Let’s look at an obscure German style, one that happens to be the perfect beer style for hot-weather Miami drinking. Berliner Weisse is a style relic of northern Germany from centuries past, a low-alcohol wheat beer with moderate lactic tartness that in Berlin was typically served with sweet raspberry or woodruff syrups to mitigate the sour bite. However, as Germany’s beer culture stagnated during the latter half of the 20th century, Berliner Weisse fell into steep decline, becoming nearly extinct. These days, most Berliner Weisse comes from American craft brewers, who have re-energized the style in recent years.
If you’ve stepped outside in South Florida recently, you know it’s already hot out….and it’s just going to get hotter and more humid. What are you going to drink? Corona? Bud Light? Sutter Home White Zinfandel? Smirnoff Ice? I start craving light-bodied, low-ABV (in the 3-5% range), crisp, dry, refreshing beers, beers with flavor, making the Berliner Weisse the perfect beer for a Miami summer. What’s that? How dare I insult the legendary Corona by insinuating it has no flavor? OK, I admit it. Corona has flavor; it’s delicately redolent of a skunk’s ass – yeah, you’d better put that lime wedge in there! And Bud Light has amazing flavor, if you enjoy the taste of carbonated stale rice-water.
Berliner Weisse is a dry, light, sharply-carbonated tart wheat beer with character and flavor. Drinkable all day long on the hottest beach days, it should appear slightly hazed from yeast sediment and have a light citric aroma, probably lemon. It will taste sour, especially if you are not accustomed to tasting sour beers. This is due to lactic acid, a result of the beer’s fermentation by Lactobacillus bacteria, micro-organisms more commonly associated with cheese and yogurt. So if while tasting, you get a faint hint of lemon yogurt (I sometimes do), you’ll know why. If the sour is too much, you can do as the Berliners do and add raspberry syrup, but I urge you to keep drinking as is – I’m near-certain you’ll end up a fan if you give it a fair chance. Sometimes the sour beer progression is as follows: first sour beer, you hate…..second sour beer, you think “oh, this is OK I guess”…….third sour beer, you think “wow, this is awesome, I must have more!” Besides, if you add raspberry syrup, you’ll end up with a glorified marginally alcoholic raspberry wheat soda. Do it if you must, but….don’t do it.
I recommend pairing Berliner Weisse with long, hot summer days on the beach. If you insist on pairing it with food, you’ll find that it plays well with salads, delicate white fish, and lighter cheeses like Brie and Emmental, though I think this style can hang with almost any cheese owing to its acidity and palate-scrubbing carbonation – sharp Cheddar, blue, you name it.
Unfortunately, South Florida availability of this perfect South Florida beer style is spotty at best, as it’s still the case that not a lot of breweries make it. Also, these beers tend to be seasonals, meaning that they only come out at certain times, usually late spring and summer. It’s getting to be about that time, so in a month or so, you might look for the following:
Dogfish Head – Festina Peche
Weihenstephan – Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse
The Bruery – Hottenroth Berliner Weisse
To the best of my knowledge, those are the only examples of the style that can be found locally at times. We need more Berliner Weisse!