredients you can find. Let’s go through the ingredients one by one.
Use a similar balanced water profile that you would for most of your light-colored beers. I recommend decreasing mash pH with lactic acid vs phosphoric acid.
You can use a similar water profile to brewing a gose, but the Berliner will not use salt.
The grain bill for the berliner is surprisingly simple. As with the other delicious german sour beer, the gose, wheat makes up a large part in the berliner. Most brewers find that equal parts of barley and wheat make a great berliner. The wheat will lend subtle doughy characters to the finished beer.
I prefer to use the clean Pilsner malt for the barley portion of the grain bill.
It is important, especially when using a mash tun that is taller than it is wide, to utilize rice hulls in your mash. As wheat is huskless, it makes lautering difficult if adequate rice hulls are not present.
Acidulated Malt- The use of acidulated malt can aid in the kettle souring process. This malt should be added towards the end (last 15 minutes) of the mash. This helps to decrease the pH prior to the actual kettle souring process.
Hopping should be performed with a very light hand when brewing a berliner. You want to shoot for 3-8 IBUs. Hop character should really not be present to any degree in your finished Berliner Weisse. Use of german hops with mild bitterness would be most traditional.
Keep in mind that hops are naturally anti-septic. Almost always a good thing, but if you will be purposefully inoculating your beer with bacteria, keep in mind that hops and bacteria are not great friends. When kettle souring, the hops are added in the second boil after the desired acidity is produced.
There are two directions that you can go with yeast.
You will likely want to kettle sour to give your beer a clean lactic sourness either way.
Then, you will want to decide if you want to use Brettanomyces yeast or not. Brettanomyces produces the ‘funky’ flavors that beers such as the lambic are known for. You can produce a quality Berliner Weisse without the use of Brett, but some may argue this is not truly traditional.
Keep in mind that Brettanomyces characters should be restrained compared to styles like the lambic. If you decide to use brett, check your beer regularly during fermentation.
I decided to use the clean and neutral Safale US-05 for this beer. I have had great success using this yeast with other kettle soured beers as well. You can also consider the use of traditional german ale yeasts as well. Choose a yeast that will ferment your beer fairly dry (FG: 1.003-1.006).
You will want to consider pitching more yeast than usually necessary for a five gallon batch. After kettle souring, the wort will be much more acidic than normal. Yeast are not extremely happy with acidic conditions, so you will want to make sure that your yeast of choice is fairly tolerant to acidic conditions and set it up for success by pitching more than normal.
Carbonation level for the Berliner Weisse should be relatively high. Carbonate the Berliner to 2.8-3.5 volumes of CO2. The effervescence and high carbonation is distinctive for the style.
Kettle souring is my preferred method to producing quality sour beer in a controlled manner. There are other ways to produce sour beer, but it is tougher to control the final acidity and off-flavors using these methods.
I will walk through the kettle souring process in the directions just below the recipe. If you would like a full run-down on how to kettle sour, please follow this link for my comprehensive kettle souring article!
For this particular beer, I shot for a pH of 3.4. This is on the more acidic side, if you would like your finished beer less tart, end your kettle sour before I did (i.e. at a higher pH).
Let’s get to the recipe! This recipe is for a 5 gallon (18.9L) batch, but it can easily be scaled up or down depending on your desires.
Berliner Weisse Kettle Sour Recipe
Volume: 5 gallons (18.9L)
Predicted SRM 3.38
Predicted IBU 3.88
Original Gravity 1.036
Final Gravity 1.008
4lb (1.81 kg) Pilsen
3lb (1.36 kg) American Wheat
4oz (113.4 grams) Acidulated Malt (last 15 minutes of mash)
6oz (170.1 grams) Rice Hulls
0.25oz (7.1 grams) Crystal (45 minutes)
1qt (0.95L) Good Belly Mango Probiotic Drink
Flagstaff Tap Water
0.6tsp (1 grams) CaCl
0.75tsp (3 grams) Gypsum
12mL Lactic Acid (adding just before kettle souring)
Safale US-05– 2 packets
Calibrate pH meter. Heat strike water to 163°F (72.8C). Add calcium chloride and gypsum. Mill the grains and mix with strike water to reach a mash temperature of 152°F (66.7C). Adjust mash pH as needed. Hold mash temperature for 60 minutes. Add acidulated malt during last 15 minutes of mash. Sparge the grains with 170°F (76.7C) water. Boil for 15 minutes to sanitize wort and kettle. Cool wort to 95°F (35C). Decrease pH of wort to ~4.5 with lactic acid (will likely require 10-15mL lactic acid). Pitch bacterial culture of choice. Purge headspace of kettle with CO2 and cover with sanitized saran/plastic wrap to exclude oxygen. Hold temperature at 95°F (35C) for 12-72 hours until desired pH is reached (3.3-4).
Once desired acidity is reached, bring wort to a boil. Boil for 60 minutes following hop schedule. After the boil has completed, chill the wort to slightly below fermentation temperature, about 64°F (17.8C). Aerate the wort and pitch the yeast. Ferment at 65-70°F (18.3-21.1C) for 2 weeks, then cold crash the beer to 35°F (1.7C). Bottle or keg the beer and carbonate to approximately 2.8-3.5 volumes of CO2.
Accurately measuring your pH when brewing a kettle sour is very important. Yes, you could in theory just base the desired acidity off of your personal taste. However, even prior to the actual kettle sour step, it is important to decrease pH to a level where other organisms’ growth is inhibited.
At the very least, I recommend purchasing pH strips that go down to the 3-5 range. Many strips you will find measure pH only above about 6.
Purchasing a quality pH meter will make your kettle souring adventure much more enjoyable.
Bacteria Culture Choice
There are several different bacterial pitches that you can purchase to produce the desired acidity for this beer.
I have had great success with using Good Belly probiotic drinks to inoculate my wort with the desired bacteria. I have used both the probiotic ‘shots’ as well as the drink that comes in a carton. These are fairly accessible at most health food stores and have produced consistent results for me. I generally get to a pH of about 3.5 within 12-24 hours.
Companies like White Labs produce different lactobacillus cultures for the sole purpose of kettle souring. I’ve talked to brewers that have enjoyed using these options as well.
Some brewers have even pitched yogurt to get the bacteria they were desiring!
Whatever you do, please do not be the brewer who makes their sour by adding a boatload of lactic acid. I can’t argue with the ease of doing this, but the quality of your flavor will be significantly less than if you had done a proper kettle sour! The BJCP even states specifically in their guideline for this beer that the sourness should not be artificial- dumping a bunch of lactic acid in is a good way to make it taste artificial!
Thank you for stopping by!
If you would like to read my comprehensive article on the kettle souring process, please click here!
If you would like to see more small batch recipes like this, please follow this link.
Two books that discuss this style are Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer by Andreas Krennmair and Brewing with Wheat by the infamous Stan Hieronymus. I have not gotten the chance to read either of these yet, but I have heard good things.
Another book that is about a different german sour beer but has a great deal of information on the kettle souring process is “Gose: Brewing a Classic German Beer for the Modern Era” by Fal Allen.