Brew This: Marz Community Brewing’s Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss
By Al Robertson
So you want to brew some sour beer? Brewing sour or wild ale at home can seem daunting and dangerous to homebrewers and pro brewers alike. When I first ventured into making sour beers at home, I approached them with much trepidation, due to fears of contaminating my equipment and unfamiliarity with the sour brewing process. The first sour beer I brewed was a Berliner weiss, for which I acquired the necessary bacteria from a grain-inoculated starter. The result was surprisingly tasty and relatively easy to replicate at the homebrew scale.
When I joined Marz Community Brewing Co. some years later, we decided to have a Berliner weiss as one of our regularly brewed offerings. I was assigned the task of developing the process for creating a Berliner weiss in a production environment while maintaining the quality and consistency of my homebrewed test batches. This proved to be an extremely challenging endeavor because the process I used as a homebrewer was too difficult and time consuming to recreate on a production level. Because Berliner weiss is so low in alcohol, malt presence, and hop character, it is impossible to mask any flaws or inconsistencies. It is truly one of the most difficult styles to produce, despite the simplicity of the recipe.
To overcome our initial production inconsistencies, I took one of my grain-inoculated starters to Lance Shaner at Omega Yeast Labs. He was able to identify and isolate the souring bacteria responsible for my successful homebrew Berliners, which was then used for producing the Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss at Marz. The bacteria are a Lactobacillus plantarum species. As far as I know, no other commercial beer yeast laboratories offer a plantarum species to the public. This strain is well suited for a production environment because it is able to sour beer at room temperature relatively quickly. Other commercially available Lactobacillus strains require extended aging or fermentation temperatures as high as 120°F to produce the results we are seeing in a matter of 36 hours at much lower temperatures.
The Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss
50% Pilsner Malt
50% White Wheat
0.5oz Whole Leaf Czech Saaz
1 unit OYL-605 Omega Lactobacillus blend
1 package of Safale US-05
Heat water to 160°F and combine in the mash tun with the grains and whole leaf hops at a ratio of 1.3L water per pound of grain. Mash for 60 minutes and sparge with 170°F water. Collect the desired amount of wort and boil for 45 minutes. Chill to 80°F and pitch the Lactobacillus blend. Let the wort sour for three days in the fermenter and then add a package of Safale US-05. The beer will be ready to bottle in one week. Carbonate to 3.2-3.4 volumes CO2.
If desired, add whole fruit and/or your favorite Brettanomyces strain after primary fermentation for added complexity.