Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Berlin brewer’s memoir discovered

Who says blogging doesn’t get you anywhere?

Andreas Bogk has taken it upon himself to recreate proper Berliner Weisse in Berlin. Not the sad pasteurised beast you get in cans, pre-sweetened with syrup, but a proper one infected with all the correct microorganisms and as authentic as possible.

He’s taking this seriously enough to register a commercial brewery so that people will be able to taste the results. He’s been documenting his progress on a blog – experiments are progressing well but he doesn’t have any beer to sell yet.

But thanks to the blog a reader got in contact. Her grandfather, A. Dörfel, had been head brewer at the legendary Groterjan brewery and had written a document describing how things were done there in 1947.

Herr Dörfel had been in charge of brewing since 1920, so he certainly knew what he was talking about.

The manuscript has (possibly) never been published before and is a priceless slab of brewing history. Andreas has very kindly, with the permission of Dörfel’s heirs, scanned the document and put it online.

I haven’t read the whole thing yet but one snippet caught my eye. For some time I’ve been wondering how old the tradition of adding raspberry and woodruff syrup to Berliner Weisse is. You don’t see it mentioned in nineteenth-century sources, but by the time Michael Jackson wrote about it, it had become ubiquitous.

Dörfel writes that some drinkers of Berliner Weisse like to add a slice of lemon or raspberry juice to the beer. He doesn’t approve: “From the perspective of the beer connoisseur this [practice] ought to be rejected.”

I’m starting to think the whole red and green syrup business must have started in the 1960s. Perhaps coinciding with the rise of full-colour advertising, colour supplements and the like. The opalescent beer in primary colours would have been a gift for the ad agencies. OK, I was completely wrong about that. Shouldn’t speculate.


  1. FrFintonStack8 May 2013 at 20:04

    The characters definitely drink (and if I remember correctly, ask for) Weisse with woodruff in RW Fassbinder's film Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980). Its epic length (over 15 hours) is supposedly a product of the fact that it contains every line of dialogue from the Alfred Döblin novel on which it was based, published in 1929. It's then at least possible that the practice was well enough established to have worked its way into literature by that date. Pick up a copy of the book, and you'll have your answer.

  2. All I can say is fucking hell, this is amazing. What a wonderful document. It deserves to be published properly.

    Andreas Bogk is doing great work on Berliner Weisse. I hope he gets his brewery up and running and brings back authentic Berliner Weisse.

  3. There’s currently a discussion on about whether it might actually have been published in the yearbook of the Gesellschaft für die Geschichte des Brauwesens e.V at the time. Andreas is checking that out.

  4. I was intrigued by Fr Stack’s comment and have done a bit more digging. Found several other reference to Weisse mit Schuß from the 1920s, so it was certainly common at least by then.