Ah, Berliner weisse. Tracing back as far as 17th-century Berlin (and perhaps even further, depending on whom you ask), this unique beer style has been around for centuries for good reason. It’s delicious and ridiculously refreshing.
Light, sour, and golden in color (unless fruit is added — we’ll get to that in a moment), Berliner weisse has been called the “Champagne of the North.” It’s made with a grain bill of 50 percent wheat (hence the “weisse”) and 50 percent barley, and it’s dosed with the lactic acid-producing Lactobacillus bacteria, combining soft mouthfeel with fruity acidity.
To soften the tang, Germans traditionally serve Berliner weisse with syrup that’s rot oder grün — “red or green” — red being a sweet raspberry syrup, and green being the more traditional woodruff, a grassy herb.
Here in the States, Berliner weisse is typically served on its own or fermented with fruits and herbs. These span passionfruit, cherry, vanilla, and some truly mind-boggling combinations (which we encountered in our tasting).
Summer is a great time to explore the world of Berliner weisse, so we blind-tasted a bunch and ranked eight of our favorites. The beers we sniffed, sipped, and cherished varied as much in ingredients as they did in color, complexity, and geography, with a rainbow of renditions coming in from New York, California, Missouri, and in between.
Pucker up and prepare to meet your new favorite summer beer. These are eight of the best Berliner weisses on the market, ranked.
Immediately invoking “tropical” impressions, this Berliner weisse infused with passionfruit and grapefruit peel combines tart citrus zest with the creamy, yeasty drinkability of a wheat beer. One taster equated its beachy aroma to Bath and Body Works soaps, “not in an artificial way — the ones you want to eat.”
Tasters found selections in the Pop! Series pretty hit-or-miss (Amarillo was a no-go). A more favored option was Cherry Raspberry Pop!, a “dessert Berliner” inspired by Creamsicles, combining the tart beer style with cherries, raspberries, vanilla, and milk sugar, or lactose. In short, this is a drinkable dessert, and its hot pink hue makes it that much more fun to drink.
Copenhagen, Denmark / Brooklyn, N.Y.
This collaboration with famed Aviary beverage director Micah Melton prompted an array of strong opinions. Initial impressions leaned toward “orchard fruit, like green apple and white peach.” One taster said it was more “beer-like” than others, drawing comparisons to a juicy, hazy New England-style IPA — but with an edge. As the chili emerged, another taster compared its kick to “a refined infusion or seasoning.” In sum: This beer tastes like the yuzu hot sauce from Trader Joe’s we’ve been dumping over everything — sweet, spicy, and citrusy all at once.
Copenhagen, Denmark / San Diego, Calif. / Queens, N.Y.
Mikkeller’s Ich Bin Berliner Weisse lineup yielded mixed impressions. Gooseberry was too funky (“like someone who is clean but recently went for a run”); while Pineapple was too sweet. Passionfruit was just right, marrying tartness with tropical fruit, like drinking a refreshing version of Chobani’s passion fruit Greek yogurt.
This ridiculous guilty pleasure almost has more in common with a fruit smoothie than a traditional Berliner weisse. Plump with tart blackberry, vanilla, lactose, and lime, tasters chimed in with notes such as “cotton candy,” “plum torte,” and “home baking.” The author insists this is what she wants to drink by the pool all day.
Mmm, indeed. In a subtle sweep, this Berliner weisse conditioned on mirabelle and damson plums unanimously impressed tasters as “the most different,” “crowd-pleasing,” and “crushable.” Tasters offered notes such as canned peach juice transformed into beer form, with a tart finish and light acidity. “This is one that doesn’t need food — I could drink pints of it,” one taster concluded.
St. Louis, Mo.
To make Hopfentea, Perennial steeps its tart wheat Berliner weisse-style ale on a house-made tropical “tea” that includes mango, papaya, hibiscus, and lemongrass. Pouring a pretty orange-pink color, “like Aperol but cloudy,” and smelling of candy, flowers, and herbs, this beer held the least carbonation “but it works,” said one taster. Tart, smooth, and vibrant, tasters found themselves suggesting food pairings ranging from topical fruit salad to goat cheese to a BLT. TBH, we’ll take any of the above, or none — this beer can be savored (or crushed) on its own.
Paso Robles, Calif.
A new offering from Firestone Walker, this barrel-aged wild ale with blackcurrants starts with a blend of one-to-three-year-old Agrestic Ale, then ferments in French oak foeders for four months with the fruit and a blend of Brettanomyces yeast and lactic acid. Crowd-pleasing in the most complicated way, Under Currants immediately showed its colors: deep purple with a pinkish head that looked like a petri dish, with aromas such as Pinot Noir, Brett farm, and leather. The sultry concoction finished with a deep complexity, offering flavors of tart berries, earth, and oak.