Berliner Weisse Review

Berliner WeisseAfter nearly six-months, my Berliner Weiss with Brett Trois is ready for review. Utilizing sour-mashing techniques, my intention with this beer was to quickly turn-around a clean, refreshing, brightly acidic beer with a minimal investment of time. In the end, the finished beer meets my expectations, but the timeline ended up being much more protracted than I initially intended.

For many months, this beer was a pain in the ass. My initial plan was to ferment the beer cleanly down to a reasonable finishing gravity (1.007 or so) and then bottle condition with Brett Trois. Unfortunately, after primary fermentation with a clean ale yeast was complete, the beer finished at 1.010 SG. I suspect the Saccromyces strain (WYeast 1007) was impeded by the high acidity that the beer exhibited after the initial sour mash. Rather than bottle with Brett and risk bottle-bombs, I opted to add the Brett at secondary and hope for some further attenuation. After a couple more months, the Brett knocked a couple more points off the beer to the point that I was comfortable bottling. The caveat being, that I would not add any priming sugar as I suspected that there were still some carbohydrates in the beer that the Brett could work on. This turned out to become another source of frustration, as the carbonation came to life at a painfully slow pace.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP Category 17A Berliner Weiss

Aroma (8/12):
Bright lactic acidity up front which pair nicely with some mellow pear-like ester. Quite fruity. Low crackery malt note. No hops, DMS, or diacetyl.

Appearance (3/3):
Hazy gold. A vigorous pour presents a fluffy white head that quickly dissipates to a ring in around the glass.

Flavor (12/20):
This beer presents with quite a lot of lactic acidity. The acid is somewhat tangy and slightly yogurt-like. At the same time, it is soft and round, especially when compared to sharper acids (like acetic). The bright acid gives way to a nice round crackery malt character that lingers on the finish. The malt is perhaps just a touch sweeter than the style would dictate. Hop flavor is absent, and there is barely a whisper of bitterness. There is a hint of papery oxidation on the finish.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
Low to medium-low body. Medium (2.5 volumes or so) carbonation. The carbonation is improving, but continues to not be nearly as effervescent as the style calls for. The lack of champagne-like carbonation is a big detraction in this beer.

Overall Impression (6/10):
After many months, this beer is getting to be really nice. The biggest problem is the lack high carbonation that would help the beer become even more bright and refreshing, and cut some of the slight residual malt sweetness that is present. Surprisingly, I am not picking up any of the typical Brett flavors that could be attributed to the Brett Trois addition. My instinct is to drink this beer now at its current carbonation level rather than risk increasing the low oxidative notes that are beginning to develop.

Sour Mashed Berliner Weisse with Brett Trois

Reheating and recirculating the sour mash after 60 hours of sour-mashing.

Recirculating and reheating the mash after 60 hours of sour-mashing.

My first batch of Berliner Weisse left me confident that sour mashing is a viable option for creating brightly acidic sour beers in short order. I’ve had a number of wonderful sour mashed beers along with quite a few terrible ones. A lot of people proclaim that sour mashing is a bit of a crap shoot, but I believe with careful process control, you can utilize sour mashing with a high success rate. It seems that the key to success with sour mashing is creating an environment that favors the lactic acid production you’re looking for while discouraging the growth of other bacteria and yeast that can easily fowl your mash with pretty horrific off-flavors.

My primary concerns are creating an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment, maintaining temperatures above 105°F, and pre-acidifying the mash. An anaerobic environment is achieved by thoroughly flushing the fermenter with C02 gas and then sealing the lid. Temperatures are maintained by insulating the mash tun and periodic hot water additions. Pre-acidification is achieved through a healthy dose of acidulated malt at the end of the mash regiment. After a 60 hour sour mash, the liquid was very tart and clean. There was no pellicle, mold, or otherwise odd looking growths on the surface of the mash. At this point in the process, you’re looking for a bright clean acidity — more similar to yogurt  (lactic) than vinegar (acetic). If your mash smells or tastes like rotten vegetables, baby diapers, vinegar, or other funky flavors, your mash likely went off. Boiling and subsequent fermentation may drive off some of these offensive aromas, but chances are pretty slim that they will be eliminated completely.

_DSC0547After sour-mashing I retrieved the soured wort and boiled it for 30 minutes to achieve a minor reduction in volume, kill any bacteria, and achieve a slight amount of bitterness. I cooled the wort and pitched Wyeast’s German Ale strain. I have heard antidotal evidence that low pH can adversely effect yeast fermentation. I can offer my own contrary antidotal evidence — my low pH wort exhibited a very vigorous fermentation and attenuated well.

UPDATE 11/16/2013: After about 2 weeks in primary, I seem to be experiencing a pH related issue with this beer. Fermentation appeared extremely vigorous. It has however stopped at 1.010, which is most likely related to the beer’s low pH. At this point I am not comfortable bottling with a secondary Brett Trois strain. Instead, I have racked the beer to a secondary fermenter and pitched the Brett in an attempt to reach terminal gravity prior to packaging and bottle conditioning.

Wyeast describes the German Ale strain as a true top cropping yeast... I concur.

Wyeast describes the German Ale strain as a true top cropping yeast. Fermenting at 64°F created a large amount of yeast blowoff.


Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 68%
Attenuation: 80.0% (projected)
Boil Length: 30m

Original Gravity: 1.034 SG
Terminal Gravity: 1.007 SG (projected)
Color: 3.99 SRM
Alcohol: 3.59% ABV (projected)
Bitterness: 5.0 IBUs

2 lb (43.2%) Bohemian Pilsner Malt (Weyermann)
2 lb (43.2%) White Wheat (Briess)
2 oz (2.7%) Victory® Malt (Briess)
8 oz (10.8%) Acidulated Malt (Weyermann) – 2oz during mash, 6oz to cap mash post sugar conversion

8 g Hallertauer Hersbrucker (4.3% AA) – 30m
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10 m

WYeast 1007 German Ale™ – Primary Fermentation
White Labs WLP644 Brettanomyces Trois – Added to individual bottles during bottle conditioning. Ended up adding it in secondary before packaging.

Water Treatment:
Carbon filtered Brooklyn water (very soft) with 2g Gypsum and 4g Calcium Chloride added to mash.

Mash Regiment:
60m – 148 °F
10m – 154 °F
10m – 168 °F

Sour mash 60 hours:
1. Complete mash regiment above. Let mash cool to 128°F. Minimize stirring and aeration of wort.
2. Add 4 oz uncrushed grain & remainder of acidulated malt (6 oz).
3. Cover mash bed with aluminum foil, purge with CO2, and seal mashtun.
4. Insulate the mash tun and let rest for 60 hours.
5. Add boiling H2O to increase sour mash temp as required to keep above 105°F.
6. After 60 hours, increase mash tun temperature to 168°F and transfer wort to kettle.

1. Chill to 64°F and keep at 64°F until activity slows (1 week+).
2. Raise temp to 68°F 2 days
3. Drop temperature to 32°F over the course of 4 days. Hold at 32°F for 2 days.

Prime with sugar as required to achieve 3 volumes of CO2. Inoculate half the bottles with Brett Trois (WLP644) for future side-by-side comparisons. Ended up adding the Brett to secondary in bulk prior to packaging.