Saturday, 8 March 2008

Berliner Weisse

Finally, as promised, something about Berliner Weisse. Today's guest publication is "Bierbrauerei" by M. Krandauer, published in Leipzig in 1914. (Pages 299 to 301).
"Berliner Weissbier, that is now made from a mixture of wheat and barley malt in the proportion of 2 or 3 to 1. Mashing method: either decoction or infusion. Characteristic is not boiling the wort, to retain the typical Weissbier taste and to allow the use of a high-attenuating yeast mixed with long lactic acid bacteria. Since the wort is not boiled with the hops, these must be added to the wort in a different way. It mostly happens that, before mashing, the hops, per Zentner [100 kg] of grist 0,75 to 1 pound [500 gm] of hops, are added to the simmering water in the mash tun and so are boiled. The hops are present during the whole mashing process and end up with the spent grains in the lauter tun and so act as a goof filter for the wort. To better extract sugars from the spent grains, almost boiling water is used, which is possible in this case, since the final mash pumping temperature is not higher than 80 to 82º C and the filtered wort still contains a large amount of diastase, so there is no danger of starch haze. The hot wort is quickly cooled after lautering (cool ship, cooler) and pitched with yeast in large steel tanks at 13 to 20º C. The amount5 of yeast is 1 litre per 5 hl wort. After 8 to 12 hoursthe wort is transferred into smaller vats. The increasingly vigorous fermentation creates a covering of a mixture of hop resin, protein, wheat fat, that is black in colour: "pitch barm"; it is crafully skimmed off. Later the spent hops appear. The complete yeast layer remains until the end of the primary fermentation and is only removed when the wort is pumped out. The fermentation lasts five days.

After the end of the tun fermentation the beer is pumped into a collecting vat, from which together with fresh beer from the pitching vessel it is drawn off into smaller packages, bottles or stone jugs. It is worth mentioning that this mixture of finished and fresh beer contains between 10 and 35% water, depending on the wishes of the consumer. Hence the designation "half beer" as opposed to "full Weisse" or "whole Weisse", beer without added water.

An exception, approximately like Bock or Salvator in bottom-fermenting beers, amongst Weissbiers is formed by "Märzen-Bier", which because of its wine-like flavour is very highly regarded.

Original gravity 12 to 14 to 16% [Balling]. This beer conditions in the bottle without the addition of water. It takes months before the beer is ready to be consumed. Often the custom still prevails of burying the bottles in sand or earth to keep them at a constant cool temperature."

I find most interesting the fact that the beer was usually watered down just before packaging. I've not heard of that practice before. It's confirmed by "Die Bierbrauerei in der Neuzeit" by E. Zimmermann, published in 1913 (page297): "Before filling, kräusen (up to 30%) and often some water, too, are added to Berliner Weissbier." Also Schönfeld mentions the addition of 10 to 35% water in "Die Herstellung Obergähriger Biere", 1902, page 84: "

I had heard that stronger versions of Berliner Weisse had once existed, but this is the first real evidence. The gravities quoted are Lagerbier (12º), Märzen (14º) and Bock (16º) strength.

Mashing with the hops is a bit weird, too. But I suppose without a boil, you have few options.

"Die Herstellung Obergähriger Biere" has a whole chapter on Berliner Weisse. When I have time I'll try to translate at least some of that.


Anonymous said...

yeah well i enjoyed this post, even if noone else seems to be overly interested in it. And i would certainly be interested in any further translations of 'the production of top fermented beers' that you can provide ron. anything about what koelsch was like in the 'old days' might be good - i know nothing, but i suspect it might have been darker and hoppier than what you get in koeln these days.

I guess what I thought was missing from the discussion in the last long quote in the post was what point at which the lactic acid bacteria were added – at the same time as the yeast or later eg. a day or two into fermentation once the pH has dropped, or perhaps at bottling time. doing a long 'lactic mash' is something which is sometimes talked about in homebrew circles as a way of imitating weisse - any mention of that in the book?

I am also curious about whether there's any information about the use of such bacteria in the production of Gose, or whether - as I was informed in Leipzig and as the labels stated - they simply add lactic acid to create a slight sourness.

The gravities are interesting too – though perhaps with the addition of water the finished product would have come down to an alcohol percentage which we would more normally associate with Berliner weisse – in the 3% range?
Ed (Wgtn, NZ).

Ron Pattinson said...

There was a style called Rheinisch Bitterbier that sounds like a precursor og Kölsch - blond and bitter.

It says in the text that a mixture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria was pitched in the wort. So I guess right at the beginning of the fermentation is when the bacteria was added.

Which Gose are you talking about? I thought the Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose was feremented with lactic acid bacteria. The first revived Gose certainly was - it was brewed in a Berliner Weisse brewery in East Berlin.

The finished beer would usually have been around 3% after the addition of water. Only the Märzen version would have been stronger.

I should post sometime soon about Broyhan. Berliner Weisse is usually claimed to be a development of Broyhan.

Kristen England said...

Brews Pub put out that Wheat book a long time ago that, actually, is quite good. They did measurements of lacic content in berliner weisses that were being produced at the time (non-historic) and found that they can go up to 3% acid! Thats pretty high.

Ive always been against the 'sour mash' b/c it doesn't produce a beer like the procedure Ron describes. A buddy of mine did some lab analysis on the lactobaccilus: yeast ration and found that, on average, its about 3:1. I've used that ratio and it seems to work very very well.


When they talk of adding water to the beers, are they talking about fermenting the beers out and then adding water? Meaning would be finished beer be around the historic 5% as you suggest and then cut it to 3% or so with water? Thats very interesting!

Ron Pattinson said...


yes, they were adding the water as the beer was packaged into bottles or casks. According to "Die Herstellung Obergähriger Biere" this watering down happened mostly in down-market pubs where "half beer" was sold at a low price.

There's loads more detail about Berliner Weisse in that book. Hopefully I'll have time to translate it soon.

Anonymous said...

Well it was the Ritterguts I assume, because the barman at Ohne Bedenken told me their beer was made in Doellnitz. But it occurred to me last night after i had made that comment, that my german might not be up to scratch in relation to lactic acid. The barman told me they added "milchsauere" and while a translation of this is clearly lactic acid, i guess it could be used to mean lactic acid bacteria rather than simply adding lactic acid later. I don't know, because I don't know the usage rather than the translation of the word. The same thing was on the labels of the bottles in the display cabinet at Bayerisher Bahnhof. I'd have to recheck some of the info I picked up at Ohne Bedenken to see whether it corroborates what the barman told me.

Chris said...


I just wanted to thank you for this incredibly informative blog, and this post in particular.

I had actually been discussing the concept of a "no boil" berliner weiss with a friend a couple weeks ago, and when I forwarded this post to him he immediately replied, "We HAVE to make this!"

Last night we gave it a shot, with a homebrewers twist of course.

Grain bill:
~7.25lbs Belgian Pale malt
~5.5lbs organic wheat malt
~4lbs flaked wheat
~1.75lbs Vienna malt
~3 huge handfuls of aged (1 year) Willamette hops for some preservative power.
~a tiny amount of Calcium Chloride to correct the water balance.

We made a nice layer of hops in the bottom of the mash tun to act as a filter bed and then dumped the grain on top with roughly 20 quarts of water. Initial mash temp stabilized at 140 Fahrenheit. After 15minutes or so we ran off 5 quarts into a small stock pot and heated it on the stove until just shy of boiling, and then poured that back into the mash. The extra heat brought us up to 152 Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, we heated another 5 quarts of water on the stove. After 15-20 minutes at 150 degrees we added the 5 quarts of almost boiling water from the stove and brought the mash up to 162 farenheit, which we then let rest for 20 minutes.

After that we began to vorlauf until we had a fairly clean run off, and then tranfered it into the kettle with a sanitized wort chiller. Once we hit 3 gallons we waited until it dropped to 70 and took a gravity reading of 16 plato, perfect for this "bock strength" berliner weiss you spoke of. That portion went into a 5 gallon carboy.

We then added the remaining sparge water and ran off the rest of the batch, yielding a total of 9 gallons of "normal strength" berliner weiss.

As of 6am this morning we had 3 bubbling carboys with 2-3 inches of krausen on top!

Wish us luck, I'll let you know how it turns out.



Ron Pattinson said...

Chris, sounds very interesting. I'm eager to hear how it turns out.

I've just posted another, older description of mashing Berliner Weisse. It employs quite different method.

Jon Notz said...

Did u ever get to translate any of that book on berliner weisse?
Thank you, Jon.

Ron Pattinson said...


some of it.