Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bearliner Weisse (Berliner Weisse with Lactobacillus From Brewing Grain) - Tasting Notes

Bearliner Weisse
Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Berliner Weisse
Brewed: 7.25.2013
Bottled On: 10.18.2013
ABV: 4%

Appearance: straw gold, only slight haze, very little head retention
Smell: funky, citrus, lemony lactic sour, cereal grains
Taste: tart citrus, candy lemon, smooth breadyness leading into tangy lactic finish, mineral note
Mouthfeel: light, thin body, crisp, medium carbonation, slightly chalky finish

I have to admit, I was really nervous about this one. Berliners are such fickle business, and the results of homebrew attempts seem to vary widely. As I mentioned in this summer's post on Berliner Weisse brewing techniques, the style may be the hardest to brew to perfection — whatever your vision of that target is, it's a slippery one to consistently and reliably hit. I devised this idea for culturing lactobacillus under the most favorable conditions possible, and pitching a flask of the highly active, grain-cultured cocktail, rather than just dumping grain itself into a sour mash. Sour mashes (or kettle souring) seem to be an invitation for some the most horrid off-flavors imaginable, maybe due to their semi-wild environment chock-full of rich, readily-available sugars; maybe due to some factors I am not knowledgable enough to unravel yet. Ideally, culturing the lacto in advance should allow a little easier control in capturing more actual lacto and less of the nasty, pukey stuff. But whichever technique you choose, you're taking a leap pretty far outside the normal realms of commercial yeast pitching.

Some people want a Berliner that is really raw and wild, with bracing sourness compensating for the style's relative lack of complexity. (I probably lean toward this camp.) Others want something crisp and lemonade-like, with only a finishing snap of tartness. It stands to reason that letting a sour mash really let rip is going to create the most intensity. Pitching pure-culture lacto from a yeast company is safer, but may often result in a too-mild character. So I guess it makes sense that my technique — a sort of hybrid technique — would fall right in the middle.

Bearliner is pretty classic: nice tart lemon citrus and slightly sour finish, decently funky, slightly minerally, and very refreshing. It hits the right notes, with no real off flavors that I can pick out (I get a slight mineral note in the finish of almost all Berliners, so I guess that's borderline.) The main flaw is the glaring lack of both head and spritzy carbonation — which is a little weird, considering I calculated the priming sugar addition for 3.5 volumes of CO2, but... okay. Beer is weird sometimes.

Refreshing though it may be, tart and dry and tangy as it may be, it's still not as sour as I hoped. I suppose I was prepared for that upper end of enamel-stripping lactic acid, considering I skipped one major component of the sour mash insurance policy, never boiling to kill the lactobacillus, and therefore letting all that funky souring bacteria run wild in the beer even now as I'm drinking it. Bacteria and yeast are weird sometimes. I can't complain too much: they did their job. It's not my perfect Berliner Weisse, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable one. And maybe I'm just the weird one: when I brought this to the last Beacon Homebrew club meeting, the consensus around the table was that it was the right amount of sour. My lone insinuations that it required a little more edge were met with concerned shakes of the head. 

Okay, clearly everyone's taste is a little different, so the most important thing when it comes to any one procedure is consistency. I would love to say this method of pre-culturing lactobacillus from grain before fermentation (and without boiling the bacteria to death to halt lactic fermentation) is perfectly repeatable. It should mostly be, if one is careful enough, keeping variables like grains and temperature consistent. However, each variable in fermentation tends to have a spiraling effect on every other variable, and adding two primary fermentation agents — lactobacillus and Brettanomyces — complicates things further. This batch was split in two, both halves given pitches of my grain-cultured lacto, followed up a few days later with different pitches of Brettanomyces. This version received a pitch of Brett cultured by Dmitri at BKYeast from a commercial blend. The other received a pitch of Brett slurry harvested from my Belgian dark strong ale. The other became funky much more than sour, the Brett seeming to mask the tartness, somehow. I subsequently racked that half onto blueberries to age, and it will be ready for tasting in a few more weeks.

We'll explore that version later, but as a parting thought: the primary yeast you pitch in a Berliner Weisse may have a large impact on the perceived sourness too, maybe just as much as the actual souring bacteria. With so many options, you may (and I may) want to do some experimentation before simply reaching for your house yeast strain.

For my previous notes and the recipe for this Berliner Weisse, please click here.


  1. Danstar's CBC-1 could be a nice primary as it doesn't do the maltotriose.


    1. Interesting, and good to know! That gives me some ideas, it could be fun to throw some white wine yeast in as the Sacch strain for the same reasons.

  2. I fermented mine with raw grain in my Houston garage in July the week it was consistently over 100 degrees outside. Obviously a great environment for lacto. At the time, I lacked a temp-controlled chamber, so I embraced the heat and skipped the post-sour boil. I pitched the yeast I cultured from Saison Dupont, figuring it was my best candidate for my garage. I got pretty much what you seemed to want: mild funk peeking out from behind blazing sourness. A really nice, quick, simple sour for the endless Texan summer.With this style, inconsistency and unpredictability is something you have to view as a virtue, or at least a charming eccentricity.

    1. Yeah, it's a very eccentric style. I think high temps are really important on the homebrew scale. Helps the lacto to kick out the sour fast. Some of the commercial breweries I've talked to don't seem to heat their sour mash to that level, but I'm thinking the larger scale helps it to sour faster, consistently.

  3. I am expecting time to be the main ingredient. I also did a similar BW "experiment" in July. Brewed two BW's @ 6 gal. each. One with WY5335 + WY1007 (Lactobacillus + English Ale) and another with WLP635 (Berliner Weisse Blend). They're still going in a warm closet and have a healthy pillicle. Sampled both recently and they were crystal clear, smelled a bit funky, and for the most part tasted like water (thin, refreshing, no grain or sour). My goal is to let them ferment for a year and then bottle and/or blend with a younger/fuller pilsner/wheat beer of 2 month age. When I bottle I intend to add a champagne yeast for the effervescence.

    1. Good luck! I'm very curious to hear how that comes out. So far, in my various brews of this sort (ie not full-fledged sour beers), lactobacillus hasn't seemed to contribute tons of sourness after the initial stages of fermentation. I haven't tried aging a Berliner for more than a few months before bottling, though — curious how much difference that makes!

  4. I recently used a variation on your and Jamil Zainascheff's techniques for BW with my Lichtenhainer ("smoked BW" for lack of a better term). I selectively cultured wild Lactobacillus from 4oz of pilsner malt in 200ml of DME acidified to pH 4.5 and at 125F to promote the Lacto and inhibit everything else. I kept the culture warm for three days and stepped up to 1L over the week. Blindingly sour results in the starter wort (pH 3.2 and just clean Lacto flavor). For the beer I used only Weyermann beechwood-smoked malt and no hops. I didn't want to risk the Lacto being hop-sensitive and the smoke flavor more than compensates for the absence of hops. I pitched the Lacto culture at 120F and kept it warm overnight. I allowed the temp to drop to 70F over the next two days and pitched a starter of Wyeast 1010 American Wheat (Widmer Bros strain similar to a classic Kolsch yeast). So far so good. It is down to pH 3.1 with a lemony sharp sourness and smoky richness that reminds me of bacon or BBQ. I plan to prime the batch with a champagne yeast to ensure carbonation. I can imagine that the WY 1010 will be pretty exhausted after fermenting such an acidic beer. I don't know if Brett would be appropriate for this one. Does anyone know if Westbrook's Lichtenhainer has Brett?

    1. How much lactic acid did you have to add to drop the pH down to 4.5? That sounds like a great method, I'll have to dabble with that some in the future!

      When you say Westbrook's Lichtenhainer... do you mean their gose? I'm not aware of them having a lichtenhainer, but man it would be awesome if they did. Love the style, and their gose is one of my absolute favorites. So drinkable, so flavorful, amazing that it's in cans. I haven't heard anything about them using Brett in that, and I've never detected any Brett-specific flavors, but it can be hard to tell in such a beer.


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