Why are Commercial Breweries Afraid of the Berliner Weisse?

The Berliner weisse style is a favorite among homebrewers.

It’s a sour session beer, around 3% ABV, which originated in Germany back in the 16th century. I’ve brewed this style several times, with great results, and it always seems to popping up in homebrew tweets. Just last week, James from Basic Brewing Radio and The Mad Fermentationist talked about brewing the style in a podcast.

Yet, for all our love of the BW, there are very few examples of the style that are commercially available. If I am lucky, I might be able to find a few bottles from two breweries at the best local beer store. The Bruery’s Hottenroth and Fritz Briem’s 1809 immediately come to mind.

This had me wondering why are the commercial breweries so far behind the homebrewing community with this style?

And let’s not pretend that I have some inflated opinion of the homebrewing and its effects on breweries. Sure, most pro brewers started their careers with small batches made at home, and homebrewers have the ability to wildly experiment with new styles and ingredients without hurting the bottom line of a business. So there a safety net there in that only pride, and not a company, is hurt when a 5 gallon batch is poured down the drain.

This isn’t an experimental style. It is pretty clearly defined, and no more challenging to make than any other sour.  In fact, it can be turned around in a matter of weeks, rather than months, so that should be attractive to a commercial brewery from a simple logistical standpoint.

I can think of dozens of other reasons why and why not, but it seems like something better throw out to the community.

I say this in some jest, but why are commercial breweries afraid of the Berliner Weisse?

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4 Responses to “Why are Commercial Breweries Afraid of the Berliner Weisse?”

  • Chris (idrunkthat) Lehault Says:

    I think it has to do with the aging involved in the style. Unless your a brewery that is set up for extended aging such as The Bruery or Russian River, working with bacteria really ties up your fermentors. If a Berliner Weise needs to age for six months, and your average IPA or brown ale takes two to three weeks, well, that’s a lot less beer you can turn over and sell.

    I know that The Bruery limited (maybe stopped) Hottenroth production simply because they did not have the fermentor space for the aging process, although I can’t seem to find proof of that anywhere right now.

  • BarlowBrewing Says:

    Chris – I think that is a big piece of it. And BWs are even worse than your typical sours because they are not barrel-aged. Most sours are racked into barrels and that frees up capacity. The BWs stay in the steel and take up space.

  • Lew Bryson Says:

    Nodding Head brewpub here in Philly sells the hell out of BW in the summer, one of their best-sellers.

  • Chris Says:

    The Hottenroth comes out at the end of April. I just e-mailed and asked.

    I brewed my 1st one last month and so far it is looking good. Personally, I think this style came to homebrewing only recently. Most of the craftbeer brewers might of missed it as homebrewers. It will be interesting to see if any new craftbeer brands will use this to their advantage and reproduce this style

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