I have a snow day today (boy, Kansas City has been hammered this winter) and for later on (it’s only 10:00AM) I’m planning on drinking a couple/few stouts I have in the fridge, but in the meantime, this is a review of a beer I was lucky enough to have in Wisconsin when I was there in early October. It is the first Berliner Weiss I’ve drunk. The more I think about the great beers I had in Wisconsin that weekend, the more I hope that trip becomes an annual thing!
New Glarus Brewing Company is a fantastic brewery located not too far from Madison, WI. I greatly enjoyed their Spotted Cow and, of course, their world famous Tart Raspberry beers, both of which I reviewed previously and you can find if you enter “New Glarus” in the search bar (which is now located at the top right corner of the blog… hope you like the new look!).
One of the brewery’s series of beers is their “Unplugged” series in which, “A few times a year, we will cut Dan [Carey, master brewer] loose to brew whatever he chooses, uncensored, uncut, unplugged. Always handcrafted, this beer is brewed for the adventurous soul. This is a very limited edition and we make no promises to ever brew this style again.” In other words, the Unplugged beers are adventurous one-offs with limited availability. The main bottle shop I hit in Madison had quite a few of the Unplugged beers on hand, and I imagine if I lived up there these releases would be at the top of my “to get” list. The downside is when you fall in love with one of these beers, tough luck! Here is a list of past Unplugged beers, for your interest.
Berliner Weisse (not sure why New Glarus dropped the “e” from the end) is a style of beer that is traditional to Berlin, although according to the BJCP, only two traditional breweries there still make it. The style is definitely a sleeper, but a handful of breweries produce it and I believe Kansas City’s Westside Local has one of them available. In 1809, Napoleon referred to Berliner Weisse as “the Champagne of the North” because of it’s lively character and effervescence. Berliner Weisse is a pale, low alcohol, very bubbly wheat beer that is most notable because of fermentation with Lactobacillus delbruckii, a bacteria that is the bane of the wine (and most of) the beer industry. “Lacto” beers have a sharp sourness that, in my opinion, really adds to the refreshing character of an already thirst-quenching style.
Unfortunately, it has been a few months since I drank this beer, and my notes were sparse, to say the least. I was pouring the beer in a white plastic hotel cup, so the photo above gives you an idea of what it really looks like! I did note that the New Glarus beer smelled like a “normal sour beer,” which to me means a Flanders red or brown along the lines of Rodenbach, La Folie, etc. These beers are “infected” purposefully with two bugs that create some acetic acid, giving a sharp sourness with a lot of vinegar (acetic acid) notes. I remember being mildly disappointed that, after quite a while of searching for a Berliner Weisse to try, it was simply going to taste like any number of other widely available sour beers I’ve already had.
That impression changed with my first sip, however. While the nose seemed to carry some vinegar-y notes, the flavor was less sour/enamel stripping as something like La Folie (and probably less tart than Rodenbach, in my opinion), but it was smoother and carried some different flavors like sour grapes and lemon. The finish was dry, and there was tons of carbonation. There was some characteristic “Belgian funk” in the flavor, too, but really it was an awesome beer. At low alcohol (most tend to be well below 5%, usually in the 3-4% range), a ton of carbonation, and a light tartness, this beer would be an excellent summer refresher and a great session beer, if you could get enough of it! I imagine it could pair well with some cheeses, too, with the carbonation really lifting the fats off the palate.