Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Napoleon's Dynamite. A Berliner Weisse: Two Ways. An Experiment in Taste and Speed.

Berliner Weisse is one of my favorite styles of beers. I had my first a number of years back at Stone Brewing's 2nd annual sour fest. It was a sweltering, humid day in July. Although many of the beers were tart and refreshing the Berliner was just outstanding at quenching my thirst and not getting me too wasted. That was before Berliner Weisse "blew up". The next version I had was the Bruery's Hottenroth. That beer woke me up to a whole new version of Berliner Weisse. In addition my homebrew buddy Pat made an amazing batch that he served at our house warming party almost 5 years ago. Since then I try and make at least one batch a year, usually in time for summer. In the past I have built up a starter of a commercial strain of lactobacillus and pitched that for about 48 hours before pitching a clean ale yeast. This has worked very well for me in the past. However, it does take some time to get sour enough. On a side note I usually brew a batch of Gose with the bacteria/yeast cake left over from the berliner.

This year I had some extra time on my hands and decided to test two methods of making Berliner Weisse. I have heard good and bad things regarding sour mashes for Berliners and so I figured I would do a side-by-side experiment. I would sour mash one Berliner (which should allow for a nice sour beer, in a much faster time frame. may have some off flavors, not as complex) and I would do a more traditional version where I pitch a commercial lacto strain and then after ~48 hours at warm temps I cool it down and pitch a clean ale yeast (which should be more complex, less chance for off flavors, be nice and sour, but takes longer). We will see how the results turn out.

Here is an overview of my procedure:
-16# of grain into the mash tun, 8# 2-Row and 8# of Wheat Malt, mashed at 150F for 35 minutes.
- Drain off first runnings and collect.
-Sparge mash and collect second runnings (this was 8 gallons final).
-I split that 8 gallons into two parts. 4 gallons went back into the mash and 4 gallons stayed in the kettle.  I then added 1.5 gallons of water to the kettle. I added a pitcher full of ice to the mash to cool it down closer to 100F (I only got it down to 125F, I tok the temp tonight and it was down to 110F, in addition the grain had risen above the liquid level and the funky aromas were starting to form.) I wish I had pictures.
-The sour mash will hold at ~100F for 48 hours. I added about a half pound of crushed grain to the mash tun as well to introduce some healthy lacto.
-Kettle Half was hopped and boiled for 15 minutes, cooled to 80F, and the lacto was pitched. after 48 hours I will cool and add clean ale yeast.
- The sour mash will get mash hops, drain and sparked to bring final volume to 6 gallons. I will boil it for 15 minutes to kill the lacto. I will then add a clean ale yeast to finish fermentation.

My hope is that the sour mash version will be just as sour, and complex as the commercial strain version, and hopefully with no off flavors. If this is the case then I would do a sour mash from here on out, since this version would get me to the same ends at a much faster rate.


  1. The commercial lacto strain version was showing signs of fermentation (CO2 bubbling and small krausen, without having added any sacc yeast) Does anyone know if White Labs lacto culture can ferment a beer like this?

  2. This looks like a great experiment and will be really cool for us to try a bunch of different methods side by side. I'm glad the timing worked out.

    On the WL lacto I was seeing the same thing, it made me wonder if it wasn't pure lacto bacteria? And my starter had some spicy phenols that I didn't think would come from lacto. I'me curious how this batch will end up.

  3. From my understanding "Hottenroth" is almost all fermented with White labs Lactro. With some sac and brett added at bottling.

    I've also heard that the white labs strain WLP677 has enzymes inside of the vial that allows it to complete the fermentation without Sac yeast. This is vs the 10-15% attenuation with the Wyeast strain.

  4. Jeff & Lewy, This makes me feel much better than I did a few days ago. I figured I had a Brett strain or some other wild yeast doing work in the beer, but if the WL version can ferment on its own then my observations make sense. That might be another cool Berliner experiment different lacto strains in the same wort.

    The commercial pitch version smells nice, the sour mash version still smells like rotten cheese. Keeping my fingers crossed that that aroma goes away through time and/or fermentation.

    1. This morning after 254 hours of Lacto fermentation I am at 1.012 from 1.034. Giving it a taste test, it is tart but not sour at this point.