Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Imperial" Berliner Weisse Tasting

Last Saturday I went to a party at my friend Bill’s house. The theme was German beer, and he, with the help of a few other people, had six homebrewed lagers on gravity cask. This included some standard styles, but also more obscure things like Bill's great rendition of Landbier. The closest thing I had to contribute was a bottle of my Berliner weisse. While people seemed to really enjoyed the beer, I had several people comment that it was too interesting to qualify for the fat part of the style guidelines.

My Berliner recipe does turn out a beer more reminiscent of a lambic-lite. So when I brewed the most recent batch, in May 2010, I left half of it at a higher gravity (1.045). My goal was to produce something lambic-like, with the no-boil method (shaving about six hours off the usual turbid mash and extended boil). After more than a year in the fermentor on oak, and now close to six months in the bottle, it is finally ready to drink.

Homebrewed Imperial Berliner Weisse.
A few American breweries have released strong Berliners, such as New Belgium Imperial Berliner Style Weisse (7% ABV), White Birch Berliner Weisse (6.4% ABV), and Southampton Uberliner (6% ABV). From the flavors (of the ones I have tasted) and reviews it is hard to call any of these a major success. While the Southampton has the highest ratings of the three, the scores on Beer Advocate and Rate Beer are much lower than their standard Berliner Weisse. It is hard to double the strength of a beer and still retain a balance that recalls the original style. Boosting the strength of bold beers, such as IPAs and stouts, of works but beers known for their light/refreshing character, like Pilsner or hefe weizen, often do not translate.

Berliner Lambic

Appearance – Brilliantly clear golden yellow. The dense white head dissipates very quickly. It’s a pretty beer.

Smell – The aroma is complex, with lots of fruit, but not that much funk. Like a standard Berliner you can almost smell the lactic sourness.

Taste – That firm lactic acidity leads off, tailing into a slight worty malt sweetness. The malt doesn’t have the fresh dough character that the standard version has. A bit more sweetness than I like in either Berliners or lambics, but it is still drier than most darker Belgian sours. The fruity esters from the Brett come across as white wine. Very mild vanilla from the oak.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body, with medium-high carbonation. I don’t expect it to have the light spritzy body of its little brother, but I think it could be a bit livelier.

Drinkability & Notes – On its own this beer is not objectionable, but I’d take the standard gravity version any day. However, it is a good beer for blending since it has that bright sourness without much else going on. I think next time I'll skip the big beer and brew 10 gallons to the standard Berliner gravity.

3 comments:

John Evens said...

Hi Mike,

I'm really enjoying your blog. You put a lot of great detail into your posts. And you are doing some really interesting this with what looks like fairly straight-forward homebrew equipment. I have just started brewing. I did a few Mr Beer kits and just now started 5 gallon extract/specialty grain brews. I did manage to create a pleasing 'lambic' using Mr Beer's Bewitched Red and Creamy Brown LME cans, plus some jars of homemade strawberry conserves. It was a bit of a stab in the dark, but ended up with the sourness I was hoping for, perhaps more by luck that design. I am certainly looking forward to creating some more of this style with more traditional techniques.

Nateo said...

"It is hard to double the strength of a beer and still retain a balance that recalls the original style." - I've found this to be exactly the case. All of the "Imperial Pils" I've tried should really have been called "Helles Bocks."

Justin said...

I once made a higher alcohol Berliner Weisse. I freeze concentrated it, like and Eisbock. It was awful.

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