Cloudy, tart, fizzy, slightly funky -- there aren't many styles of beer that can compare to a proper Berliner Weisse. Legend has it that Napoleon's troops referred to it as "the Champagne of the North," while more contemporary imbibers have described it favorably as the "lemonade of beers." Sure, it's German in origin, but uncharacteristically so -- it's a wheat beer that's far lighter in color and loaded with more mouth-puckering flavor than any other style you'll find in the Rhineland. It's low enough in alcohol that it can be consumed throughout the day without the staggering effects of a triple IPA. In the late 19th century it was Berlin's most consumed alcoholic beverage, with more than 700 breweries producing the stuff. These days its popularity has fallen off considerably; in fact, there's only one major brand distributed throughout most of Germany.
Perhaps because the refreshing punch of Berliner Weisse feels more suited to a sunny California beach than to a bustling café outside the Brandenburg Gate, the beer seems to be experiencing a miniature revival among local brewers. Golden Road Brewery tapped a limited amount of its Berliner Weisse-style beer back in May to a good deal of fanfare. The Bruery in Placentia is pretty well-known for its Hottenroth, which comes out every year around late spring, and its special-edition Nottenroth (as in Not-Hottenroth), a less-sour version spiked with kumquats. Telegraph Brewing in Santa Barbara has a Reserve Wheat Ale that you can find from time to time, which is a sort of extra-yeasty version of the style.
The most recent -- and probably most compelling -- version we've come across was released last Thursday at Strand Brewing Co., a small tap room and brewery house in the back of a near-deserted Torrance industrial park. Under the guidance of founders and brewmasters Rich Marcello and Joel Elliot, Strand has surged to the forefront of L.A.'s craft beer scene since opening the doors of its public tasting room in April.
Strand's newest creation, dubbed "Ito-Weisse" as an homage to Marcello's wife's family, pours a light straw color and has almost no aroma of hops. It's as dry as a Riesling and as bracingly tart as fresh lemonade, with lingering aromas of green olives and unripe oranges. They'll pour in a small amount of traditional German syrup flavored with himbeer (raspberry) or waldmeister (woodruff, an herb that tastes like a combination of chamomile and green apple) if desired, which serve to lighten the drink's sourness and add a slight tinge of red or green coloring -- but not enough to drown out the beer's essence with sugar. Or you could sip it undiluted; either way, it serves as an brilliantly refreshing elixir when tasked with cutting the intensity of a hot summer day.
You can only find Ito-Weisse at Strand's tap room, where it has already proved to be a huge hit with regulars. Marcello tells us that only 15 barrels were brewed, one of which is already gone after a busy weekend. Check out the hours for Strand's tap room on its Facebook page, as well as info on future beer releases.