So, you’ve come to Berlin on a warm summer day and feel in dire need of a cool refreshment. One of the locals recommends that you give the local beer, the Berliner Weisse, a try. Knowing that this translates to Berlin White, you sit in happy anticipation of a Weißbier, a German wheat beer traditionally brewed in the south. But when your order arrives, it’s not white, it’s a light green or even red! Whatever happened to truth in advertising?!
What is safe to say is that the Berliner Weisse has, in fact, nothing to do with the Bavarian Weißbier. A true brewing original of the German Capital, the Weisse belongs to the family of the sour beers and comes in a light color with a slightly tart, sour, and acidic taste. With a relatively low alcohol content, it’s the perfect refreshment for a hot summer day in one of the city’s parks.
What is less safe to say, however, is where the style actually comes from. The most probable theory is that the beer goes back to a certain Cord Broyhan who begun to brew a pale, low-alcohol beer in Hannover in 1526. As Broyhan’s recipe rose in popularity over the centuries, the original was adapted to accommodate the changing tastes of the times and to be brewed with whatever grains were locally available until it eventually developed into what it has become today.
But what is known is that Napoleon referred to the Berliner Weisse as the “Champagne of the North” on his campaign through Europe. And if it’s good enough for one of the greatest military minds in all of history, it’s surely good enough for a day in the park. And after the ascent of the lager beer almost resulted in the extinction of the Berliner Weisse, the surge in interest in historical brewing styles and microbreweries popping up all over the place, Berliners have truly rediscovered this true original.
Today, the Berliner Weisse is most commonly served not simply in a glass but in a chalice or goblet. And to the shock of purists, the beer’s slightly sour and tart note is balanced by the addition of a splash of syrup. This little shot of raspberry (Himbeere) or woodruff (Waldmeister) gives it the characteristic red or green appearance. So, if you find yourself on a hot day in Berlin being served a green beer, you’re actually enjoying a true original!