Fearful Symmetries

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28 September, 2013

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Drink This Beer - Berliner Weisse from Hinterland



A few years ago virtually no one outside of food microbiology circles knew what brettanomyces was and now, curiously enough, office drones around the country are raising glasses filled with the beer equivalent of limburger cheese extolling the virtues of the yeast. Sour beers are the latest trend in American microbrewing. It seems like sour English and Belgian styles are the most common but it's hardly surprising that the Berliner Weisse would get dragged along on the coattails.

The history of the Berliner Weisse goes back centuries and it was an exceedingly popular beer a couple hundred years ago. Today, not so much. It is a very light sour wheat beer that's low on hops. The sourness comes from an addition of lactic acid or some fine Lactobacillus bacteria although I've read that, back in the day, secondary conditioning allowed for brettanomyces to enter into the picture so drinkers could enjoy the lemony tartness of lacto as well as some of that barnyard flavor. At some point it became traditional to serve the beer “mit Schluss” or “with syrup” meaning a shot of flavored syrup was added to counteract the tartness. Waldmeister (woodruff) or Himbeere (raspberry) became standard flavors.

New Glarus brewed their Berliner Weisse for the second time this year and so Hinterland is only the second Wisconsin brewery I know of to brew this style and bottle it. I wouldn't doubt that various brewpubs around the state have made it and Lakefront teamed with Leinenkugel earlier this year for a batch served at the Wisconsin Restaurant Expo as well as at various bars during Milwaukee's Craft Beer Week, but as far as stuff you could grab at the store, pickings are slim.

As one would expect, Hinterland's Berliner Weisse poured a brilliant straw color with a lovely frothy head that went away all too soon. It was also pretty clear whereas the style is generally cloudy. All of those big champagne-like bubbles were highly visible. It smelled really nice with the sourness being rather mild here alongside a sweetness that reminded me of apricot.

Things were going well until I actually tasted it. The beer had the requisite lemony tartness to it and it came in a good quantity too. It was there and flavorful but not going to give you the Homer Simpson Super Sour Ball face. Beyond this, the beer had a lot of off flavors. Underneath the sour was creamed corn, for starters. And before the finish I tasted a soapy flavor. There was also a rather harsh, almost astringent, taste present as well. I wonder if there was a hopping accident. Mouthfeel was thin even for this style, in my opinion, and you could also taste those bubbles.

It finished with a not-unpleasant tartness that lingered.

I sincerely hope I got a bad bottle because this beer was just dreadful. It had a good tart flavor that was in the perfect proportion but all those odd stray flavors were just too prominent. Even lactobacillus couldn't change my impression that I was drinking mostly de-scented Ivory soap.

Junk food pairing: My best advice is to avoid this beer. But, if you're a masochist, try some habenero cheese puffs, if they exist, and rub them in your eyes. Hopefully you will be in such pain that you won't notice you're actually drinking this stuff. Otherwise, eat anything else you can get your hands on in large quantities.

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|| Palmer, 10:06 PM

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