Thursday, February 2, 2012

Professor Fritz Briem - 1809 Berliner Weisse Review

Brewery: Professor Fritz Briem (Germany)
Style: Berliner Weisse
ABV: 5.0%
Grade: A-

Careful with this one: 1809 Berliner Weisse gave me the first gusher I've gotten from a commercial beer. Fortunately, I had only partially cracked the cap and didn't lose too much, but it's a sad occasion no matter what. I really didn't expect to get a gusher with this beer, of all sours: I'd been under the impression that a traditional Berliner Weisse shouldn't have wild yeast or bugs in the bottle, as the style calls for a "sour mash" — letting the mash sour with naturally occurring lactobacillus over the course of a few days — followed by a boil to kill all the wild organisms, before introducing normal ale yeast. Some brewers don't bother with the boil at all, though, and others pitch lactobacillus after the boil rather than before. I'm not sure which one Fritz Briem employed, or what's considered traditional, but regardless: boom. Volcano.

Despite all the gushing and obviously high carbonation, very little head remains on this once it's settled. The smell is fairly typical of a sour mash beer, but at first taste this really jumps out as something unique. The sourness is much more complex than in other Berliner Weisse that I've had — bright and tart, almost approaching that of a traditional, long-aging sour. (Well, not quite, but nonetheless impressive.) It's not particularly complex, but it's hard to find any flaws with it either, and that goes far in a style like this.

The second surprise, after the well-rounded and pleasant sourness, is the mouthfeel and body. This still has the smooth creaminess of other full-bodied wheat beers, despite being so dry and tart. There's a suggestion of sweetness, yet no taste of sweetness. A hint of wheat remains, though it's obviously taken down quite a bit, and you don't get a lot of the spicy, banana/clove flavors you'll find in German hefeweizens. I don't know if they used a hefe yeast to actually ferment this, or what — there's no dominating "clean" yeast flavor that stands out. I do get a touch of vanilla, along with the expected lemony / citrus flavors. This all makes for a brilliant beer going down, incredibly satisfying to drink. My only complaint is the extremely high carbonation can be sometimes unpleasant at the back of the throat, and while it makes 1809 effervescent, its bite can get a bit too strong.

As the bottle reminds us, the Berliner Weisse style was once highly sought-out and prized by Napoleon and his troops — they called it the champagne of the North, "lively and elegant." It's easy to see why, if Berliners in that day were this good; 1809 can seem very much like a slightly sour, tart, citric champagne. This hands down beats most other German beers out there, in my opinion. I really can't comprehend why it's a virtually unknown, extinct style in Germany today.

Availability: Not too hard to find if you know the right places to look. This is brewed year-round and available in 16 ounce bottles.

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