Northern Germany is home to a wide range of beers brewed primarily with wheat malt. Of the many styles indigenous to the area, Berliner Weiss may be unique. With 16th-century origins, it’s also among the region’s most enduring styles. The brew has qualities that make it especially refreshing in hot climates like Florida. Tart, highly carbonated and low in alcohol, Berliner Weiss is the perfect beer to enjoy on a sticky summer afternoon.
Accounts differ, but most agree that an accomplished German brewer, Cord Broyhan, is the architect of the style he perfected brewing in Hamburg and Hannover in the 1520s. Broyhan’s beer, called Halberstädter Broihan, quickly became the most widely distributed beer variety in Northern Germany. In the 1640s, Berlin doctor J.S. Elsholz began brewing his version. The unique tart flavor, attained by adding Lactobacillus bacteria, struck a chord with the public. Berlin’s beer-brewing community latched onto the style, making it its own.
Berliner Weiss became so popular, it prompted Napoleon to declare it “The Champagne of the North” in 1809.
As Berlin’s brewers experimented, stronger versions resulted. It was up to bartenders of the era to dilute the beer with water. As the style evolved, flavored syrups were introduced to cut the acidity and add variety. The flavors were usually raspberry, known as himbeersirup, which gave the liquid a red color, or woodruff, called waldmeistersirup, which colored the beer green and added a sweet, floral flavor.
In the late 19th century, Berliner Weiss was the most popular style in Northern Germany, with more than 50 breweries producing variants in and around Berlin. But, as was the case with many of the great beer styles of old, it was pushed aside by the sudden onslaught of lighter lagers. By the end of the 20th century, only two breweries in Berlin still produced the iconic quaff.
Fortunately for this standard of old, the developing American craft beer craze was in its infancy at that time. In 2007, thirsty for new styles, gonzo brewery Dogfish Head, led by brewer Sam Calagione, revived and reimagined Berliner Weiss. Instead of adding syrups after the process, Calagione added peaches during fermentation and Festina Peche Berliner Weiss was born. Later, the style took a particularly strong hold among brewers in Florida, where its refreshing nature and a year-round access to fresh fruit made it a perfect foil for the heavy Imperial Stouts and super-hopped IPAs.
Prominent Florida brewers like Cigar City Brewing, Funky Buddha Brewery and J. Wakefield Brewing have all delved into Berliner Weiss. Many of Jacksonville’s local breweries offer their variant–just ask at the taproom or check their websites, then head on over.
Some Berliner Weiss to look out for:
Not the Gum Drop Buttons at Southern Swells Brewing Company, Jax Beach
This summer refresher, a pucker-inducing brew, is infused with blueberries and raspberries.
Purple Drink at Coppertail Brewing Company, Tampa
Brewed with boysenberries, this memorably named Florida Berliner is sweet, tart and jammy.
Lactic Zeppelin at Aardwolf Brewing Company, San Marco
Mildly sour, this local Berliner features tangy citrus like guava and passion fruit.