Monday, July 14, 2008

New Glarus Berliner Weisse

A few breweries have some new beers out, so over the next few weeks or so we'll actually do some reviews here. What!? Crazy. I know. But, honest-to-goodness reviews. First on the list is the New Glarus Berliner Weisse.

The first question you might have is "What the heck is a Berliner Weisse?" Would you be surprised to hear it is a wheat beer from Berlin? No. That probably wouldn't be too surprising.

Would you be surprised to learn that it is on the verge of extinction as a beer style? Would you be surprised to learn that they are routinely supplemented with woodruff, or raspberry syrups? Would you be surprised that it is often the base of a beer cocktail to be combined with sherry or flavored liquors like Kummel.

So, then, what is a berliner weisse? The BJCP classifies the Berliner Weisse as a sour ale in Style 17a and notes that only two traditional breweries remain in production. A berliner weisse should be very pale in color, with active bubbling and carbonation. It will pour a huge foamy, loose head that will disspipate quickly. It will look and act much like champagne. While traditionally served in very large bowled stemware, it could also be served in a champagne flute.

The flavor is what makes the berliner weisse unmistakable. Distantly related to both pilsners and wild fermentation beers such as the Belgian lambic and geuze and the Leipzig-ian Gose, the first tastes are sour and sharp. Like the similar styles, some can be fruitier than others. And, much like the others, it will age very well. The body is very light and effevescent and the under 5% ABV should not be noticeable. It can be blended or unblended with aged and is sometimes made with lactic sugars or yeasts.

There you have it. The technical details on the style of berliner weisse. Its sharp flavors and history make it acceptable to be mixed with anything from pilsners, to liquors, to flavored syrups. Its sophistication and complexity and high carbonation also make it an appropriate celebratory beer (getting married soon? try it for a toast at your rehearsal dinner or even, gasp, your reception). Also, interestingly, it is a great beer to make in the current materials shortage: it is a very low-hopped beer and has a high percentage of wheat (not exactly difficult to get a hold of) in the grain bill.

New Glarus' Unplugged Berliner Weisse is barrel fermented, and aged over Reisling and Pinot Grigio grapes. The neck label reports that it is bottle conditioned with a blend of five yeasts.

New Glarus Berliner Weisse

Appearance: Poured into a tulip glass, the white head came quickly, though a careful pour kept it from growing too large; what head did form fell away quickly. The body is straw colored and highly carbonated with fine bubbling.
Aroma: It immediately smells of grapes with the aroma, almost, of a white wine. Eventually some maltiness comes through and faint yeastiness.
Flavor: sour and intensely tart; the first taste is all sour with a fast finish of grape juice; once you are over the sour and tart, a mellow grainy maltiness is clearly discernible; as it warms up the sourness dissipates some and some sweetness comes through
Body: light bodied, but very soft
Drinkability: a very nice beer that would hold up well to repeated drinking; its flavors prevent sessionability, but is one that I would look forward to have another
Summary: Sour beers are right up my alley (to get the personal biases out of the way), so I was really looking forward to this one; right now, it is a good, unique, summer beer, with an amped up grape-juice-like quenching freshness to it; dissapointingly, unlike the best geuzes and lambics, it seems a bit one-note and further warming or repeated drinking doesn't seem to reveal anything other than sour and grapes and pilsner; the pilsner base seems overwhelmed; the lack of complexity makes me think that this is an unblended, young beer. Knowing its pedigree gives me hope that time will treat this beer very well and in 4 or 5 years from now some (but not all) of the sourness will mellow out and the grapes and grains, already present, will assert themselves.

If some of you out there are brave enough to mix the Berliner Weisse with syrups, liquors or beers, perhaps you would be kind enough to post the results of said tasting here on the site. We have some raspberry syrup and some liquors on the MBR liquor shelf, maybe we'll comment on it sooner or later.

Enjoy it now and stock up for the future!

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