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A Weiss Guy
“Don’t throw this out when you open it up” I distinctly warned my friend Tony as I gave him a bottle of beer
to help him deal with what his now ex-boss told him was an “exciting opportunity to seek out new
methodologies for income procurement”. Right, he got a pink slip. As to my beer warning, well, the
evidence speaks for itself. At one time the beer’s style was one of the most popular in all of Germany with
700 breweries producing it. By the end of the 20th century only two breweries regularly made it. Today there
is only one. The beer is lip puckering, face hurting, tongue melting, eyeball twisting, sour. It is a Berliner
Today, in its place of origin, Berlin, the beer is so unpopular that when my BeerNexus colleague Dan
Hodge was recently there and ordered a Berliner Weiss he was warned by the waitress, in the only English
phrase she had perfected, “do not order that one”. After an awkward interval, she reluctantly agreed to
bring him the beer. That is until he added, “no syrup please”. Yes, the beer is so sour that the few who
order it almost never consume it straight. Instead it is drunk "mit Schuss," that is, "with a shot" of raspberry
or woodruff-flavored syrup. After more pleading and Euro waving Dan eventually got his beer but when he
tried to order another the waitress firmly said "Nichts" and asked him to pay and leave. Being the
diplomatic type Dan only drank schnapps for the rest of his trip.
Here in the USA however the style and its drinkers are held in higher esteem. Order a Dogfish Head
Festina Peache, a Southampton Berliner Weisse, or a Carton Monkey Chase the Weasel, and your palate
will be deemed most sophisticated. Beer geeks will give you a knowing nod in acknowledgement of your
beer prowess and your bartender will likely provide an approving smile (mainly because you just paid $8 for
a 4% ABV beer that was served in an 8 ounce glass).
I was introduced to Berliner Weisse by my friends Jack and Chris, the fully credentialed Supreme
Commanders of the Intercontinental Division of the CBW - Cult of the Berliner Weisse. Jack and Chris,
who often slyly go incognito under the names of Chris and Jack, use sophisticated mind control and
recruitment techniques that they have refined over many a pint. Keeping the sour truth hidden,they first
graciously offer you a glass of the beer, syrup enhanced of course. They then quickly follow up with the
offer of another syrup laden brew.. As you move on to your third pint they casually mention that profits from
the sales of all Berliner Weisse beer goes to help the indigent, support research, promote peace, clean the
environment, and provide shelter for homeless brewers. It seems that drinking this brew will put you on the
fast track to becoming the beer Mother Theresa.
Then they pounce, inviting the innocent drinker into their cult. It’s hard to resist their intoxicating mantra -
“Berliner Weisse is special and so are you” and “only Nixon could go to China”. Huh? Finally, to
consummate the indoctrination, they bring out the pièce de résistance- a glass of syrup-free Berliner
Weisse. Prost! If you survive, they’ve got you. Only an ungrateful, contentious, prideful, smug slob intent on
turning the world back to macro lagers would waver at this point.
Now before you say I need a beer intervention let me remind you that there are other beer cults out there
that put the CBW to shame. For instance, who but a cultist would camp overnight with thousands of other
true believers just for a chance to buy a ticket that gives them a possibility of buying Three Floyds Dark
Lord? How else would you describe the people who gladly fork over $150 a bottle for Portsmouth’s Kate
the Great? What, other than a cult mentality, could cause the fury at the Bruery where a two mile long line
annually forms to buy a single bottle of their Black Tuesday barrel aged stout? What else explains the
legions of buyers willing to pay hundreds of dollars to black marketers for Westvleteren 12 despite the
brewing monks’ valiant fight to end the unauthorized global trade of their beers? In comparison, the CBW is
as sanguine as asking for a Budweiser at roadside bar in Billings, Montana.
A true Berliner Weisse comes exclusively in a squat, 11.16-fl. oz. bottle which always leaves me curious
about that missing .84 ounce. Could it be that the brewers were saving it to increase their supply for keg
distribution? Sorry, the fact of the matter is that there is no draft Berliner Weisse. Is it that 12 ounces is
simply too much of sourness for the human body to withstand? Possible. However something tells me that
the bottle is 11.16 ounces instead of 12 for the same reason that a package of Oreo’s went from 16.6
ounces to 11.3, Braun Paper Towels went from 200 sheets per package to 180, and a Kleenex tissue now
has a width of 8.2 inches instead of its former 8.4 all without a price change of course.
Berliner Weisse is fermented with both yeast and lactic-acid bacteria. On purpose. The bacterial strain is
officially called Lactobacillus delbrückii, so-named after Max Delbrück , a biochemist and Nobel Laureate
in medicine. Since Dr. Max was a medical professional and not a coroner, it’s logical to assume that
despite its taste, drinking Berliner Weisse won’t kill you.
I don’t advise that anyone try a Berliner Weisse without training from the CBW educational outreach
program. However, if you must, then I suggest you pour it into a wide-rimmed, bowl-shaped chalice, about
twice the size of the bottle. The larger glass is necessary because a Berliner Weisse will foam making for
a picturesque presentation that rivals the cascading of a Guinness, the bubbles of a Dom Pérignon
champagne, or the frothing power of Crest Pro-Health mouthwash.
Berliner Weisse even has a close relative in taste - the Belgian gueuze. I’ve heard gueuze described as
idiosyncratic, pungent, tart, sour, vinous, musty, infected, spoiled, biting, acidic, rusty, and the all
encompassing, lousy. Now that I think of it, I’ve heard Berliner Weisse described with those very same
words. Must run in the family.
It didn’t happen overnight, but now Berliner Weisse is actually one of my favorite types of beer. To quote the
noted emperor and former resident of beer mecca Elba, Napoleon Bonaparte, “Berliner Weisse, not Miller
High Life, is the champagne of bottled beer.”
And yes he really did say that, well most of it.
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