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1809

Dr. Fritz Briem
Munich
Germany

Style: Berliner Weisse
ABV: 5.0%

Eddie’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)


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Welcome to International Month at BeerDorks.com, where for 28 days (sometimes 29, just for the Hell of it) we focus on influential—or, at least, known—beers from outside these United States. And to kick off this year's edition, we'll start off with some Eurotrash History 101:

For a Frenchie, Napoleon was pretty badass. A self-made military genius, he pretty much ground all of Europe under his heel (except England, thanks to Lord Admiral Nelson, who's named after a great bar in Sydney, Australia, by the way) and if he hadn't made one of history's classic blunders (getting into a land war in Asia), everyone on the continent today would be swirling around rotten grape juice in their glasses and drinking with their pinkies in the air.

Or maybe not. During Napoleon's campaign in Berlin during the Franco-Prussion war, he and his troops stumbled across a beer that appealed to their unwashed palates, a pale wheat ale distinctive for its sharp acidity known as a Berliner weisse. The frogs liked this beer so much they called it the "champagne of the north," which to them was a compliment.

Fast forward 200-plus years, a couple of world wars, various economic downturns, and countless brewery consolidations. Berliner weisse, once brewed by 700-some breweries in Germany, is close to a dead entry in the beer world. A few craft breweries in the U.S. have brewed versions of it, but it's pretty esoteric as beer styles go. Which brings us to Dr. Fritz Briem, a badass in his own right, but this time with what really matters: beer. Fritz is the technology director of the Doemens Insitute, an international training center for fermentation science, among other things. He brews what he calls "Historic Signature Series" beers, nearly forgotten styles using historically accurate recipes. Like tonight's featured brew, 1809, a Berliner weisse named for the year Napoleon hoisted a glass of it to celebrate his victory over the Prussians.

This is one pale beer, vaguely straw-colored with a huge, frothy head. The nose is muted, requiring several deep sniffs to detect tiny noble hop notes over top a strange but appealing mix of lemon and flowers. The sip is unsurprisingly light and soft, starting off with acidic tartness, although nothing remotely overwhelming. The middle flashes some vague fruitiness with just a hint of malt presence. It finishes intensely dry—not tart, mind you, but borderline mouth-puckeringly dry, much like—to steal from a long-dead, vertically challenged Corsican—champagne. In fact, if you're familiar with dry bruts, you'll know what I'm talking about, although this Berliner weisse is much more complex and finely distinctive than even top-shelf champagne.

For drinkers of big, brash American beers, 1809 is an intense exercise in subdued subtleness. Other than the superbly dry finish, no other facet of the beer jumps out, creating a refreshing and nuanced drinking session. Supposedly in Germany they add woodruff syrup to blunt the acidity of Berliner weisses, but I've never had a Berliner weisse brewed by U.S. or German brewers that I thought were so tart as to need any sweetening. No, a beer like this doesn't need anything at all, except an appreciation for a subtle and satisfying experience.

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on February 2, 2015.
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