Berliner Weisse: Word to Your Mother

A Recipe to Try

This is short, sweet, cheap, no boiling, with no secondary—consider doing a double batch, since Berliner Weisse is so much fun to drink and share, it ages well, and your mom will probably like it.

Because of the oddball techniques at play here and the need to incorporate a tiny bit of hop bitterness but not aroma, it will be difficult to get a good translation brewing with extract. Add three lbs. of wheat DME to five gallons and boil with a pinch of hop pellets for 10-15 minutes—this should be in the neighborhood of the stadium, if not right in the ballpark. Better yet, make this your first foray into all-grain—the small grain bill is quite manageable, and since boiling is optional, you won’t necessarily need a large-boil kettle.

Word to Your Mother Berliner Weisse

5 gallons • Target OG: 1.028 • Target IBU: 5

Shopping List

GRAIN
• 2.5 lbs. German Pilsner malt
• 2.5 lbs. German Wheat malt
HOPS
• 1 oz. German Hallertau or Tettnang whole hops, to be added to the mash (see brewing steps below)
YEAST
• A sour ale blend with a neutral German ale strain plus Lactobacillus (and Brettanomyces, if you swing that way).
I’m using Wyeast 3191 Berliner Weisse Blend.

Key Points for Key Pints

• Lacto: There are no shortcuts in this dojo. A cheat code you may encounter on the Internet is to substitute some acid malt in the grist, or to spike the finished beer with food-grade lactic acid, rather than conducting fermentation with Lactobacillus. Like punching Mr. Miyagi when he’s standing in front of a car window, don’t try this. The flavor you get from Lacto fermentation can’t be faked and the extra effort will be rewarded!

• Count IBUs on one hand. Lactobacillus is extremely sensitive to hop acids, and tends to crap out (that’s a scientific term) when the IBU content of a wort creeps into the double digits. A recent seminar I attended on sour-beer brewing encouraged treating these styles as the opposite of the “IPA Arms Race,” i.e. try to see how few IBUs you can get away with.

• Boil it if you feel like it. It may go against everything you’ve been taught about homebrewing, but you really can just run the wort off from the mash tun, cool it, and proceed. If you feel the need to boil the wort, keep it to no more than 15 minutes to prevent the wort from becoming too dark, or fully isomerize the alpha acids from the mash hops.

• Keep DMS in check. The “creamed corn” aroma of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) is prevalent in Pils malt, but a defect in Berliner Weisse. The minimum we can do to keep it in check is to cool the wort post mash (since boiling is optional); if you have the capability to do a single decoction mash, boiling a portion of the mash will help reduce the overall DMS level even more.

• Save the bananas for your Cheerios. Keep the Hefeweizen strains far away from this one! Unlike Bavarian Weissbiers, Berliner Weisse mandates a neutral, malty Altbier- or Kolsch-type yeast for the Saccharomyces component. The easiest and most cost-effective way for a five-gallon homebrewer to get exactly what he or she needs is to buy a blended culture, which already has Sacch. and Lacto (and maybe Brett) in the proper proportions. Since this is such a low-gravity wort, no starter will be needed.

berliner weisse spot 1

Let’s get it started.

To the Home Brewery

Note: these steps are general guidelines and assume you’re already familiar with the all-grain brewing process. Refer to the instructions for your brew system, and adjust as needed based on experience with your own particular equipment.

Prep

1. On brew day, collect strike water (I use 1.3 quarts per pound, YMMV) and heat to approx. 145°F.

2. Mill the grains, or have it done for you at the shop.

Mash & Sparge

1. Add all grains and the hops to strike water, and mix to achieve a uniform temperature of 133-134°F. Rest the mash at this temperature for 60 minutes. While the mash rests, collect and heat sparge water.

2. After the 60-minute rest is finished, raise the mash temp via infusion, direct heat, or, ideally, using a small decoction, to 151-152°F. Rest 15 minutes.

3. When the 15-minute rest is complete, raise the mash temp to 170°F for mash out.

4. Sparge, and collect the wort in a sanitized bucket or spare kettle.

5. Boil…Psyche! Skip ahead to the next step. If you feel the need to boil, keep the duration to no more than 10 or 15 minutes.

Fermentation and Beyond

1. Cool the wort, then transfer to a sanitized fermenter, top up to five gallons, aerate well, and pitch yeast.

2. Target a fermentation temp right around 70°F to ensure good Lactobacillus activity and rapid attenuation.

3. Once the wort reaches FG as measured with a hydrometer (somewhere around 1.007 should be about right for this recipe using Wyeast 3191), go ahead and prime and bottle (or keg). Aim for a high carbonation level—we want it super-spritzy!

4. Condition the bottles at fermentation temps for at least four to six weeks to allow sourness to develop. Break it out in a wide goblet or chunky tumbler on a hot day—don’t be afraid to cocktail-ize this beer as Berlin natives do, muddling it with a simple syrup of woodruff (the dried herb is available at your LHBS), raspberry, or lemon; or spike with schnapps or flavored liquor. This beer will continue to mature and gain complexity for many months after packaging.

Until next time: drink it like you brewed it.


Like this recipe? You can find it and 63 other witty and detailed homebrew recipes in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” In each recipe, Dawson includes suggestions on how to modify and customize each beer, along with all-new essays on Malt, Hops, Yeast, and Water, giving readers critical insight into the building blocks of every successful brew. On sale now for $24.95 at mashmakerbook.com.

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