11 Best Berliner Weisses of 2022

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Photography courtesy of John A. Paradiso

Light, golden, zippy, and zingy, the Berliner Weisse beer style earned the nickname "Champagne of the North" from Napoleon's troops. But what exactly is a Berliner Weisse? 

Originating in Germany, the Berliner Weisse was incredibly popular in the early 19th century, when more than 700 German breweries produced the style. Today, however, only two or three breweries in Germany regularly bottle Berliners. The recent popularity of the tart and effervescent beer is actually due to American brewers, many of whom have added their own twists to the traditional German style.

To better understand the Berliner Weisse, we took a deep dive into its history to see where it comes from, how it has changed, and where it's going.

A Brief History of the Berliner Weisse

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Photography courtesy of Beth Dixson | Atlas Obscura

Originally, the Berliner Weisse developed in the region around Berlin, Germany (hence the name!), in the 17th century.

"It's a very, very old German style, perhaps 500 years plus," says Adam Beauchamp, Brewmaster at Creature Comforts Brewing Company. One of their popular Berliners, Athena, has become one of the brewery's best-selling brands. "Think of it as the Champagne of the North. The French and Italians have sparkling wine, while the northern part of Europe has sparkling and refreshing beer."

Traditionally in Europe, Germans often play off of the Berliner Weisse's funky sourness by adding what is called a schuss, or syrup, directly to the beer. In Berlin, when you order a Berliner Weisse, the waiter will often say "rot oder grün?" Which simply means "red or green?"

The colors refer to the type of syrup you'd like to add to the beer. Red is usually a sweet raspberry syrup. Green is a more traditional grassy herb known as woodruff.

In Europe, a beer can only be considered a Berliner Weisse if it's produced within the city limits of Berlin. Today, however, there are only two full-scale commercial breweries in Germany that produce Berliner Weisse (Berliner Kindl and Schultheiss), and the name is often used in the United States to refer to Berliner Weiss-style beers.

What Exactly Is a Berliner Weisse?

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Photography courtesy of Creature Comforts Brewing Co.

Essentially, a Berliner Weiss is a tart wheat beer that includes two key ingredients.

First, weisse in German means wheat. Typically, a brewer will use around fifty percent wheat in the grain bill of a Berliner Weisse.

"Obviously the inclusion of the word weisse refers to wheat, meaning there is usually a heavy component of wheat in the malt bill," says Michael Oxton, Co-Founder of Night Shift Brewing, which opened in 2012 with a Berliner Weisse in its portfolio.

According to Oxton, the wheat adds a certain level of body to the refreshing beer. It also gives the beer its characteristic cloudiness and helps play off the tartness that comes from the style's other main component: Lactobacillus.

The naturally occurring bacteria known as Lactobacillus gives the Berliner Weisse its classic acidity.

"Lactobacillus is a bacteria thats primary function is to eat a little bit of sugar and make a whole lot of lactic acid," says Beauchamp. "It's the same organism that typically gives tang to yogurt."

According to Beauchamp, it's that hit of acid that gives the Berliner Weisse its complexity.

"The intrigue of Berliner Weisse often comes from what the yeast does in a really acidic environment," says Beauchamp. "It comes up with some fun cider, sauvignon blanc, passionfruit, funky tropical-ness, which makes this style super interesting."

What Are Some Common Characteristics of a Berliner Weisse?

When looking at traditional, unfruited Berliner Weisses, you'll typically find some common characteristics. "[Berliner Weisses] are low ABV with a wheat-forward profile that's tart, dry, and refreshing in the hotter months," says Chris Kinast, cellar manager and brewer at Perennial Artisan Ales.

A light, sour wheat beer, Berliner Weisses typically fall somewhere between 3% and 5% ABV. Visually, most Berliner Weisses tend to fall somewhere in the straw gold to light yellow range, and most have a slight haze that comes from the wheat.

On the nose, aromas vary. "It's an interesting and inviting aroma," says Beauchamp. "At first, I usually get apple cider, followed by some sauvignon blanc funk edging on passion fruitiness and some white cracker. If you're familiar with this beer [style], you expect [the aroma] to be a little zesty with some funkiness in there."

When it comes to the palate, Berliner Weisses tend to be a beautiful balance of sweetness and acidity.

"It's not a wine, but it moves in the direction of a wine profile," says Oxton. "It's complex, it's fun, and it's something to talk about. I don't ever crack a Berliner Weisse without talking about the experience."

The Popularity of Berliner Weisses in the United States

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Over the last decade, the Berliner Weiss style has experienced tremendous popularity in America.

When Creature Comforts released Athena, they weren't sure what to expect. "We thought it would be a tiny fraction of our main production," says Beauchamp. "It ended up being our second-best brand for the first several years."

According to Beauchamp, Creature Comforts currently brews between 6,000 to 7,000 barrels of kettle-soured beer across both the Athena and Athena Paradiso brands.

Similarly, Night Shift's Berliner Weisse took off almost immediately. "That one beer put us on the map locally," says Oxton.

The success of that first Berliner Weisse helped Night Shift build up the entire Weisse series.

"To this day, if you look at the IRI scan data in Massachusetts, our Weisse series is the number-one selling SKU within the 'other' category," says Oxton. "It outsells a bunch of other ones because we've grown the brand and people still want to drink sour, fruited, funky beer."

And for many modern-day brewers, the fun starts when they add a variety of fruits to the wheat base. Everything from blood orange, guava, and pineapple to strawberries, kiwis, and hibiscus have found their way into Berliner Weisses today. 

With the endless combination of fruits available to brewers, we predict this style has a lot of room to grow. From a stunning series from a brewery most known for its East Coast IPAs to a pasty-inspired one from a brewery in the Mountain West, here are Untappd's 11 highest-rated Berliner Weisses in 2022

1.  Twice the Daily Serving: Raspberry - Trillium Brewing Company

2. Twice the Daily Serving: Mixed Berry - Trillium Brewing Company

3. Twice the Daily Serving: Tropical Punch - Trillium Brewing Company

4. Bistro Strawberry & Rhubarb Crumble - Energy City Brewing

5. Bistro Pineapple & Coconut Cream Pie - Energy City Brewing

6. Bistro Grande Raspberry Velvet - Energy City Brewing

7.  SLUSHY XXL Water Hydra - 450 North Brewing Company

8. Watercolors Creamee - Orange, Mango, Guava, Marshmallow, Cream, Milk Sugar - Skygazer Brewing Company

9. Watercolors - Abstract 3 - Banana, Strawberry, Orange, Marshmallow, Milk Sugar - Skygazer Brewing Company

10. Blueberry Cobbler Berliner - WeldWerks Brewing Co. 

11. Unbalanced Breakfast - Great Notion Brewing 

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Looking for more? Check out Hop Culture's What Exactly Is a Berliner Weisse?

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