How To Brew Berliner Weisse

by Steve Thanos | Updated: April 11, 2021

Berliner Weisse is low-alcohol German wheat beer that is pale in color and a refreshing, clean lactic sourness with high carbonation.

There is a light bread dough malt flavor that helps to support the sourness. Often at times, these beers are accompanied with fruit syrups. 

The Tart Beer of Germany

In Germany at the time, the Bavarian brewers were following the Reinheitsgebot rules and lagers were all the rage in southern Germany.

Brewers in Central and Northern Geremany were more influenced by the beer being brewed in neighboring Belgium and Poland. This was the birth of the tart style called Berliner Weisse. 

Unclear Origins 

The actual origin of Berliner Weisse is not very clear. There is some speculation that the style derived from the Huguenots, who were protestant refugees fleeing from Catholic France in the  17th century.

As the story goes, as they traveled north and east in Europe, they were likely to have become familiar with wild fermentations such as Flanders Red, Oud Bruin, and lambics.

However, there is a real lack of evidence to support these claims. There are historical documents that support Berliner Weisse predating the Huguenots by at least a century. 

Origins with Evidence

Berliner Weisse was probably more likely originated from Broyhan beer. Broyhan was first brewed in 1526 in the city of Hannover, Germany by Cord Broyhan.

As Christian Heinrich Shmidt and Ron Pattinson translated in his book, The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer

     “The genuine Broyhan is very pale, similar in colour to young white wine, has a winey aroma and a pleasant sweetish yet acidic taste. Broyhan differs from other white beers chiefly in that it is brewed from pure barely without the addition of wheat malt or hops.”

Christian Heinrich Shmidt

“The Champagne of the North” 

It is also unclear when the lactic tartness became the associated with the style. By the 19th century, tart Berliner Weisse became popular beer style in northern area of Germany.

In 1870 to 1900, the production of Berliner Weisse grew expediently. Napoleon Bonaparte even called the beer style the “the Champagne of the North” during the beginning of the 19th century. 

Style Profile for Berliner Weisse

Appearance

Sun-bleached straw in color. Clarity that can be called suburb to somewhat hazy. Carbonation is effervescent and often compared to champagne. The head is dense and rather large, but with poor retention.   

Aroma

As a fresh beer, a Berliner Weisse will have a sharp sourness that will dominate, from moderate to medium high. A wheat character may be noticeable as raw bread dough or even as sourdough.

A moderate fruity character, often lemon or tart apples. With a little age on the beer, the fruity character increases and a flowery aroma emerges. There should be no hop aroma.

Beer may have some funky character, especially if Brettanomyces was added during fermentation. 

Flavor

Strong flavor of clean lactic sourness with a background of bread dough and wheat flavors. No hop bitterness or flavor. The balance of the beer is leaning toward the sourness and malt as secondary.

Sourness should never be vinegary. Some fruity flavors may exist, lemon and tart apples. Beer may have some funky flavor, especially if Brettanomyces was added during fermentation. 

Mouthfeel

Light body with a high carbonation and high acidity. No alcohol presence is detected. Finish is crisp and dry.

Food Pairing

Wheatwines pair well with bold, robust meals such as sweet, rich caramelized flavors like roasted duck, pork chops, Mexican, Jamaican, Asian dishes, and sausage.

Pungent cheeses such as blue, Limburger, and Munster cheese all pair well. As for desserts, fruity desserts and/or caramel desserts really pair well.

Tips for Brewing your own Berliner Weisse

Grain

The grist for a Berliner Weisse really can’t get any simpler; equal amounts of good quality Pilsner malt and wheat malt.

Usually this would be three to four pounds each for five gallon batch. Nothing else. That’s it. Told you it was simple. 

Hops

As for hops, traditionally speaking there wouldn’t be many hops to speak of when it comes to a Berliner Weisse’s hop schedule. However, don’t worry, hop heads!

A fair amount of Berliner Weisse beers are currently being brewed with enough hop interest that makes it conceivable to add more than the small handful you would traditionally.

Josh Weikert suggests a combination of Hallertau and Sorachi Ace is a nice grassy/herbal flavor that matches well with each other. He also points out that New Zealand hops make for an interesting take on the tart German style.

Yeast

Yeast and a Lactobacillus culture will be needed after brewing a Berliner Weisse. Wyeast 1007 German Ale yeast is fairly clean with enough esters to make the beer interesting.

Some also suggest a nice Kolsch yeast to do the trick too. 

Pitch and Wait

When it comes to pitching your yeast and Lacto, the easiest method is probably the pitch and wait method. Mash, boil, and chill just like usual.

After chilling your wort, add your Lacto and wait for about two weeks.

This will give the wort a nice tartness. After the two weeks are over, go ahead and pitch your yeast. If you pitch your yeast too quickly, you run the risk of the yeast overtaking the wort and not allowing the bugs to perform their thing. This may result in a beer with very little acidity.

Like always, be mindful of your sanitation practices when brewing this beer. 

Kettle Souring

This process involves mash, lauter, sparge, and then flushing the kettle head space with CO2 and then adding the Lactobacillus culture and holding at a specific temperature. After a couple days, you will then boil as usual.

The advantage of this method is that it allows you to dail in the specific level of sourness that you are trying to achieve. After the boil, ferment with a yeast after checking your pH level.

Cheat Method

Lactic acid can be used to “spike your beer.” This method will allow you to obtain the level of acidity that you desire. This can be done at packaging.

Berliner Weisse By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 2 – 3 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.028 – 1.132 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.003 – 1.006 FG
  • IBU Range: 3 – 8
  • ABV Range: 2.8 – 3.8%

Martin Keen’s Berliner Weisse Recipe

Grain

  • 50 %              3 lbs.             Wheat malt  
  • 50 %              3 lbs.             Pilsner Malt

Hops

  • 1.00 oz         Tettnang – Boil – 15 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg   German Ale  Wyeast #1007
  • 1.0 pkg   Lactobacillus Wyeast #5335

Instructions:

  1. Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins
  2. Boil for 60 mins 

Transcript: Sour beers are quite the art form that can take years to make, but not all sour beers. Today I am going to brew a Berliner Weisse and I’m going to make it using a kettle souring method. And this beer should be ready to drink in just a few weeks. Let’s go.

Thank you for joining me. My name is Martin Keen taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks.

And I have reached the sours category, a category that I’m looking forward to brewing. Uh, yes, with a little bit of trepidation. I’ve never made a sour beer before, but this one is like a really good one to start with because it’s ready quickly. And it’s also relatively simple if you use a kettle souring method.

So let’s talk a little bit about this beer. First of all, we’ll talk about the water chemistry. Um, what I’ve got here is some water salts. These are stuff that I add for every beer, not just for sour beers, just to make sure that my pH is right, so that we get proper conversion.

What I’m adding here is two grams of gypsum and Epsom salt and three grams of calcium chloride. Now I want to make sure that these are actually dissolved in the liquid. So the way that I’ve been doing that recently is to well steal a sample of the hot water and give it a good shake in this.

I’m also going to be adding some lactic acid. I’m going to add three milliliters of lactic acid to get down to a pH of I’m hoping about 5.3 for the mash. Now time to add in the grist. Hmm. I’m brewing a three gallon batch, but even considering that there’s not a lot of grain here. That’s because this is a pretty low gravity beer.

And I’ll be mashing this one at 150 Fahrenheit or 66 Celsius because I’ve got some wheat malt here. I’m going to add just a touch of rice hauls. Don’t need to really measure these out. These are not going to contribute anything to the gravity of the beer, but they should ensure that we have a good clean flow through the mash, nothing gets stuck and so forth.

All right, now I do enjoy my gadgets. I’ve just got the latest iPhone and this is the 12 pro max. It’s got these really cool cameras on the back here, these three cameras. And, uh, normally I just use my fancy mirrorless cameras. I have three GH five cameras that I’ve used filming these videos, but I thought I might just throw in a little bit of iPhone footage this week that tell me what you think.

What should we expect from a Berliner Weisse? Well, we’re certainly going to get a bit of sourness, a bit of tartness, a bit of lactic, or even citrusy sourness to this beer. And it’s combined with a bready malt backbone and a really light and fluffy mouthfeel.

In terms of gravity this a very low gravity beer. We’re looking at an ABV between 2.8% and 3.8%. The ingredients are wonderfully simple. It’s simply 50% German Pilsner malt, and 50% pale wheat malt.

And my beer is going to aim for an original gravity of 10 30. Okay. I’ve got to my pre boil, gravity of 10 25 took about 45 minutes. So now I’m going to take out the grains and then I’m going to bring this to a boil just for about 10 minutes.

I’ve used my plate chiller to chill this work down to 95 Fahrenheit or 35 Celsius. This is going to take a quick measure now of the pH of this wort. It’s kind of interesting that I’ve chilled it and I’m still like dipping stuff in here that hasn’t been sanitized. Uh, you don’t have to worry about sanitizing stuff with star san at this stage because I’m going to boil this wort again later.

So, okay. Here’s my pH meter. So my pH meter is showing a reading of 5.5 as the current pH. As the beer sours we’re going to bring that down a fair bit, but I’m actually going to get it started right now by using a little bit of lactic acid, just to bring this pH down a little bit more.

Now, if you want the quick and easy way of souring beer, um, you can just add lactic acid when the fermentation is complete and you sort of add it to taste. And, uh, that’s really like the, the shortcut for the souring the beer, but I’m going to add here a one milliliter of lactic acid. And give that a stir and then take another reading.

One milliliter brought that down to about 5.2. I want to get closer to 4.5. So I’m going to add a couple more milliliters.

I’m at 4.6. That is absolutely close enough. So now we’ll move on to the souring part. Now I have what might look to the observer like a packet of wyeast, but no, this is actually lactobacillus which I am going to add in now in to my wort. Okay, let’s get that a quick stir.

Lactobacillus works best warm, and I’m going to keep this wort at 95 degrees. Fortunately for me, the brewing system that I’m using makes that very easy. I can just set the temperature here and the heating element will cycle on and off to keep me at 95 degrees.

So I’m going to pop the top on. And the last thing I’m going to do is seal this port here. So I don’t want any oxygen getting in. Okay. And I should leave this to sour for a day or so.

Three days later, and this has just been sat here at 95 degrees and props to this claw hammer supply system, because it has stayed at exactly 95 degrees. So it’s been cycling the heating element on and off to keep the temperature steady.

So now let’s take a reading of the pH and we are at 3.8, which is pretty much where I want this to be. So I am now going to call it and move on to the next stage, which is to boil this and then just do all the usual things you do when you’re brewing a beer. So let’s bring this to a boil.

Looks like we’re approaching a boil now. So by boiling this wort a second time, I’m now putting to an end, the kettle souring phase. So the beer is not going to continue to sour. It also means everything’s going to get sanitized of course, cause it’s the boil.

And it’s my opportunity to add in some hops. Now a Berliner Weisse is not by any stretch of the imagination, a hoppy beer. This is going to have about eight IBU of bitterness, all of which are coming from this hop addition, which is Tettnang. And I’m adding this in, at the start of my 15 minute boil. Okay in they go.

All right, wort in my flex plus fermenter, uh, ended up with an original gravity of 10 27.

Going to add in my yeast, this is German ale yeast. I’m going to put this in now.

Given us a, such a low gravity beer. I’m not going to bother with my oxygen wand, especially as this is a full packet of yeast and only a three gallon batch.

Speaking of three gallon batches. Last time I brewed in this fermenter the thermowell was exposed above the level of the beer because I only ended up with about two and a half gallons in this. Uh, now three gallons, the thermal well is inside of the wort, which means I’ll be able to use it to take a temperature reading. Okay.

So I’m going to throw in a tilt hydrometer so I can keep an eye on the gravity.

And then the top here with my cooling coil, which will connect to the glycol chiller. All right. That is now a sealed unit. I’m going to ferment this one 68 Fahrenheit or 20 Celsius.

Are you ready to try it my first-est ever sour beer? Um, yes, actually I am quite excited cause I’ve recently been drinking a lot more sours and kind of getting the taste for them. Uh, so, um, I’m ready. Yeah, me too. I cannot wait for this one.

So just appearance it’s a wheat beer. It’s cloudy. No question about that. Looks like a, um, like a freshly squeezed lemonade or something. I think it looks like a summer Shandy. Yeah, it does. It does very light and inviting looking. Yeah. Yeah. It’s cloudy, but very inviting looking that does look like it’s going to be delicious.

Okay. Let’s see what we get with the smell. Is very, very subtle, but there is definitely a citrusy or a, some sort of under note there. Like I really have like stick my nose in there to smell that. Yeah. I guess we’ll find out how well the, uh, the souring went then.

So if we make the sour face, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is this going to taste like sour candy or something? Yeah. Um, know let’s try. All right.

I think I’m making the sour face. Hmm. Not sour enough for you? Like the sour hits you to start with, but then it dissipates real quick. I can fit it on my tongue straight away. As soon as you take a sip, it’s definitely mouthwatering that’s for sure. Yeah.

Are you up for a little experiment with this beer? I don’t know the way that you can sour this beer further is you can actually add lactic acid now the beer is finished to taste to get it to the sourness as you want. And you’re saying it’s not quite sour enough. What did I do? Yeah.

So I think it’s time that we crack out the lactic acid. So I think we’re going to want to add the tiniest tiniest amount of lactic acid to this. Now actually every beer that you’ve tasted has some lactic acids in it. Um, I use it, um, to balance the pH in the beers. You were adding lactic acid into your bucket. That’s right.

So we’re just going to add a little bit, so I’m going to give this to you. You might add like a few milliliters to a whole keg, so you’re definitely gonna want to just put a drop in. Look quite difficult here. Can I put on my spoon? Yeah. Good idea. Okay. That’d be good. Good. Yup.

Right. Wait, you’re not doing it?

All right. Let’s see how this turns out. Okay. We’ve restored the head on the bear. So it’s looking good. Okay. Smells the same.

It was a little bit more soury. More of a pucker to it. Hmm. Okay. All right. So yeah. Okay. That might been, yeah. That’s a lot more soury. That’s good though. That’s something, you know how like you go to a coffee shop and they’ll bring you a coffee and then maybe there’s on the table is cream and sugar. Do you think they’re going to be breweries now you just go to the table and there’s like some lactic acid in a syringe. How about it?

You can create your own like sourness of a beer. Oh, that’s so much more sour now. Really good.

Oh yeah. Wow. It gives me a bit more of a sort of a lemonade citrusy taste to it even. Yeah. That just gives it that little kick to it. Isn’t it? It really does. But we’d better do the cheers now while there’s still some left. Yeah. Both. Both beer and lactic acid.

Right. But yeah, this is, this has been a fun experiment. I think it has been. Yeah. All right. Cheers!

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.