Thursday, January 16, 2014

Berliner Weisse on Blueberries - Tasting Notes

Blueberry Berliner Weisse

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Berliner Weisse
Brewed: 7.25.2013
Bottled On: 12.4.2013
ABV: 4%

Appearance: muted pinkish-purple, slight haze, very little head retention
Smell: funky farmyard, acetic tang, fruit must, citrus, berry
Taste: clean funk, smooth, mildly sweet berry, 
juicy tartness in finish, mineral note
Mouthfeel: crisp, thin body, dry, medium carbonation

Perhaps drinking a half growler of Bear Republic's Tartare before sitting down to review the split of my Berliner Weisse aged on blueberries was not the best setup. Tartare is one of the sourest Berliners that I've ever tried — so far as one is able to compare these things by memory — its juicy, lemony profile dominated by extreme tartness. It's really good; one of the best. It might give you heartburn. By comparison, I think it's safe to say that my Blueberry Berliner Weisse isn't particularly sour at all. Fortunately, I have more than the lactic monster before it to compare to.

The blueberry in this is nice. I'll start with that: I racked this half of my Berliner Weisse onto approximately 0.75 lb. of blueberries per gallon, for 5 weeks, and they gave the beer a nice underlying fruitiness. I could use more blueberry: something like 1.25 lbs. per gallon would be good. Blueberry is nicely complimentary to Brettanomyes funk, especially the funk in this one. It's a bit more winey, more field than pasture, leaning on fruity funk over juicy tartness. While the fruit does add a round sweetness to the finish, I don't think it's the fruit that caused the lack of acidity to begin with.

The weirdest thing about this half of my Berliner Weisse is not the mild acidity, but that the other half of it, the plain half, is actually reasonably tart. (Nowhere near Tartare either, but at a place that I think most people wound find 'reasonably tart.') Each split was pitched the same cultures of lactobacillus from a single flask, followed (a couple days later) by different strains of Brettanomyces, all before the fruit ever came into play. You can read about my lacto culturing methods from brewing grain back in my original recipe post, but the short of it is that the microbe that actually soured each beer were the same. The sourness, therefore, should have been pretty much the same. If it isn't, what other factors could we consider that might determine the perception of sourness?

Well, there's the main variable between the two batches before the blueberries: the Brett. Having taken numerous gravity readings, I can say with confidence that the differences were already there before adding the fruit. The no-fruit version got some Brett cultured by my friend Dmitri from a Berliner Weisse blend, while this half got a flask of Brett that I saved from my Brett dark strong ale yeast cake. With the lactobacillus given a few days to work on its own, most of the sourness should have been there before anything else encountered the beer, the differing Bretts simply rearranging the funk, maybe painting some nuances into the tartness.

But beer is rarely that straightforward, and that's what makes homebrewing so fun. Perhaps the difference in pitching rate (in retrospect, I probably pitched a lot more of my dark strong slurry than I did of the single Brett isolate) caused the Brett in this one to ferment too aggressively, cutting short the role of the lacto much more quickly. That doesn't sound too likely to me, but the Brett must have played a substantial role in some way. That Berliner Weisse are soured with lactobacillus and cleaned up with yeast is fairly established, but I suspect there's a lot of room for experimentation with what yeast is doing the final fermentation. If these two batches are any indication, there can be pretty drastic differences.

And perhaps it is all perception. While this option doesn't seem particularly likely either, I don't have a PH meter to actually measure the sourness of either batch, so it's possible. Different strains of yeast create different compounds, and there are at least three strains of Brett active in this beer. Working together, is it possible they have some sort of muting effect, changing the body of the beer in such a way that the perception of tartness is diminished? The chemistry of beer is my weak-spot, so I can't get too much more specific in my guesses than that.

I like this beer, but I like the other portion much better. Like I said in my original entry, Berliner Weisse is among the most difficult styles to brew consistently and simply. I watched a video on the making of Bear Republic Tartare, and from the sounds of it, that beer is spontaneously fermented and aged for over a year. Most breweries would probably describe that as more of a lambic than a Berliner Weisse, so it's not exactly the best beer to compare to. Beer is complicated, and the reasons why one batch doesn't come out like another are often confusing. Enjoying the mystery, and hopefully one day unraveling it, is part of the reasons we're homebrewers.


  1. Dmitri's Berliner Weisse brettanomyces produces a considerable amount of tartness on its own, in my experience. That could be a contributing factor to the different tartness levels, considering the same brett strain was not used in the blueberry version.

    1. That would certainly help to explain the difference. Makes sense that they'd find a strain like that for their blend. I'm guessing I must have cultured a really unaggressive lactobacillus strain from the grain, then, that it contributed so little.


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