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Home / German Beer Styles / Berliner Weisse

German Beer Styles:
Berliner Weisse

Berliner Kindl Glass (with woodruff syrup)

These are fantastic beers that I'm sure Belgian beer fans will appreciate. The sour and acidic notes are maybe a little reminiscent of a lambic or gueuze, and the practice of adding fruit syrups to the beer adds to the comparison. The Reinheitsgebot prevented any tradition of adding fruit during the brewing process but Berliners get around this by adding woodruff (Waldmeister) or raspberry (Himbeere) syrup to reduce the sharpness and acidity of the beer -- in fact you are almost certain to be asked "rot oder grün" (red or green) when ordering one -- but it's better without syrup. Berliners also tend to drink it through a straw, which is certainly not the way to get the most from a beer. There's nothing at all clever about adding syrup as the syrup destroys any hint of beer smell or flavour. I tried one with Himbeere (raspberry) and the overwhelming smell and taste of raspberry syrup rendered it as interesting as an alcopop.

In Berlin, you'll also notice that Berliner Weisse rarely appears on the menu unadulterated. Instead it'll usually be listed twice: "Berliner Weisse mit Schuss: Himbeere" and "Berliner Weisse mit Schuss: Waldmeister". This goes to show how unusual the practice of drinking it without syrup is considered. Take no notice, and ignore the waiter's well-meaning concern that the foreigner, unfamiliar with German ways, is making a mistake. Stick to your guns: ask for a "Berliner Weisse ohne Schuss" and discard the straw.

Last time I visited Berlin I tried to order "Eine Berliner Weisse ohne Schuss, bitte" (without shot). The Kellnerin looked at me with a puzzled expression then said "Rot oder grün?" I said "Nein, ohne Schuss... mit keinem Schuss, bitte". She nodded, as though she had figured out what I meant, then came back with a glass of Pils. I was too tired to argue. The next night, we found a nice little bar in Prenzlauer Berg, near the Kollwitzplatz, and I tried again. This time, it worked. The Kellnerin still queried it, but I stuck to my guns and said I had tried it before. She gave me one of those looks that says: "OK you weirdo, I doubt you know what you're ordering, but it's your funeral" or something like that. Unfortunately, it's usually served in wide, low, tumblers, broader than they are tall, with a couple of straws, which looks a little daft. Even when you discard the straws, you're left with something shaped more like a bowl than a glass, which doesn't help when you're in a bar trying not to be the hapless tourist. My mission for my next trip to Berlin is to convince someone to serve me a Berliner Weisse without syrup in a Pils glass. That should be fun.

Don't let the low alcohol content deceive you into thinking that this is a weak-tasting beer. The flavours are intense, refreshing and distinctive, a little like drinking grapefruit juice: sharp, mouth-puckeringly sour, but very cleansing and refreshing. The beer is sometimes known as the Champagne of beer.

Schultheiss glass (with strawberry syrup)

Berliner Weisse is a top-fermented, bottle conditioned wheat beer made with both traditional warm-fermenting yeasts and lactobacillus culture. They have a rapidly vanishing head and a clear, pale golden straw-coloured appearance. The taste is refreshing, tart, sour and acidic, with a lemony-citric fruit sharpness and almost no hop bitterness. With food, they would make a good aperitif and might go well with cheeses and salads. Michael Jackson [1] reckons they can be used in chilled fruit soups.

Berliner Weisse can be difficult to find in the UK, but both Berliner Kindl and Schultheiss Berliner Weisse are available from Beers of Europe. Schultheiss Berliner Weisse is also available at the Bhurtpore Inn, Cheshire.

Schultheiss originally had breweries in East and West Berlin (before the city was divided). The East Berlin brewery was taken under state ownership when a Stalinist regime was imposed after the Second World War. Michael Jackson compares the East and West versions of Schultheiss Berliner Weiss in his "Beer Companion" [2]. When Germany reunified the East Berlin brewery at Pankow was re-acquired by Schultheiss and eventually closed, with production continuing only in the West of the city. The old Schultheiss brewery on Knaackstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg, is now an arts and culture centre (www.kulturbrauerei.de). Schultheiss also brew a range of other beers including a pilsner but they don't seem to push it hard on the export market. Schultheiss is now part of the Brau und Brunnen group [www.brauundbrunnen.de], so maybe they prefer to export mainly their more well known pilsners like Jever or Dortmunder Union. I haven't found the other Schultheiss beers on sale in the UK yet, and if the pils is anything to go by, that's no great loss. Schultheiss Berliner Weisse is easier to find as specialist off licences will seek it out as it's an example of a rare type but Schultheiss Pilsners are so ubiquitous that only the well known make a big impact on the export market.

Kindl also suffered with the imposition of Stalinism. The original 1920s Kindl brauerei was dismantled and shipped to the USSR but Kindl rebuilt it in its original Bauhaus style with copper vessels in the West. Kindl is now part of the Bindings group.

I don't have any statistics to hand, but casual observation suggests more Bavarian Weissbier than Berliner Weisse is consumed in Berlin.

Readers' comments

A reader: "The author missed the point of Berliner Weisse; it is a summer drink and and the 'Schuss' makes it lighter, at least to the Germans' taste. It is traditionall served in a schooner type glass rather than the tall Weissbier glass. It is not any stranger than adding lime to a bottle of Corona. The same is true of 'Maiwein' which has sweet woodruff added to it. Yes, indeed, the sweet woodruff disguises the taste of the wine, but it is fun, spring thing to do. It can also be used to improve a bottle of mediocre white wine."

The editor: "I understand your point but I'm a bit of a purist and I do like the taste of Berliner Weisse 'ohne Schuss'. With Schuss it just seems to be another alcopop. I understand your reference to wine, but a mediocre white wine would perhaps be better suited to cooking? Gueuze and Lambic are regarded as two of the most challenging of the beer styles, but if we were to add some sugary syrup to them we would lose their majesty and mystique. Berliner Weisse is no more or less drinkable but has forfeited its majesty and mystique by conceding that one really must dilute it with syrup to find it drinkable. If beer is to take its rightful place alongside wine as a quality, artisanal product, it cannot allow itself to be regarded as something that should be let down with sodas, syrups or mixers. I think we need to promote the unique, artisanal nature of beer rather than let it down with syrups."

Examples

Links

References

[1] Michael Jackson (1998) "Beer" London: Dorling Kindersley.

[2] Michael Jackson (1997) "Michael Jackson's Beer Companion" London: Mitchell Beazley.

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Last updated: 20th October 2005

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