Friday, February 1, 2008

Berliner Weisse

So what happens if you just love sour beers but aren't ready to let a bunch of wild microorganisms loose in your brewery?

Why, you cheat, of course.

And so it was with my first attempt at a Berliner Weisse (see also this great page), which also marked my first attempt at (intentionally) producing a sour beer at home. I know the purists will squawk, but without a dedicated set of plastic equipment (bucket, hoses, autosiphon ...), I wasn't about to expose the regular stuff to the potentially invasive lactobacillus bacterium.

What I did, instead, was ferment the beer with a fairly clean yeast (in this case, Wyeast 2565 "Kölsch") and then hit it with some food-grade lactic acid at kegging time. I'd read about this technique (and its efficaciousness) in Daniels' "Designing Great Beers" and elsewhere.

Here's the full skinny:

OG 1.036 FG 1.005
AA 86% ABV 4.1%
IBU 8 SRM 4?

64% German Pilsner
36% German Wheat

8 IBU Tettnang 45 min.

Wyeast 2565 "Kölsch"

74 mL (2.5 oz.) food-grade lactic acid at kegging

Brewed Dec. 16
Crash-cooled Jan. 7
Kegged Jan. 8
Tapped Jan. 16-17-18?

I tried to perform a two-step infusion mash with rests at 140 and 151 but I had a hell of a time hitting my temps so I ended up having more intermediate steps than planned. This could have something to do with the incredibly fermentable wort that resulted. That's OK -- this beer is supposed to be dry.

I used 2565 because a) I had it on hand, b) Wyeast's Web site endorses this use for the yeast, and c) in the Kölsch I found it to be mostly clean with a little fruitiness -- just right for this application.

I'll say again that my procedure was far from traditional. Basically I took the idea of the final product -- a light, refreshing wheat beer with a strong sourness -- and then figured a way to do it. Plenty of people go the other way: Follow the "traditional" procedures to the letter and hope you like what you get. The theory, of course, is that you will.

I know someone who brewed a best-in-show Berliner Weisse by tossing a handful of grains into a bucket of wort. No yeast pitched. This is one method. You can also buy lacto cultures from the major yeast vendors. You can also perform a sour mash. Some procedures call for no boil. Etc.

Also, traditionalists will tell you Berliner Weisse should be bottle conditioned so as to achieve the "required" level of high carbonation. This, they'll say, contributes to the dryness and refreshing nature of the beer.

There are reasons to avoid such a dogmatic approach, at least in my case. One, I don't like very highly carbonated beers, no matter how much "to style" that is. Also, I don't like bottling. Finally, I prefer having my beers on tap so I can pour as much or as little as I want and not have to commit myself to exactly 12 oz. Especially with a sour beer, one might not always be in the mood for that size serving. (But who am I kidding -- why wouldn't I be?)

The beer itself did indeed turn out light, crisp, dry, refreshing and sour. The sourness is mostly evident on the finish with some mild puckering. It's a very clean, acidic sourness, not entirely unlike what you get from a Granny Smith apple. (I wonder if this has anything to do with Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus' ability to produce acetaldehyde.)

If anything, though, I'd say the beer didn't turn out sour enough. I like my beers really sour, and to me, this one is just moderate. Next time, I'll add more lactic acid to the keg -- maybe 1-2 ounces more.

I've only tried a real Berliner Weisse twice before so I can't say exactly how this compares. I remember the real deal being pretty intensely sour and quite good.

Too bad I can't cheat my way to a wonderful Gueuze!

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