Life In Berlin: Berliner Weisse Beer Revival

Jun 9, 2015

If you’ve ever been to a tourist pub in Berlin, you’ve probably seen someone drink a Berliner Weisse. A beer so insipid that it’s mixed with a fruit syrup in bright pink or toxic green just to make it drinkable. There’s no way this traditional Berlin beer could ever compete with the great brews of Bavaria, Bohemia or Belgium.

Until now, that is. Michael Schwab is one of a tiny handful of craft brewers in Berlin who are reviving the lost art of making authentic Berliner Weisse -- which tastes nothing like the industrial tourist juice sold under that label today.

“Berliner Weisse is a traditional Berlin-style wheat beer which is fermented with at least two different organisms, an ale yeast and a lactobacillus,” Schwab explains. “So it’s a sour beer. It has to be sour.”

The acid produced by the traditional fermentation process preserves the beer and keeps it from spoiling. The name Weisse comes from Weizen, or wheat, which is the main grain that goes into the beer. Unlike regular beer, a good Berliner Weisse will keep almost indefinitely and improve with age, just like a bottle of wine.

“My Berliner Weisse is a little bit apple cider-like,” says Schwab. “And when it’s getting older, then it’s getting more interesting. You get a lot of aroma like champagne, an old champagne.”

Schwab operates a tiny brewery in Moabit called Brewbaker. With his Berliner Weisse beer, he’s reviving a great Berlin tradition. In the 19th century, there were more than 100 breweries making Berliner Weisse, and the beer was the city’s most popular drink. Modern Pilsner-style beers only took over after the advent of refrigeration technology, because unlike Berliner Weisse, these new beers easily spoiled. But the new beers were popular. And all the traditional Berliner Weisse breweries died out.

Because of its complex taste and slight kick of sourness, Berliner Weisse is a good match for all kinds of food, not just pretzels and pizza.

“We’re still matching it, for instance, with goat cheese,” Schwab says. “You can mix it with seafood. It’s easier to combine with food than the other beers.”

Brewbaker beer has already been served at the Michelin-starred Weinbar Rutz restaurant on Chausseestrasse in Berlin.

Recently the Berliner Weisse revival has been gaining traction. Schwab says his customers are ordering more beer than he can make.

“They have to bribe me to get something,” says Schwab, laughing.

He’s expanding his brewery so he can produce more than the 12,000 bottles he’s making this year. 

In an interesting twist, Schwab also says it was American craft brewers who first revived real Berliner Weisse in the U.S. even before it was rediscovered in Berlin.

“Actually there are more sour beer makers all over the US that are making Berlin-style Weisse more often than we do it here,” says Schwab.

That was Michael Schwab on reviving the lost art of making authentic Berliner Weisse – a great beer tradition that almost disappeared, was kept alive in America and now has a home in Berlin once again.