During its heyday, more than 900 breweries in Berlin produced Berliner Weisse—a sour wheat beer typically second-fermented in the bottle—making it the most popular alcoholic drink in Germany in the 1800s. The style fell out of favor during the next century, however, and in the late 20th century, only two Berlin breweries were producing the beer. Thankfully, as the craft beer industry has boomed, an insatiable taste for the unexpected, the sour, and the bottle-conditioned has grown in the United States, and this style has found a new home in a variety of U.S. microbreweries.
New Belgium’s foray into this hallowed style comes with a surprising (and entirely welcome) ingredient: the yuzu. Best described as a marriage between a grapefruit and a mandarin orange, the baseball-sized fruit originates in China, and has already found its way into Japanese, Korean, and contemporary Western recipes. And, if the Yuzu Imperial Berliner Weisse is any indication, it’ll start appearing in more beers.
That tangy burst of citrus is so defined on the nose that it feels as if you should be able to see it floating in a yellow cloud over the glass. The use of pale malt and wheat lends a slightly opaque, golden color, rimmed by a thin stretch of white foam that starts to fade as you close your eyes to take in the aroma.
The first sip makes for a crisp and delightful introduction, with a pleasant sourness from the brett yeast and lactobacillus that’s made all the more pronounced by the lemon/lime/orange influence of the Yuzu. A strong burst of carbonation makes this a tart, effervescent beer, with layered flavors of pineapple, pear, grapefruit, grassiness, and tannic acid, followed by a smooth, crisp finish. It’s almost too easy to drink quickly.
But this is an imperial beer, with a higher ABV than most typical Berliner Weisse brews, which leads to a slightly thick texture that coats the mouth. This announces its stronger, boozy nature, and suggests that you at least try to sip slowly. If you can.
Brewery: New Belgium
City: Fort Collins, Colorado
Style: Berliner Weisse
ABV: 8 percent
Availability: Limited Release, 22 ounce bottles