What is a Berliner Weisse?

One of the oldest beer styles, Berliner Weisse (pronounced "Bear-leeh-nuh Vice-uh") is a top-fermented, bottle conditioned wheat beer made with traditional warm-fermenting yeast and lactobacillus bacteria. Its tart, sour and, acidic flavor is the perfect beer for a hot summer day though it’s not uncommon for people to add raspberry or woodruff syrup to the glass to cut the intense sourness, which also changes the appearance of the beer; it's common for Berliners to order a Berliner Weisse simply as a "red" or "green," depending on which syrup they prefer.

With an ABV of 2.0-5.0%, you can knock back a few without getting drunk. Like most beers, Berliner Weisse has a specific glass type you should drink it from: a chalice, which is wide and bulbous because it foams like champagne.  It can be stored for up to five  years and should be served at 46-50 degrees Fahrenheit (8-10 degrees Celsius).

It’s unclear how Berliner Weisse got started. Documents from 1642 allegedly show the first evidence of Weisse beer in Berlin, but there is evidence that it could date back to the high Middle Ages. By the 19th century, the beer style had become one of the most popular beers in Berlin with around 700 breweries making the it. Slowly, the popularity started to decline and now only one brewery still makes it: Schultheiss.

You might find Berliner Weisse style beers in your local bottle shop, but like cognac, champagne and Kölsch beer, it enjoys the legal protection of a controlled place name, which means that this style of beer can only truly be called a Berliner Weisse if it's brewed in Berlin.

Similar to a Belgian gueuze, Berliner Weisse gets its intense sourness from Lactobacillus delbruckii, named after Nobel laureate biochemist Max Delbruck who isolated the lactobacillus bacterium while working in Berlin in the 1930s as the head of the Institute for Fermentation Tissue.

The beer is usually made from roughly 25-30% pale malted wheat, with barley malt added for color. All Berliner Weisse beers come in a 0.33 liter bottle; you won’t be able to find it on draft. In the early days, it was sold in earthenware crocks closed with string-fastened cork stoppers; these crocks were often buried in the sand for three months to condition.

This summer when you’re done with your yard work,   cool off with an effervescent, refreshingly sour Berliner Weisse. Prost!