Berliner Weisse is a naturally cloudy, sour and often white beer of a relatively low strength at 3% abv. It is a regional variation on many of the white beer styles from Germany, with its origins dating back to at least the 1500s. It can be made from combinations of barley and wheat malt, with the stipulation that the malts are kilned at very low temperatures to minimise colour formation, although I may corrected on this, it must have some wheat content to be considered a true Berliner Weisse (and brewed in the region). The fermentation takes place with a mixture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria, a prerequisite that creates the lactic acid and sour taste, which is the distinguishing feature in Berlin Weisse.
By the late 1800s, Berliner Weisse was apparently the most popular alcoholic drink in the German capital, and maybe around fifty (and some texts actually say up to an amazing 700) breweries were producing it, which shows the market was remarkably buoyant for something now regarded as particularly niche. By the late 20th century, there were only two breweries left in Berlin producing the beer, Berliner Kindl and Schultheiss (both now owned by Dr Oetker who make those ‘authentic’ pizzas). The style has been given Protected Geographical Indication within the EU, where it may only be applied to beers brewed in Berlin.
In its native environment, Berliner weisse is often seen a drink for females due to its refreshing nature and is frequently served with syrups to flavour the beer, syrups such as woodruff (waldmeister) and raspberry. A bit archaic really, if you ask me.
The beers made at Chorlton Brewery are all soured beers, using lactobacillus in the fermentation of the beer. The bacteria come from the husks of the grain used in a similar process used to produce a sourdough starter for baking bread. During the fermentation, in order to produce a favourable environment for the bacteria and keep other bacteria from contaminating the brew, Carbon Dioxide is bubbled into the fermentation vessels, to produce an anaerobic environment. Care has to be taken to avoid the production of butyric acid (or buytrate) which smells of rancid cheese (and is what gives vomit its ever so lovely aroma), though when Brettanomyces gets hold of butryic acid, it produces an ethyl butyrate, which has more of a tropical fruit aroma and flavour. A full article explaining the techniques and wherewithal of making a sour beer will be available to read in the next issue of Hop and Barley magazine, I have been reliably informed, so if you want further reading… go forth and search this out!
So what of the range of beers that Mike makes at his premises? We were treated to a few of the range of soured beers...
This herbal, cloudy 3.8% Berliner-weisse style beer carries gentle fruity aromas and is very rounded. The body is pretty thick intially, but feels gradually thinner in the mouth with each mouthful and gives way to a lovely palate cleansing quality. Other flavours that come through are of strudel, nutmeg, Christmas pudding, green apples and cinnamon, with a slight medicinal quality and some 'wintergreen' around the edges of the aromas and flavour base. The pH on this beer is around 3.2, which is quite acidic, for those of a non-chemistry background.
This sour beer is pretty close to fruit juice, massively cloudy and a deep hazy orange colour. The aromas are earthy and citrussy and there is loads of bitter orange on the nose and in the flavour. This doesn't qualify as a Berliner-Weisse style sour, as it doesn't use any wheat, it also has been dry hopped using amarillo (very orangey hops). The malts are all pale, using a combination of golden promise and flaggon, additional hop character comes from the use of glacier hops, bramling cross and a little ahtanum. Overall, this is a jolly rancher of a sour beer with hints of watermelon could easily pass for a breakfast juice. Scarily drinkable.
A mouthwatering 5.3% cloudy golden sour with a white light cobbwebby head. On the nose there's plenty of aromatics in the form of celery and fresh citrus, the body is much more evident this time compared to the previous two beers on the list and the finish is much longer with a slightly savoury edge to it. The hopping is done using New Zealand Waimea, though it carries a little roughness around the edges, the addition of a little amarillo keeps things quite fruity.
A fruit blast in at 5.6%, this Victoria's Secret dry hopped sour also uses glacier in the boil, steeped with bramling cross and ultimately the outcome is tropical - Um Bongo. Lighter in flavour than it is on the nose, there is still an abundance of fruit and a superbly rounded beer with no edges to it at all. The mouthfeel is thick and very juicy, with a lovely acidity to keep things mouthwatering. The flavours of oranges and blackcurrant with touches of vimto. At this point the discussion heads into talk of miracle fruit, which I suggest looking up as it can drastically alter the way taste is perceived thanks to binding of certain compounds from the fruit onto the tastebuds.
A sour beer which has much more character in common with a cider than any beer, almost coming through with a farmyard scrumpy type body and flavour. Flavoured using sweetflag herbs, this very fruity, light and slightly tangerine flavoured 4% sour uses Brettanomyces and other yeast strains which were obtained from a 1980s bottle of Vilner bottled sour beer. Interesting, but after the Victoria Sour, somewhat off key.
The dark sour of the night, Dark Matter is the strongest beer of the night at 6.8% and has quite an intricate set of aromas and flavours. The aromas are coffee, chocolate and touches of sour cola. The light body carries a beige head, which is poorly retained but does give way to lots of dark fruit. The acidity is almost like a sorbet in its cleansing quality and has a touch of malt in the finish and some light roasted coffee.
That’s your lot everyone! Thanks for reading and hopefully you’ll get to try some of the Chorlton beers before too long, since they have been on recently at 23 Club/Clove Hitch on keg and in bottle!
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