The Myth of the Florida Weisse and Draft Magazine

Draft Magazine online is one of my favorite ways to keep up with the beer world. I check into the website at least once a day to see what new content they have, and usually there is always something new for me to read and find interest in. I say this because I’m a little disappointed with their beer journalism in regards to an article they just published. The article is titled “The Florida weisse: a primer” and tries to explain what the Florida weisse is and the history behind the arising style.

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The Florida weisse, for those wondering, is referred to on this blog as an American Weisse, and is at its base a Berliner weisse that has been brewed with fruits and/or spices and tends to be slightly more alcoholic than traditional Berline weisses. The style has been gaining popularity for quite some time, and really exploded in Florida over the past four years (hence the Florida weisse name). The article explains the Florida weisse’s birth from the Berliner weisse style as such:

    Once called the “Champagne of the north” by Napoleon’s troops, the Berliner’s a tart wheat-pilsner-malt ale soured by Lactobacillus bacteria. Traditionally, this small beer (usually below 4% ABV) is offered mit schuss—that is, served with cloyingly sweet raspberry or woodruff syrup to counter its lactic, yogurty bite. Roughly 200 years after The Little Corporal said “oui” to syruped Berliners, Florida brewers said “no,” and fermented the sour beer with actual fruit instead. The Florida weisse was born.

Technically, that happened back in the spring of 2010, at Peg’s Cantina & Brewpub in Gulfport, Fla. Doug Dozark, the brewmaster, tapped a small-batch beer he called Ich Bin Ein Rainbow Jelly Donut—a Berliner fermented with limes and raspberries—and people went nuts. Then-homebrewer Jonathan Wakefield was one of the fanboys. Miami-based Wakefield had connections and clout in Florida beer circles, and ran with Dozark’s idea, releasing his own version as a guest brewer for Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing later that year. The radioactive pink-hued beer known simply by the fruit inside it, Dragonfruit Passionfruit Berliner, sold out in minutes.

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The article’s history is true in terms of fruited Berliner Weisses being brewed in Florida, but it neglects to mention that people have been brewing fruited Berliner Weisses outside of Florida for quite some time. In my very casual bit of research (i.e. maybe five minutes on Google) I was able to find three different fruited Berliner weisses that were made prior to 2010 and outside of Florida. The first of these was Solstice D’été Aux Framboises brewed by Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel all the way up in Quebec and added to Beer Advocate in 2002. (I couldn’t find the official birth dates of any of these beers, so I’ll be listing by when they were added to Beer Advocate.) The beer is a Berliner weisse brewed with a sour mash and with berries steeped in the beer, which I guess is different from physically brewing with the fruit, but I’m fairly certain that is how most Florida weisses are brewed today. After that, Dogfish Head released Festina Pêche, a Berliner that ferments with puréed peaches. The beer is listed as joining the world in March of 2007, and has since reached a huge distribution here in the North East.

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At its end, the article does mention that other breweries are experimenting with the fruited Berliner weisse style, but they make it seem like these breweries are following in the footsteps of Florida:

   American brewers are taking notice: New Hampshire’s Smuttynose and Chicago’s Pipeworks have released their own fruited Berliners. But unlike the Pacific Northwest vs. New England grapple over who created the black IPA (or is that Cascadian dark ale?), there’s no questioning the origins of Florida’s totally bizarre, tart-and-tropical contribution to the ever-weirder landscape of craft beer.

The funny thing about this is that Smuttynose first brewed Strawberry Short Weisse (the precursor to Strawbarb Short Weisse) in 2009, a year prior to the start of Florida’s weisse craze according to the article.

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I’m really glad that Draft is starting to report on the new style, and I have no problem with calling it the Florida Weisse (that is where lots of them are being made and consumed) but to claim that Florida made the style is just sloppy history and bad journalism. I don’t mean to call out Draft, and I really like most of what they do, I just find this mistake a little glaring. I proved it wrong with five minutes of googling… Perhaps if the article were reworded a bit, and was meant as an intro to fruited Berliner weisse beers in Florida, then everything would be okay, but first the article needs to take out the bit about other American brewer’s following in Florida’s footsteps. After that, some honest research should be put into the fact that German brewers have most likely been making fruited Berliner weisses for quite some time now (haven’t found that on Google yet but I remember reading that somewhere…), and a paragraph should be written on the precursors to the movement in Florida.

Sorry for the rant, and sorry to the writer of the article (if you do in fact read this) I don’t mean to insult you, I just hope the error is fixed and the myth of Florida birthing the fruited Berliner weisse doesn’t spread.

Cheers and beers.

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[Minor research gathered from Beeradvocate.com:

Solstice D’été Aux Framboises – Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel

Added to Beer Advocate:  07-14-2002

Festina Peche Dogfish Head Breewery

Added to Beer Advocate 03-05-2007

Smuttynose Short Batch #7 – Strawberry Short Weisse – Smuttynose Brewing Company

Added to Beer Advocate: 09-16-2009]

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