Florida Weisse: Our Own Style of Beer

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While the upper U.S. West coast has a beer style to call its own (Cascadian Dark Ale), it appears that the craft beer movement in Florida has spawned a new style of beer: the Florida Weisse.

The second annual Berliner Bash on the Bay in Gulfport, Florida, was recently held on April 20 and several Florida brewers took the opportunity to showcase what exactly the Florida Weisse is all about.

See also:

- Miami Homebrewers to Compete in First -Ever Berliner Bash On the Bay in Tampa Tomorrow

- Wakefield Begins Collaboration With Cigar City

A regional sour wheat beer that originated in Northern Germany, the Berliner Weisse is not superpotent --ranging anywhere from two to five percent alcohol-by-volume. Like the Berliner Weisse, the Florida Weisse is low-alcohol too. A low-ABV beer may not sound attractive compared to 13 percent-plus imperial stouts, but remember that alcohol is only a small part of its character.

Whereas a heavy emphasis is placed on hops in West coast-style ales, the Florida Weisse is different. Based on the traditional German Berliner Weisse beer, the Florida Weisse is brewed with lots of fruit--particularly tropical fruit--rather than just simply having fruited syrup added to the glass when the beer is poured. The sweetness of the syrup is supposed to balance the acidity of the beer.

"That's the traditional way of doing it," said Johnathan Wakefield, Miami home-brewer and owner/founder of J. Wakefield Brewing Company. "But we're not doing anything traditional."

The new style was said to have been invented by Doug Dozark, the head brewer at Peg's Cantina in Gulfport. According to Wakefield, it all started with the Ich Bin Ein Rainbow Jelly Donut Berliner Weisse made with lime zest and raspberries. The pinkish beer with a fizzy white head was rarely brewed by Dozark, but it was very popular.

Dozark has since moved away from the idea, but Wakefield took the flag and continued to develop the style. Other Miami brewers, such as Diego Ganoza from Gravity Brewlab and Danny Argudin, also have been developing the new style.

Wakefield, along with a few others in Miami, have been brewing the Florida Weisse and honing its style over the last few years. One of his beers, the highly-tart dragon fruit-passionfruit Berliner Weisse (DFPF), has consistently received some of the highest ratings on beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com, and was once brewed as part of a pilot series by Cigar City Brewing in Tampa.

Wakefield adds fruit to his recipes during secondary fermentation, but there is no strict method. The base Berliner Weisse is a cheap and relatively easy beer to make. Where it starts to get costly is acquiring the fruit, although prices can be less expensive when purchased through a broker.

He doesn't use just any fruit. A special premium is placed on fruit grown locally. Wakefield is at an advantage, though, because Miami's ideal weather makes it possible to grow exotic tropical fruit found no where else in the United States.

Wakefield adds up to 10 pounds of fruit per five gallon batch of DFPF and up to 15 pounds of fruit for a a five-gallon batch of his strawberry rhubarb Berliner Weisse.

With the fruit added, the beer becomes a light, tart and refreshing beverage that is meant as a thirst-quenching counterpoint to a hot Florida day. The style may closely resemble a lambic, which can also be heavily fruited, however there are differences.

Of course, the new style is not without its haters. There is a considerable debate raging about this style on ratebeer.com. Some purists believe the amount of sweetness is comparable to a can of Coke, while others think the Florida Weisse should be categorized as a sour or a wild ale. Others think the style is not yet widespread enough, although more than a half dozen breweries from across state who converged upon the Berliner Bash brewed their own version of Florida Weisse.

Opinions may vary on all of the particulars, but the main differences--aside from geographical distinctions (the style comes from Pajottenland region of Belgium) are the types of bacteria and yeast. Where a lambic introduces Pediococcus bacteria and wild yeast strain Brettanomyces into the brewing process, a Florida Weisse has none of this. Apart from these characteristics, the taste of a Florida Weisse is less sour and considered more complex than a lambic.

The added fruit to the Florida Weisse is meant to extract the fruit flavors into the beer, and whatever else the fruit might lend. Take, for instance, passionfruit, which is very tart and therefore the tartness would be added.

And it all depends on the type of fruit that is used. The stronger the fruit flavor, the less that is needed. However, with light-flavored fruits such as strawberries or grapes, more is preferred to get the heavy fruit taste.

Another Wakefield brew and Cigar City pilot, Miami Madness, was ranked by ratebeer.com as number 13 among the top 50 beers in the world last January. Miami Madness is brewed with guava, passion fruit and mango.

"I've already incorporated mamey into an American ale and have some cool plans in the works to get my Florida Weisse feet wet," said Argudin, who is working on his own brewery start-up, Sexy Llama Brewing Company.

The second Berliner Bash saw a nearly four-fold increase in attendance from last year, from approximately 150 to 500. The brewers increased their turnout as well, going from four to 14, with Florida brewers such as Funky Buddha, Proof, Angry Chair, Green Room, Three Palms and Intuition brewing companies all pouring Berliners, some fruited and some not.

After the success of the festival, brewers may want to think twice about not brewing the Florida Weisse.

"I think we created something with a lot of steam and a lot of head behind it," Wakefield said. "No one else is doing this."

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