Oz Berliner Weisse — tastes like it should be good for you

The Germans call Berliner Weisse ‘arbeiter sekt’, the workingman’s champagne. And  a few months back I lamented not having seen the style in Australia.

But Wig & Pen brewer, Richard Watkins, reminded me (over a glass of his locally brewed version) that he’d offered it on tap about two years ago.

That batch, he said, had been a pure, challengingly sour beer with fresh mango or blackcurrant added at the tap to offset the sourness. A few die-hards tried it straight, he recalls, but invariably came back for the fruit.

In Berlin, it’s found in many bars, typically flavoured with woodruff or raspberry, giving an alarmingly green or red hue.

It’s a wheat ale made sour by the addition of a lactobacillus culture that produces lactic acid. And it’s this  interplay between sourness of the beer and sweetness of the fruit seasoning that makes Berliner Weiss unique and refreshing.

Watkins’ new expression of the style is a fifty-fifty malted wheat, malted barley blend with the fruit incorporated into the brew rather than mixed in at the tap.

Richard says that he added Italian filtered, pureed elderberry (hence, no pips, no  skins) early in the brew to encourage the ferment and dryness and after the ferment to add a touch of sweetness.

And rather than use a lactic culture, he simply added the desired amount of lactic acid.

The result is an idiosyncratic take on a traditional German regional beer style. As visiting beer author Willie Simpson  said, ‘It tastes like it should be good for you.’

Dan Rayner’s Beer Ape (Australopithecus Cerevesiae) pint $7.50
Archaeologist Dan Rayner won the local amateur brewing comp with a robust American pale ale style. And the Wig & Pen now offers a one-off batch brewed to Dan’s recipe. It’s a terrific expression of this in-your-face style with rich malt and aromatic, citrusy/resiny hops aroma, flavour and bitterness.

Wig & Pen Berliner Weisse pint $7.50
‘God, that’s not what we’re getting?’, a nervous drinker asked, eyeing three ruby-red, crimson-frothed beers. What he saw was the Wig’s new Berliner Weisse – a sour, tart, brew, mollified by elderberry’s startling colour, intense berry flavour and just enough countervailing sweetness. It’s a seasonal specialty that tastes like it should be good for you.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2007