There’s a lot to be said about classics. The connotation takes time. A classic stands up to trends and defines a genre. It means continuing to be excellent even as time marches forward. Classic is a Porsche 911 or fire engine red Corvette. It’s Kareem’s skyhook and Magic versus Bird. Classic is mint chocolate chip ice cream standing up against cake batter and dairy dessert treats. It’s French cooking, trusted without doubt and the standard we measure by.
Classic, though, doesn’t always mean that it’s recognizable in the moment. In fact, it’s usually not. It’s a Wonderful Life flopped at the box office, but eventually became a seminal holiday movie. Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner and Vertigo were all misunderstood when they reached theatres. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was nominated for multiple Razzies, the Oscars of bad movies. All are undoubtedly classics. There are also classic beers that define a style and encapsulate a moment.
Professor Fritz Briem’s 1809 Berliner Style Weisse is one of these beers. Created by Dr. Fritz Briem of the Doemens Institute, who helped open the World Brewing Academy, this Berliner-style Weisse harkens back into the traditional of the original Weisse beers that popped up in Germany before Napoleon’s invasion. The story goes that his army devoured the drink as it marched through Northern Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth-century and compared it to Champagne.
The unfiltered and unpasteurized beer inside would make any New England IPA jealous.”
The original Berliner Weisses were light, a touch sour, with a cloudy golden-straw color and notes of tart fruits. They were bottle carbonated with a tight, white head. Eventually, the Berliner Weisse became the first choose-your-own-adventure beer, where drinkers started adding adjuncts and syrups that took some control away from brewers. But that choose-your-own-adventure lifestyle is not for this beer.
The 1809 needs no help. It’s a mouthful of wheat—which makes up 50 percent of its malt bill—and lactic tartness that blends perfectly with a balance of acid. Its bottle-conditioned body pours with a white head that sticks to the glass. The unfiltered and unpasteurized beer inside would make any New England IPA jealous. When I poured my first glass, notes of white grapes and lemons rose like steam from a cup of herbal lemon tea. At the first sip, it dries the tongue and makes the mouth water like a kid biting into their first lemon. But, then it lingers, leaving behind a yeast note—similar to sourdough bread.
As sours, and Berliner Weisses specifically, grow in popularity, it’s been mostly at the hands of adjunct flavors being added in to complement the already tart and fruity notes. But it’s important to look back at the roots to remember what made something special. We need observe the traditional and examine what stood before so we can better understand where we are today.