Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Berliner Weissbier in the 1970’s (part two)

We’re back with 1970’s Berliner Weisse brewing techniques. Truly fascinating stuff.

What most intrigues me is how there are significant differences in methods between all three of the West Berlin producers. Looking at the current BJCP guidelines, they don’t match the practises of any of the three. This is what they claim:

“Wheat malt content is typically 50% of the grist (as with all German wheat beers) with the remainder being Pilsner malt. A symbiotic fermentation with top-fermenting yeast and Lactobacillus delbruckii provides the sharp sourness, which may be enhanced by blending of beers of different ages during fermentation and by extended cool aging. Hop bitterness is extremely low. A single decoction mash with mash hopping is traditional.”

As we’ve already seen, only one of the breweries used any wheat at all. Only one used a decoction mash. And only one added hops to the mash. We’ll learn more about Lactobacillus delbruckii later, but two of the breweries were using a mixture of different lactobacillus strains.

On to maturation. Brewery I and II both matured in lager tanks then added extra extract at bottling time through fresh beer or Kräusen. Not quite sure what they mean by fresh beer (Frischbier in the original). If it added extract, then it can’t have been completely fermented. So isn’t it just the same as Kräusen?

Kindl didn’t really do much in the way of maturation, just mixing the results of the yeast and bacteria fermentation to get the required level of sourness before a quick week in the lagering tank. We’ll see in a minute want effect this cut-price approach had on the finished beer.

Brewery I and II both matured for a similar length of time, four to six weeks, at similar temperatures. This is a big departure from the older practice, where Berliner Weisse was sent out in barrels at the end of primary fermentation and bottled by third parties.

Kindl Weissbier on the other hand was a filtered and artificially-carbonated beer.

The book also has this dead handy analysis of the beers from the three breweries:

Analysis after 3 - 12 months of storage
Characteristic Brewery I Brewery II Brewery III
Original gravity 7.22 - 8.06% 7.52 - 7.65% 7.42%
ABW 2.83 - 3.28% 2.60 - 2.80% 2.32%
Real extract 1.24 - 1.59% 1.96 - 2.21 % 2.80%
pH 3.36 - 3.55 3.45 - 3.79 3.28
carbohydrates 0.23 - 0.41 g/100 ml 0.46 - 0.50 g/100 ml 1.56 g/100 ml
acetic acid 0.21 - 0.58 g/l 0.43 - 0.65 g/l 0.09 g/l
D/L- lactic acid 1.28 - 2.39 g/l 0.98 - 1.72 g/l 2.10 g/l
Bitterness 4.7 - 6.5 5.0 - 9.0 3.4
Die Berliner Weisse, by Gerolf Annemüller, Hans-J. Manger and Peter Lietz, 2008, page 99. (My translation.)

You can see that in certain areas the Kindl version is significantly different. For a start it’s noticeably less well attenuated, the result of it not having any secondary conditioning. Which also leaves it the weakest. It’s also the least bitter of the three, at just 3.4 EBUs. And while it has a high level of lactic acid, unlike the others it contains minimal amounts of acetic acid. Presumably because of the absence of Brettanomyces.

I’ll be honest with you. I can’t get the numbers to add up in terms of OG, FG and ABV. Under 2% real extract, i.e. real FG gives an apparent FG of under 0 Plato. Except in the case of Kindl. Then again, I don’t think the two sets of numbers for the other breweries are two separate analyses, but the top and bottom of a range. So they don’t necessarily belong to each other.

I can see that the degree of attenuation is very high, except for Kindl, which is just 76%. The others I estimate to be between 85% and 90% apparent attenuation. Which is what you would expect if Brettanomyces were left to run its course.

They’re all fairly strong in terms of ABV with even the weakest Kindl coming in at 2.91%. The strongest is 4.1% ABV.

Of course one of the biggest difference between Kindl and the others doesn’t really show up in these numbers. As it said in the text, the lack of a Brettanomyces meant that the typical aroma of the style wasn’t formed.

It confirms what I’ve always thought: that Kindl was a crap example of the style. You can’t imagine how much it annoys me that it’s the only one to have survived.


Gary Gillman said...

Kindl is the only example I've ever tried and it seemed very sour and thin. Apart from being softened with sweet fruit essence, the schuss as it's called I believe, it seemed difficult to see how people could drink this.

Ron (or Mike), how is it typically consumed today in Berlin? Do most people mix it? Is it available in a draft version?


Chris said...

Will the Brett add any sourness or just some funk? Any specific strain of brett?

Unknown said...

Are there any German-origin Brett strains available anywhere? Surely someone must have cultured some from the 70s or earlier.

Ron Pattinson said...


the Brettanomyces seems to have added acetic acid.

You don't realise how detailed the information is. Including loads on the microflora.

Ron Pattinson said...


no idea. My bet would be that the VLB in Berlin has some banked.

Ron Pattinson said...


I meant to say that I'd be posting lots more on the microbiology of Berliner Weisse. Now there's a sentence I never imagined writing.

Ron Pattinson said...


don't think anyone, other than the odd beer geek tourist, drinks it straight.

I only ever saw it on draught in East Berlin. And there they thought you were weird if you drank it straight, which is what I did.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, thanks. I was looking at David Booth Art of Brewing again (1840) and while it's always hard to tell, he doesn't mention a sour taste and it seems the beer was generally drunk quite young in this period. They used a lot of wheat then, too.

I wonder where the sour thing came in. Or perhaps different producers always made a variety of tastes...?


Mat said...

Shame it took me years to realize the BJCP catagories were far less reliable, historically and currently, than I had hoped. At the end of the day, the only people they help are homebrewers. (I'm a BJCP judge, so imagine my commercial frustration) Thank you for once again providing historical information that sets me (all of us) straight.

Kristen England said...

There are a few of us out there who have original/VLB German brett strains. The majority are very much like a Brux strain, nearly identical in my use. There are a few oddballs that give more of a 'squishy' fruit character.

Re: kindl, I ran a lab analysis on it and its about 3% abv but the thing that surprised me was the 75% attenuation which I thought would be much lower as thats what I get with my Berliners. Their pH was nearly identical across different batches tested at like pH 3.21-3.25 which correlates with the taste. I didn't run TA but will at some point.