Hot style: AC Golden's Checkpoint Charlie and five other Colorado-made Berliner weisses
AC Golden brewer Troy Casey is one of Colorado's foremost experts on wild and sour ales, which means he has to sample a lot of them (oh, the misery). But all that drinking means he looks forward to trying tart beers that are lower in alcohol.
Enter Berliner weisse, a wheat-based German-style beer that is typically unfiltered and brewed for summertime drinking at an alcohol level under 4 percent ABV. Crisp and sour, the beer was popular in Germany but is only now gaining fans in the U.S. (For a list of five other Colorado-made Berliners in bottles, turn the page.)
See also: - Elevation's new Berliner weisse will be sour, but not because of Colorado's ABV politics - Ten new Colorado craft beers to look for in July - Crabtree Brewing uses a giant QR code as the label for its newest beer
"We had some extra tank space, and I love Berliner weisse, so we figured we'd try it," says Casey, who brewed a batch of it in December. "We didn't have plans to sell it at first, but after aging it for three months in the fermenter, it tasted really good."
The result is Checkpoint Charlie (named for the Berlin Wall gate that divided East and West Germany during the Cold War), which will be sold in 750 ml cork-and-cage bottles later this month as AC Golden's newest beer in its Hidden Barrel series.
Made with equal parts pale malt and wheat malt, the beer was brewed "the old-fashioned way," Casey says, by adding brettanomyces yeast and lactobacillus -- a bacteria that gives beers a tart or sour flavor -- after the wort (unfermented beer) was boiled.
But just as Casey was getting ready to bottle the beer, he says, someone pointed out that because the alcohol level was so low, AC Golden might not be able to legally sell Checkpoint Charlie in stores. Elevation Beer Company, which also just released a Berliner weisse, had to re-brew it to conform to a state law that requires beer sold in liquor stores to be at least 4 percent alcohol by volume (or 3.2 percent by weight).
Luckily, AC Golden had planned to add more yeast and sugar to condition the beer in the bottles, so when that sugar was done fermenting, it kicked the ABV up to 4.2 percent.
AC Golden, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Molson Coors, only made about forty cases of Checkpoint Charlie, so it will be fairly rare when it hits shelves sometime in late August. A suggested prices hasn't yet been determined.
Crabtree Brewing Facebook page
Berliner Weisse Ale Crabtree Brewing Jeff Crabtree first brewed his Berliner Weisse Ale for Euclid Hall in May 2011, making it one of the oldest Berliner weisses to be packaged in Colorado; he had wanted to make one since his Greeley brewery features a rare German decoction brewing system. A few months after that, Crabtree put the beer into bottles with an unusual label featuring a giant QR code. The beer went on to win a gold medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival, and Crabtree re-released it in June of this year with a new label featuring John F. Kennedy and his famous quote: "Ich bin ein Berliner."
Engel Weisse Elevation Beer Company So nice, they made it twice. The latest beer from Elevation is a little different from its previous offerings in that it is much lower in alcohol, around 4 percent ABV (despite what the above label says). The brewery wanted to turn the beer in at 2.5 percent, and then at 3.2 percent, but had to brew it again after discovering that Colorado liquor stores can only sell beer at 4 percent and above. Unlike many other Berliners, Engel Weisse was aged in oak whiskey barrels. Since the beer's flavor profile is delicate, however, Elevation washed the barrels to reduce the whiskey taste.
Yuzu Imperial Berliner Weisse New Belgium Brewing Although an imperial Berliner Weiss defeats the purpose of making a low-alcohol beer since it has twice the alcohol, New Belgium's Yuzu, at 8 percent ABV, is sure to come with the subtle flavoring that the brewery's Lips of Faith series is known for. This one was made with juice from the yuzu fruit -- a sour relative of the mandarin orange -- along with pale malt and wheat, and acidified with lactobacillus, giving it a dry, sour punch. Yuzu is expected to start hitting shelves over the next few weeks.
Ten Minutes of Pleasure Trinity Brewing/New Belgium I haven't seen this beer -- a collaboration between Trinity in Colorado Springs and New Belgium -- in stores yet, possibly because it is only 3.4 percent ABV. Here's how Trinity describes it: "This Berliner Weisse is raw and crude with authenticity. Brewed with over 50 percent wheat malts and never boiled to encourage the development of a soft sourness and high protein mouthfeel. To the kettle we added Soursop fruit creating notes of lemon and coconut. The fermentation is a blended one imploring Lactobacillus, Bretta, and a German Ale yeast. Aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels."
Provincial Belgian-Style Ale Funkwerks Based on a recipe for a taphouse favorite called Leuven, this new summer seasonal (released this month) from Funkwerks was aged overnight with lactobacillus before being boiled. The unfiltered, highly-carbonated beer was fermented with a Belgian yeast strain and carries a citrusy, pinappely aroma and taste. It weighs in at 5.6 percent ABV.
And an honorable mention goes to...
Boulder Weisse Avery Brewing Several breweries in Colorado make Berliner weisses, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Avery's Boulder Weisse, which the brewery debuted as a taproom-only special in the spring of 2012. It's truly delicious. Here's how the brewery describes it: "Berliner Weisse is a cloudy, sour wheat beer which thrived for centuries and is now bottled by only two German breweries. At a light 2.5-4 percent ABV, it is very sessionable, and was known by Napoleon's troops as "the Champagne of the North." To balance the sourness, it would be served with sweet syrups made from raspberry (red) or woodruff (green). Our Boulder Weisse echoes the traditional flavor profile while adding a few Avery twists to the brewing method. This inaugural batch was aged in oak barrels for six months with a rustic Brettanomyces yeast strain and finished at 5 percent ABV."
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