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In Berlin, Remaking a Craft Beer Pioneer

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The revival of a Berlin standard, the Berliner Weisse wheat beer, could be well-timed to ride the wave of a global boom in modern craft beers.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Berliner Weisse, a beer mixed with raspberry or sweet green syrup, has been brewed in Berlin for centuries.
    • The low-alcohol beer has a sweet-sour taste, and is drunk often during summer.
    • The U.S. boom in craft beers, which resemble Weisse in taste, has raised demand for traditional beers.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Berlin’s finest? Source: DPA

 

Fresh, colorful, slightly sour and with only 3 percent alcohol, Berliner Weisse, or Berlin Wheat Beer, has long been considered a perfect summer beer.

But the drink that has been the German capital’s traditional tipple for decades actually has little to do with the original version of Berliner Weisse, which Napoleon’s troops once dubbed the “Champagne of the North.” Not in the way it’s brewed, not in the way it tastes, not in the way it now comes with a straw – and especially not for the added red or green syrup.

“Up until a few years ago, real Weisse in Berlin was essentially extinct,” said Andreas Bogk, an IT security expert from Berlin’s Chaos Computer Club, and a hobby beer enthusiast since 2010.

Mr. Bogk has built his own mini brewery in a cellar in the Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg. After learning about the demise of Berliner Weisse, he decided to attempt to resurrect the beer. He is one of many with similar plans. The low-alcohol beer is cut either with raspberry syrup, which makes it red, or with Waldmeister, a syrup derived from a forest herb called sweet woodruff, also known as wild baby’s breath, which makes it green.

So what is real Berliner Weisse?

The beer was probably served as early as the 16th century, but the first official mention of Berlin wheat beer was in 1680. It quickly became the favorite brew of the city’s populace and around 1800 there were as many as 700 pubs selling it. The beer was quaffed from two-liter glasses weighing 3 pounds, which had to be lifted using both hands. It is now served in dainty stemmed glasses, first introduced at the beginning of the 19th century.

Berliner Weisse gets is characteristic sour taste from lactic acid bacteria. The beer isn’t brewed in kegs, but ferments in a bottle like a wine.

Particularly important is the use of a special type of yeast, Brettanomyces. “That’s what makes the fruity aroma,” explained Mr. Bogk.

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