Sunday, 1 October 2017

How sour was Berliner Weisse?

I just happened to stumble across another fourteen analyses of Berliner Weisse. All with the acidity.

But, rather than providing answers, it’s provided more questions. Because the acidity level is all over the shop, from 0.196 to 0.85%. That is, from mildly tart to pretty damn sour. Without any apparent pattern. What does it mean?

One slight problem is that what’s listed is specifically lactic acid. Any acetic acid that might have been present isn’t included. I know from analyses performed in the 1970s that considerable amounts of acetic were present in Berliner Weisse. Less than the quantity of lactic acid, but present nonetheless.

Where I can see a pattern is in the OG, which seems to have fallen from the mid-1040s in the 1870s to around 1032º by the end of the century. Which is about the same as today: 8º Plato. There also appears to have been an increase in the degree of attenuation. 78-80% is extremely high for a late-19th century German beer.

Berliner Weisse 1878 - 1898
Year Brewer OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation lactic acid CO2 %
1850 Unknown 1032.5 1015.92 2.13 50.12% 0.85
1878 Unknown Potsdam 1045.3 1013.8 4.08 69.54% 0.60 0.388
1878 Unknown 1050.9 1013.3 4.89 73.87% 0.51 0.321
1878 Unknown 1044.9 1012.8 4.16 71.49% 0.55 0.293
1879 Unknown 1042.7 1017.5 3.25 59.02% 0.32
1879 Unknown 1040.2 1012 3.65 70.15% 0.30
1884 Landré, A 1041.0 1014.8 3.39 63.90% 0.717 0.338
1884 Landré, A 1036.5 1010.4 3.39 71.51% 0.829 0.302
1887 Aktein-Brauerei (formerly H. A. Bolle) 1018.6 1009.5 1.18 48.92% 0.363
1888 Unknown 1039.0 1011.8 3.53 69.74% 0.234
1892 Unknown 1031.5 1006.9 3.19 78.10% 0.198
1898 Unknown 1032.5 1007.1 3.30 78.15% 0.31
1898 Unknown 1032.4 1006.2 3.40 80.86% 0.264
1898 Unknown 1030.2 1005.5 3.20 81.79% 0.279
1898 Unknown 1029.0 1008.2 2.70 71.72% 0.196
Wahl, Robert and Henius, Max (1902) Composition Of Beers in American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting, and Auxiliary Trades, pp 823-830, Wahl & Henius, Chicago.
König, J (1903), Bier in Chemie der menschlichen Nahrungs- und Genussmittel by Joseph König, 1903, pp 1101 - 1156, Julius Springer, Berlin.


Ed said...

I thought theses analyses measured total acidity and expressed it as 'equivalent to x% lactic acid', so they can be used to calculate the pH:

Alan said...

Do we have a contemporary bias towards conformity? One of the curses "style" imposes is the suggestion that brewers in the past were seeking to brew like each other as opposed to stamping each their own mark.

Ron Pattinson said...


good point. That's what that = sign means, isn't it?

But, in terms of perceived sourness, wouldn't a greater amount of acetic acid make the beer taste sourer?

I should use that calculator of yours. Shit. Even more stuff to do.

Is interesting how the acidity levels vary though, isn't? Could it be connected with the age of the samples?

Ron Pattinson said...


you don't get down to pH 3.1. Finish the bloody table off.

Ed said...

Actually I see that table was for acidty as acetic acid. Fortunately I put my calculations in anther post ( which mentaldetal kindly tidied up to the following equation:


where B5 is the dissociation constant expressed as a decimal and A5 the acidity value as a percent (the figure published in other words).

For acetic acid B5 would be 0.000175 and for lactic acid it would be 0.000138.

Different acid would definitely have different flavours, but I make 0.85% lactic acid pH 2.96 so shockingly sour whatever any other flavours were.

Barm said...

Wouldn't you expect a beer that contained Brettanomyces and was laid down for months or years to eventually be very highly attenuated?

Ron Pattinson said...


yes. As were 1970's examples of Berliner Weisse.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Is there any evidence that Berliner Weisse contained Brettanomyces?

Ron Pattinson said...

Lars Marius Garshol,

loads of evidence. They've isolated at least 15 starins.

Ron Pattinson said...


brewers in a certain region temnded to brew quite similar beers. That was certainly the case in London. Though there were big differences between the beers from different regions.