Fearful Symmetries

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24 August, 2015

The Biggest Berliner Weisse I've Ever Had: Snarling Badger by Grand Teton Brewing

Looking back, I've had a lot more Berliner Weisses in the past few months than I thought possible and now it's time for yet another one. It doesn't seem so long ago that the style was considered exotic and strange. I recall sharing one several years ago with a friend who was repulsed by the beer's foetid vapors and hideous tartness. My first encounter with a Berliner Weisse wasn't quite so horrible but it did take me a little time to become accustomed to the style. While there are far, far fewer Berliner Weisses than there are, say, IPAs, fans of the former are luxuriating in a bounty of beers these days. This time around we have one from Grand Teton Brewing which is, I just learned, in Idaho.

Snarling Badger is the brewery's summer seasonal but was originally intended to be a one-off brew back in 2012. The ur-Snarling Badger was unique in my Berliner Weisse experience in having been a blended take on the style. A batch was brewed and fermented entirely with lactic acid bacteria and then blended with another batch that had been fermented with hefeweizen yeast to produce banana and clove esters/phenols which contrast with the citrus sour produced by the Lactobacillus. I'd never heard of fermenting exclusively with Lactobacillus and found this rather intriguing. I wonder how the product of lacto fermentation differs from one fermented with brewer's yeast and then lacto-soured. Unfortunately I can find no evidence to indicate that the blending process was ever used beyond the initial batch in 2012.

Also, Snarling Badger is what might be termed an imperial Berliner Weisse as it is 7.5% A.B.V., more than twice the strength of a traditional Berliner Weisse. I use "traditional" cautiously here because the style dates back to the 16th or 17th century and has changed much over the years. The notion that a Berliner Weisse is strictly about 3% A.B.V. seems to be a 20th century one that developed as the style was rapidly disappearing. I don't doubt for a minute that there was a starkbier ("strong beer") version of Berliner Weisse over in Germany at some point over the past few hundred years.

Snarling Badger pours a yellowy gold that is hazy from the wheat in the grain bill. My glass got only a small head that was soon to be gone. Still the beer was quite effervescent with lots of bubbles moving up my glass and a fair number of them clinging to the side. It is the "Champagne of the North", after all. (Which makes me wonder about reports of last year's batch of Berliner Weisse by New Glarus which rated it as over-carbonated.)

As was expected, the beer had a pronounced lemony aroma but there was another citrus smell to be had – tangerine. It reminded me of the new (and inferior) Tangerine IPA by Potosi in cans which I find to be syrupy, though Snarling Badger was by no means as cloying. Also present was another sweet fruity aroma, namely a stone fruit smell that, in combination with the tangerine, made for an almost treacly nose. This was not going to be the Berliner Weisse that Napoleon encountered. Notably absent were any banana or clove aromas as one would expect if some hefeweizen had been blended in.

Snarling Badger's taste was much like the mix of aromas that my nose caught. The lemony tartness from the lactic acid bacteria was there but so were a couple of sweet flavors. First was a doughy, grainy sweetness while second was peach-like. The sweetness was prominent but it never crossed that threshold into cloying. I think that the carbonation really helped the Lactobacillus in keeping the sugary hordes in check by adding some dryness to the flavor.

At the finish the tartness ebbed away allowing a slight grassy hop bitterness to come through.

This was my first time drinking a Berliner Weisse that was this potent. While there was a goodly amount of sweetness, it didn't suppress the sourness. However, if you really want lip-puckering tartness that will kill your tastebuds, then Snarling Badger isn't the beer you're looking for. For a beer that is this big and sweet, it had a lighter body than you'd expect and the surfeit of carbonation no doubt gives it a lighter mouthfeel. While the sweet and sour were more or less in balance here, this beer is too big to be a summer thirst quencher. However, it made for a nice summer nightcap.

Junk food pairing: Pair this big beer with heartier junk foods such as thick cut potato chips or Snyder's Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces.

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|| Palmer, 3:48 PM


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