Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

Beer history is a fascinating thing. Our favorite frothy drink didn’t just spring into existence with dozens of styles. It evolved over time and crossed geographic boundaries only to get a whole new regional spin. This same story is true with just about anything, from language and music to martial arts and pizza. Beer is the only one of them that will get you drunk, however.

Take the witbier, for example. This is a hazy brew that originated in Belgium made with wheat. This gives it a lot of suspended particulate which, in combination with the yeast, is responsible for the haze and its nickname of “white beer.” Witbiers carry on the tradition of medieval beer flavorings, in that hops were nowhere near as prevalent, leaving beers to be flavored with a variety of herbs. Witbiers, in particular, tended toward coriander and orange, both of which are quite prevalent in the popular representative of this style, Hoegaarden.

The witbier didn’t stop there, however. Fast forward in time a little bit, and we have a variation on the witbier popping up in Germany. Called the Berliner weisse, its origins are shrouded in theory. It could have stemmed from a single Hamburg beer. It also could have been some migrating French Protestants. In any case, the Berliner weisse style became quite popular in Germany, with Napoleon’s troops referring to it as “the champagne of the north.”

The Berliner weisse certainly isn’t as prevalent now as it was in its heyday. There are only a small handful of breweries left in Berlin that make it. Thankfully, it has crossed yet more borders and has found a home in our very own Pennsylvania thanks to Victory Brewing Co. Recently, it has offered up its Berliner Weisse with elderflower as part of its Black Board Series.

The pour was a light yellow shade full of haze. True to its style, this brew looked to be full of grit, a by-product of all the wheat and yeast. Traditionally, Berliner weisses weren’t filtered. This one was certainly true to form. It was topped with just a slight, unassuming white head. It did sport a good deal of visible carbonation with copious bubbles rising through the glass. This was a promising appearance for a summertime brew.

The nose was full of sour, like someone dropped a WarHeads sour candy in yogurt and called it a day. It was hard to make anything else out at first. After a few more sniffs, I noticed something floral and almost fruity. Amazingly, the elderflowers were coming through in the scent.

The taste followed the scent in terms of sour. It was delightfully puckering with a bit of grapefruit bitter at the end. Floating around in this was also the wheat, yeast funk and a very noticeable floral quality. All of this just served to compare and contrast with the sour, however. This one was a lot of fun.

Somehow, for all its strong flavor, Victory’s Berliner Weisse was really quite drinkable. I certainly wouldn’t want a six pack, but I could have gone for another bottle. If this brew is any indication, I’ll have to be on the lookout for other beers in its Black Board Series. This was certainly worth checking out.

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