Sour Mashing My Berliner Weisse

HomeBrewTalk.com - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Community.

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

I have started to enjoy drinking sour beers but have yet to brew one myself. Logic says to start out with a easy(yeah right), low gravity style first and then move to stronger, barrel aged brews. The Berliner Wiesse seemed to be the perfect choice to cut my sour teeth on.
After doing some research I soon found out that not only is there little in the way of historical process information, there are several methods brewers are using to brew this beer. I wanted to share my experience and some of the information I was able to compile from my research. As I started this is my first run at this beer so I am far from an expert so please keep that in mind as you read this article. If you find something that doesn't make sense please don't hesitate to call me out as the last thing I want to do is misinform readers.
Much like a lot of things in the brewing world everyone seems to have there own way to make this beer. These are the methods I found and the pros and cons as I saw them and how they fit my brewing style and brewery.
1. Standard Boil
Mash a pils/wheat mix of grain. Sparge as normal and boil. Boil times ranged from 15 min to 90 (to reduce DMS). Very light hop addition ranging in time from 15 min to hopping at flame out. Pitch commercially available lactobacillus and a neutral yeast. Some pitch Lacto first to give it a head start in souring. Some also build a starter with the lacto to help increase the sourness. Some brewers add a dose of Brett to add to the complexity.
Brewing Classic styles has great right up about the beer and this method. Brew Strong also did an hour long show on this style and went in to detail on this process.
The Jamil Show/Berliner Weisse 10-08-2007
Pros - No surprise wild bugs in your wort. Very repeatable in the future.
Cons - Claims of varying sourness. Claims of souring continuing as the beer ages(Also a pro). Introducing bacteria to brewing equipment(In my opinion this is not a valid con if you have good sanitization practices)
2. No Boil Mash Hop Decoction
Mash a pils/wheat mix of grain. Hop the mash and do a decoction with the hops to lightly bitter. No boil (or light boil if you so choose). Pitch commercially available lactobacillus and a neutral yeast. Some pitch Lacto first to give it a head start in souring. Some also build a starter with the lacto to help increase the sourness. Some brewers add a dose of Brett to add to the complexity.
Pretty much the same pros/cons as #1.
The Mad Fermentationist has a really in depth write up on this method as well as some Q&A's from readers: Double Berliner Weisse Brew
3. Hybrid Method
A take on #1 and #2 but build a lactobacillus starter with a low gravity wort starter and a handful of uncrushed grain as it is teaming with lacto. Brew up as recipe requires and pitch lacto and yeast.
Bear Flavored did a really nice write up on this method as well as outlining the different methods as I have done here.
Which Method of Brewing Berliner Weisse
Pros - Controlled lacto starter. Good control of O2 exposure (lactobacillus and O2 do not play well for our purpose). If starter goes south you only lose a 2L stater and a handful of grain. Something rewarding from building up the lactobacillus from scratch.
Cons - As with #1 and #2
4. Sour Mash
Build a mash with your grain bill as per your recipe. Cool the mash to 100-120 and pitch in uncrushed grain and let the lacto do its job on the mash. The amount of time seems to be left to the brewer and the amount of "sour" wanted. Drain to kettle and boil as per #1. Cool and pitch a neutral yeast to ferment.
Pros - Good control of sourness. Boiling the sour wort so minimal issues with bacteria in the brewhouse. As with #3 it was rewarding to me to nature take its course. I can just imagine that someone way back when was brewing up a beer and got called out to battle just after he mashed in. Came back home after 2 days of fighting off the enemy to a funky smelling mash. Tasted the wort and said "hey thats not bad". Finished up the beer and was the hit of the village.
Cons - Things can go wrong... very wrong. If it goes south you lose the whole mash (on the bright side a 5 gallon batch is only about 7-8 pounds of grain.
It seems all methods have pros and cons so it is again left to the brewer to find his or her comfort level.
I landed on the process of souring the whole mash and then doing a light boil. Although this method is not very repeatable as you are relying on the lacto from grain to sour things up. I wanted to be able to sample the wort and stop the process when it got to the tartness I wanted. I felt that the ability to sample the wort each day as it soured out weighed the unpredictability of using grain to build build up the lacto. After all, if the mash turned rancid all I would be out would be 4 pounds of pils and 3 pounds of wheat.
I used the recipe from Brewing Classic Styles as my base. I have had good luck with the recipes in that book when I brew a beer that I have never had before.
I mashed in 4.2 pounds of pils and 3 pounds of white wheat @ 149 deg of 90 min. I had a water to grain ration of 4.7qt/pound.

After 90 min mash I cooled the mash to 115 deg with 3.6 gallons of RO water. This made for a very thin mash as I wanted as much of the wort to be soured as possible. At this point I added 1 pound of uncrushed vienna and gave everything a good stir and moved the mash tun to my fermentation fridge which was set to 100 deg.

Since oxygen can create some bad orders and flavors (vomit and dirty diapers) I covered the top of the mash with serval layers of plastic wrap and then blow CO2 under and on top the wrap and covered the tun as tight as could.
Not being real sure how long I needed to let the mash sit I sampled some of the wort to get a "flavor base" to work from as the lactic acid started to build.
I then went about building a 3L starter of Wyeast German Ale yeast. I wanted to make sure I had enough yeast to handle the acidic wort. I found a lot of brewers that recommended using the whole slurry from a previous brew to get enough yeast. I could not find any cell pitch rates suggested for this process.
After 24 hours the sample was already tart. It had a smell of a sour dough starter with a very slight citrus and a faint veggie smell. It was not as tart as was looking for so I let sit for another 24 hours.
Day 2 sample was much more tart and citrusy. It had a very interesting smell. Smelled like a really funky sour dough starter with some fresh grain, vegetables, and a little lemon thrown in. I pulled the cover off and the aromas really hit you in the face. There was a lot of bubbles under the plastic wrap so it was definitely cooking.

Now with the wort to my liking I moved back out the the brew structure and recirculated the mash for about 10 min and then slowly drained off to the boil kettle. All total so far I collected 6.5 gallons and needed 8 so I sparged with 1.5 gallons of 175 deg water to get my final boil volume. I wanted to do a 45 min boil to reduce DMS as much as possible.

Recirculated the mash for another 10 min and then pumped over to the boil kettle to get 8 gallons in the kettle.
As the boil proceeded the veggie and dough smell diminished. With 15 min left in the boil I added 1oz of hallertau to the as per the original recipe. Chilled to 65 deg and pitched the German Ale yeast from the 3 liter and oxygenated for 45 sec as I do with all my fermentations. The wort was very acidic @ 3.8 ph.
Tasting a cooled sample it was pretty tart and citrusy. Not "lock your jaw" sour but enough punch to let you know it's a sour. It did seem to have a bit of DMS but I think the yeast should be able to clean it up.
After 12 hours fermentation was starting to go to town. I allowed the temp to climb to 68 deg and will hold there until fermentation is completed. The OG was 8.5P and hoping to get down to 1.6P FG.

After 36 hours it has dropped from 8.5P to 3P. Should be no problem getting to 1.6P
5 days in and FG was 1.5. Racked the beer off in to a corny and forced carbonated. Since I wanted the co2 to be pretty high I cranked the co2 up to 30 and rocked the keg for 3 min.
This beer went from kettle to glass very quickly. 48 hours in the mash tun getting sour and then 5 day in the fermentor finishing up. I think that the yeast starter size had a lot to with the fermentation speed and the ability to the FG down to what I was looking for.
The final product seems to fit very well in to the BJCP guidelines for a Berliner Weisse. I did not use any Brettanomyces so there was no brett aroma or flavor. It is a tart, citrusy beer that is very dry and light. I have yet to have a commercial Berliner Weisse so I do not know how the sourness compares but after reading reviews it seems to me to fit right in.
It definitely was enjoyable with a shot of raspberry syrup. It is going to be a hit this summer while lounging around the pool!

I was able to get my hands on some raspberry concentrate and mixed it with some simple syrup to make a very tasty raspberry syrup.
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Water
Boil for 3 min and let cool.
Mix raspberry concentrate to taste.
I think a little more time @ 25psi on the co2 will do wonders for the beer as well. Since I boiled after the souring of the mash I don't expect the sour profile to increase or change.
The next batch I plan is going to be 10 gallons and I don't think I plan on changing a thing. I think I will let this batch age for a month to make sure the sour profile doesn't diminish with time. If it does I might increase the souring time to 72 hours on the next run.
As stated earlier, there are several ways to brew this style of beer. There is very little that I could find on the traditional methods of how this beer was brewed so it leaves a lot to your own interpretation. My goal with this write is to share my experience brewing this style and hopefully get some feed back from brewers that have stories and advice to share.
This is a really nice article. I'll probably give your approach a shot next time I try my hand at this style. I did one last summer using just the lacto and it did not turn out as sour as I wanted.
Was your seal on the top of the mash tun air tight? I have a rubbermaid 10 gallon tun and I'm curious if I screw the lid on tight if I will have pressure issues and potential explosion if I let the natural souring occur in there.
Very well written article. I brewed this with the same approach as you did, but i soured my mash in an old igloo cooler as i don't have a fermentation cahmber. i will try this again when i get my chamber built.
Good article! I brewed my first Berliner Weiss in a very similar method this past fall. The ability to control the sourness on the front end really took out the worry factor. The raspberry addition was a hit with everyone and can cut the sourness for those who may turn up a nose. Anyone can take this method and create a whole variety of different beers quite easily.
I use this same method, with one change. I sparge first, running off into Cornies, then toss the grain in. This allows me to completely seal with Co2, and using one of those QD to Faucet adapters, I can easily check the sourness over the following couple of days.
@eruddoh It's the lid from my 10 gallon Gott mash tun... Works great as a lid when I am mashing in the keg.
@Conman13 There was a rather large among of plastic wrap layered on top of the mash and then co2 blown in on top of that. The lid was far from air tight but I think it was good enough to keep unwanted o2 away from the souring wort. I wold be careful with something that did not have a way to relieve pressure. After about 7-8 hours I cold see things starting to bubble a bit so I know there would be some pressure build up.
@BarrelheadBrew that is a really good idea. I guess there is no reason to keep all the mashed grain in the wort while souring things up... It should would make it easier to handle as well as purge all the o2 out as you stated...