How to Brew Berliner Weisse: Unlocking the Secrets of Berlin’s Historic Beer

Tart, lemony, light, refreshing – Berliner weisse is the beer of summer. There’s nothing quite like the complex flavor packed into these sour session wheat beers. For homebrewers, they can be quick, easy, and inexpensive to brew at home.

Hailing from Germany, traditional Berliner Weisse is a mixed-fermentation wheat beer. Homebrewing this specialty of Berlin is actually pretty straightforward. For a quick and easy Berliner Weisse, use the kettle sour technique. Or go traditional and try a mixed fermentation with lactobacillus, yeast, and even Brettanomyces.

However you choose to brew it, Berliner weisse is the perfect session beer as it’s refreshing and low in alcohol. Keep reading to find out exactly how to craft a perfect Berliner weisse.

What is Berliner Weisse?

Berliner weisse is a low alcohol, sour, pale, hazy, and sparkling beer traditionally brewed and consumed in Berlin, Germany.

Berliner weisse was once a widely popular style. In fact, the story goes that as Napoleon crossed Europe in the early 19th century, his troops consumed copious amounts of Berliner weisse. They deemed it the “Champagne of the North” alluding to it’s quaffing drinkability and high effervescence.

Due to the rise in popularity of pale lager, most of Berlin’s traditional brewers stopped making the style. A few Berlin breweries are still producing it though, and with the help of craft breweries abroad, are giving Berliner weisse another life.

American breweries have led this rebirth and brew flavor-packed interpretations of Berliner weisse. Fruit, lactose, and dry hops are all common additions these days and, while not traditional, make delicious beer.

Whether traditional or modern, a great Berliner weisse should be complex and tart, but infinitely drinkable. They need to be malty but dry, refreshing, and light. Hop flavors are almost non-existent and should only be used to provide a small amount of bitterness.

Kettle Soured or Traditional?

Kettle souring allows for a quick turn-around and eliminates the concern for cross-contamination. Most homebrewers use this technique for brewing Berliner Weisse as it’s fast, simple, and consistent.

The traditional souring method is to co-ferment with lactobacillus and yeast to make a more expressive flavor profile. This takes longer and requires dedicated sour beer fermenters. On top of that, the addition of Brettanomyces during secondary fermentation can also add to the beer’s complexity. Funk and brett flavor are not required in modern Berliner Weisse. But if you’re a fan of funky beer, definitely consider adding brett to your fermenter.

Whichever method, brewing Berliner weisse needs strict attention to detail and quality ingredients. With such a light beer, off-flavors have nowhere to hide.

Because of the lactic acid combined with the very light body, Berliner weisse doesn’t typically have lasting head retention. Pre-acidifying the wort, before pitching lactobacillus, helps promote foam production and retention. Making sure the wort is at a pH of 4.0 to 4.2 before pitching lacto greatly helps with head retention.

Like most sour beer styles, fruit additions are an obvious compliment. As is tradition in Berlin, Berliner weisse is often served with flavored syrup. American brewers take fruit additions to another level, adding fruit at each stage of the brewing process. With such a clean sour and light base, Berliner weisse is an amazing beer to experiment with fruity flavors.

Best Commercial Berliner Weisse

For some inspiration, let’s take a look at a few top commercial examples of Berliner weisse. For a more in depth discussion, see our article on the world’s best Berliner weisse.

Marlene, Schneeeule Brauerei

Marlene is brewed with a mix of wheat and pilsner malt for a light body. It’s then fermented with a blend of saccharomyces, brettanomyces, and lactobacillus. This 3% ABV, glowing pale brew is slightly acidic with a subdued funkiness from the brettanomyces. A refreshing beer for a hot summer’s day which pays tribute to the tradition of Berliner brewing.

Nomader Weisse, Evil Twin Brewing

Simple and delicious, Evil Twin’s Nomader Weisse is a great example of a modern interpretation of the style. Pouring a very pale, hazy yellow, lactic and lemon flavors bounce around the palette giving this 3.5% beer amazing drinkability. This is a really straightforward beer and a good candidate for brewing something similar at home.

Daily Serving: Mixed Berry, Trillium Brewing Co.

A large percentage of modern Berliner weisse examples are made with fruit. Traditional sour beer fruits – like apricot and raspberry – work amazingly well. The sourness of the Berliner weisse base combined with the juiciness of fruit are a match made in heaven. Daily Serving is Trillium’s Berliner weisse that showcases rotating fruit. The Mixed Berry variant is refreshing, juicy, and packed full of summer-fresh flavor.

How to Brew Berliner Weisse

Berliner weisse is a mixed-fermentation style that’s relatively simple to brew. There are, however, a few ways to approach the brewing process. You have the choice to ferment clean, with no souring bacteria in the fermenter, or a more traditional mixed-fermentation.

Process

Kettle Sour

Kettle souring is a quick and consistent way to make sour beer. Berliner weisse, specifically, works well because of the low gravity and lactic profile. Though less complex than traditional sour beer, kettle souring produces amazing results and a very clean acid profile. This lactic tartness is perfect for Berliner weisse.

Souring with lactobacillus in the kettle also removes the risk of contaminating your fermenter. If you’re concerned about cross contaminating your equipment with bacteria, kettle souring might be the best method for you. There is no more risk of contaminating equipment than a typical clean-beer brew.

Follow our guide on kettle souring for all the nitty gritty details. For Berliner weisse, here are the steps you need to know.

  1. Mash for 60 minutes between 146F-150F. Berliner weisse should have a light body and the beer should finish very low. Expect a final gravity (FG) of as low as 1.000. Sparge the full volume into your kettle.
  2. Boil the wort for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Chill wort to 90F.
  4. Pre-acidify wort to a pH of 4.2 to help with the souring process and help with head retention.
  5. Pitch lactobacillus.
  6. Purge the kettle’s headspace with CO2, if you can. Seal the kettle with plastic wrap and cover with the lid.
  7. Insulate the kettle and hold at 90F for 12 to 36 hours.
  8. Check the pH after 12 hours of souring. Repeat until a final pH of 3.5 is reached.
  9. Pasteurize wort by bringing it to a boil for about 5 minutes.
  10. Chill to 68F.
  11. Transfer to the fermenter.
  12. Pitch the yeast.
  13. Ferment at 68F for 1 to 2 weeks or until FG is stable.
  14. Carbonate in a keg or bottle condition to 3.0 vols CO2.

Traditional

For a classic version, you’ll be fermenting with a blend of yeast and bacteria in your fermenter. The most consistent way to brew great Berliner weisse this way is to pitch the lactobacillus first, and follow with the yeast after 24 hours. This gives the lacto a chance to work alone and sour the beer quickly and cleanly.

This method is considered a “no boil” beer. It is a good idea to bring the beer to a quick boil to pasteurize the wort and kill any unwanted bacteria carried over from the malt. The very quick boil doesn’t allow the wort to undergo a hot-break. This keeps protein in the wort contributing to a fuller body, which helps with such a low gravity beer.

  1. Mash for 60 minutes between 146F-150F. Berliner weisse should have a light body, the beer should finish very low. Expect a final gravity (FG) of as low as 1.000. Sparge the full volume into your kettle.
  2. Boil the wort for 5 minutes.
  3. Chill wort to 90F.
  4. Pre-acidify wort to a pH of 4.2 to help with the souring process and help with head retention.
  5. Transfer to a fermenter.
  6. Pitch lactobacillus.
  7. Pasteurize wort by bringing it to a boil for about 5 minutes.
  8. Chill to 68F.
  9. Transfer to the fermenter.
  10. Pitch the yeast. You can add brettanomyces here, if desired.
  11. Ferment at 68F for 2 to 3 weeks or until FG is stable.
  12. Carbonate in a keg or bottle condition to 3.0 vols CO2.

Ingredients

Malt

Berliner weisse is always brewed with wheat. Wheat contributes subtle grainy flavor and is protein rich, adding body and a hazy appearance. Pilsner malt or 2-row make up the remaining portion of the grain bill. Keeping the color very pale is a hallmark of the style. It should be bright with a slight haze.

Traditional Berliner Weisse brewers employed a complicated step mash, usually a triple decoction. When using modern, highly modified malt, you can achieve great results with a single infusion rest. Berliner Weisse is inherently dry, due to its low gravity and simple grain bill. A single rest at 150F can achieve great results.

Extract brewers should choose the lightest possible dried malt extract along with wheat malt extract. Dextrin malt, like CaraPils, can be steeped to help boost mouthfeel and add some fresh malt flavor.

Hops

Bitterness is almost non-existent in Berliner weisse. Usually between 1 to 5 IBU, hop character is not a defining factor in this beer style.

Having said that, many modern interpretations use late additions or dry hops to add fruitiness or a modern hoppy character. Use flavor and aroma hops with subdued moderation. Heavy handed, and the delicate character of Berliner weisse is lost. Noble hops also work great to add a floral or herbaceous quality that can compliment the lactic sourness.

Yeast and Bacteria

Souring in Berliner weisse is done by lactobacillus. Typical strains are lactobacillus delbrueckii and lactobacillus plantarum for their clean lactic sourness. For homebrewers looking for efficient and consistent souring, use lactobacillus plantarum. It’s relatively easy to find and it’s pain free to use for a nice, clean sourness, batch after batch.

Probiotic drink brand GoodBelly produces amazing, fresh lactobacillus plantarum products. Use 1 or 2 GoodBelly Straight Shots per 5 gallons of wort, or about a third of one of their 32oz cartons. Don’t worry about the fruit flavoring, it’s not enough to come through in the finished beer.

Yeast labs also offer great lactobacillus products like White Labs WLP677 or Wyeast 5335. These strains can be great for quick and clean Berliner weisse souring.

For the brewers yeast, a clean fermenting German ale strain is a great option. White Labs WLP029, Wyeast 1007, or Safale K97 are all great yeasts.

For both the lactobacillus and ale yeast, a starter is recommended. If you’re using very fresh GoodBelly lactobacillus, you can get by with pitching this directly into the wort.

If you’re going for a very traditional Berliner weisse, consider adding brettanomyces to the fermenter. Brett will add complexity and funkiness and the flavor will develop over time. A great brett strain to use is WLP650 Brettanomyces bruxellensis.

Water

Brewing water should be neutral for Berliner weisse. Chlorine, calcium, and sulfates should ideally all be well below 100ppm. Avoid any chloramine off-flavors by making sure to use bottled or carbon filtered water. With such a light beer, you want to be sure you’re brewing with great tasting water. Any off-flavor from water will come through in the final beer.

Fruit Additions

Adding fruit to Berliner weisse is always a great idea. Almost any fruit will compliment the light sourness of the beer. Traditional fruits, like apricot, raspberry, and cherries, work exceptionally well. Tropical fruits like mango, passionfruit, and guava are also great candidates.

Fruit can be added to a secondary fermenter and the Berliner weisse should be carefully racked on top. Add about 1 to 2 pounds of fruit per gallon of beer. Fruit should be mashed and pasteurized by heating to 160°F for about 15 minutes prior to using. This step avoids potential contamination in the fermenter.

Leave the beer on the fruit for about 1 to 2 weeks, or until the gravity is stable.

Summer in Berlin – Sample Berliner Weisse Recipe

Here’s a classic Berliner weisse recipe which can be brewed two ways: kettle soured or traditionally co-fermented.

Final Volume Original Gravity Final Gravity ABV IBU SRM
5.5 Gallons 1.034 1.004 3.9% 1-2 2.5

Fermentables

Amount  Type PPG °L
4 lb Pilsner Malt 37 1.6
3 lb Wheat Malt 38 1.8
7 lb Total   

For extract brewers, use 3 pounds of light dry malt extract and 3 pounds of wheat dry malt extract.

Hops (Optional)

Amount Variety AA Use Time IBU
1 oz Hallertau Mittelfrüh 3.5% Chill 10 min 1-2

For the kettle sour version, add hops when chilling to extract flavor and a bit of bitterness. Only add the hops after the wort has been soured.

For the traditional method, hops should be avoided as they inhibit the souring process. If you absolutely need to add hops, throw 2 or 3 whole leaf hops in the mash. Otherwise, dry hop before packaging once the beer has finished souring and fermenting.

Yeast

  1. Lactobacillus: 2 x GoodBelly Straight Shots (lactobacillus plantarum)
  2. Yeast: Healthy starter of WLP029, Wyeast 1007, or Safale K97

Process

Kettle Sour
  • Single infusion rest at 150F for 60 minutes. Sparge full volume into the kettle.
  • Bring wort to boil for 15 minutes.
  • Chill to 85F.
  • Lower mash pH to 4.2 using food grade lactic acid (88%).
  • Pitch lactobacillus into kettle.
  • Purge headspace with CO2 and seal kettle with plastic wrap.
  • Insulate kettle and maintain temperature of 85F.
  • Kettle sour for 12 to 36 hours, until a pH of 3.5 is reached.
  • Bring wort to a boil for 5 minutes to pasteurize.
  • Add hops and chill to 68F.
  • Transfer to fermenter.
  • Pitch yeast into oxygenated wort and ferment at 68F for 2 weeks, or until gravity is stable. It should finish very low, between 1.000 and 1.005.
  • Keg or bottle condition to 3.0 volumes of CO2.
Traditional Fermentation
  • Single infusion rest at 150F for 60 minutes. Sparge full volume into the kettle.
  • Bring wort to boil for 5 minutes.
  • Chill to 85F.
  • Lower mash pH to 4.2 using lactic acid.
  • Transfer to fermenter.
  • Pitch lactobacillus into fermenter.
  • Purge headspace with CO2 and seal fermenter.
  • Maintain temperature of 85F for 24 hours in fermentation chamber
  • Lower fermenter temperature to 68F.
  • Pitch yeast and ferment at 68F for 2 weeks, or until gravity is stable. It should finish very low, between 1.000 and 1.005.
  • Optional: Add brettanomyces and condition for 1 month, or until desired flavor is developed.
  • Keg or bottle condition to 3.0 volumes of CO2.

Final Thoughts

Whether you kettle sour or brew a traditional Berliner weisse, it’s always fun and exciting to produce such a light and refreshing beer style. Tart, funky, and thirst-quenching, Berliner weisse is one of the best summer beers.

Learning the basics of Berliner weisse brewing opens up countless doors for experimentation. Fruit additions, dry hops, or herbs can all add variety, complexity, and sophistication to your base Berliner weisse.

We love this style for it’s drinkability and low-key complexity. It’s always a crowd favorite to have on tap or in a bottle, and, from a brewer’s perspective, it’s fun as hell to brew. Have fun experimenting with this historic style but don’t be afraid to push the boundaries, play around, and develop your own unique flavors.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between Berliner weisse and gose?

Gose and Berliner weisse share their country of origin, body, and drinkability. These two German sour styles are similar but what differentiates gose is the addition of salt and coriander. Gose, originally from Leipzig, Germany, is salty because brewers used local water which had a high salt content. Flavored with coriander seed, this resulted in a lightly salted and sour beer called Gose.

If you’d like to brew a gose, follow the same recipe above and add half an ounce each of good quality sea salt and crushed Indian coriander seed at flame out.

How long does a Berliner weisse take to brew?

A kettle soured Berliner weisse can take about two weeks to finish. The brew day itself takes up to 48 hours, depending on how fast the pH drops in the kettle. But once the wort has been soured, the fermentation is the same as any other typical beer.

A traditional Berliner weisse fermentation may take longer. By using the method described above, the lactobacillus should have a great head start at a high temperature to sour quickly. Check the sourness level after 2 weeks. If not sour enough, wait another week and check again.

If using brettanomyces, allow the beer to condition for at least a month. Bottle conditioning is a great option when using brett because the flavor will continue to develop in the bottle.

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