I love introducing intrepid beer drinkers to the Berliner Weisse style; their first sip of the light and tart wheat beer can be surprising, opening their eyes to a realm of flavors that are not often associated with beer. A good Berliner Weisse can be a great gateway into the world of sour beers, and they’re one of the most refreshing styles to reach for when the summer’s heat has you feeling wilted. The style has been growing in popularity with American craft brewers, and bottles of Hot Pants from California’s Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co. have arrived in L.A. just in time to help weather a late summer heat wave.
It’s been hot in Southern California, with a side of uncommonly high humidity that we’re just not used to. It’s weather that demands a tall glass of something refreshing and light enough that you can keep refilling your glass without becoming stupefied; Berliner Weisse is built for that task. Thankfully there are myriad different takes on the classic style now available, and many ways for brewers to achieve the Berliner’s trademark acidity. Traditionally, brewers used latent lactobacillus present on the husks of the crushed barley to sour the wort in the kettle before being boiled, though many modern examples are soured with the addition of food-grade lactic acid after a traditional fermentation. The brewers at Tahoe Mountain eschew tradition — and brewers yeast — and ferment Hot Pants with a 100% lactobacillus culture, and the results are remarkable.
The beer is pale and hazy with a voluminous frothy head and an incessant effervescence that reveals a bright and surprisingly clean aroma of citrus peel and yogurt. There are no funky, “barnyard” aromas present, and no bready yeast character. The first sip is like a cold ocean wave — bracing and invigorating. The acidity takes the lead followed closely by a wash of prickly carbonation that’s nearly as intense as the tart punch of lactic acid. The effervescence make the beer seem to dance across the tongue, further lightening the perceived body of the 3% ABV brew. There’s more of the yogurt character and a distinct lemony bite as you swallow, and the finish of Hot Pants is brisk with just enough wheaty sweetness to take the edge off the acidity.
Sometimes, Berliners can be, for lack of a better phrase, challenging to drink. They can exhibit a funky bitterness that underlies the lactic tartness, and even some old world examples are earthy and a little too reminiscent of stomach acid. (One reason, perhaps, that in their home of Berlin the beers are cut with sweet syrups.) Hot pants has none of that. It’s all freshness and tartness that lingers just long enough to keep you sipping from the glass. It’s assertively acidic, but it won’t make your eyes water and have you reaching for tums. It’s a beer that revels in the straightforward flavor of bright acidity and crisp wheat malt.
Hot Pants lacks some of the depth and complexity of other craft Berliner Weisse, but in this case a straight-forward flavor makes each glass all the more refreshing (and will have you reaching for a refill before you know it).
Brewery: Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co.
City: Truckee, CA
Style: Berliner Weisse
Availability: Special release, 500ml bottles