Florida Weisse: A Regional Brew Revisited

Happy National Beer Day! With the opening of J. Wakefield Brewing , I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to examine the style of beer that helped put Miami brewmaster Johnathan Wakefield and his new brewery on the map, the increasingly popular and much debated Florida Weisse( and pronounced "Vice-uh"). 

As of 2014, Florida Weisse was not fully recognized by The Brewers Association as an official style. It is a local adaption of the traditional and once almost extinct style, Berliner Weisse, a wheat beer from northern Germany. It is sometimes referred to as the Champagne of beer.

The Brewers Association describes Berliner Weisse as following:

Berliner-style Weisse is straw to pale in color and the lightest of all the German wheat beers. Malt sweetness is absent. Hop bitterness is none to very low. Hop flavor and aroma is absent. The unique combination of yeast and lactic acid bacteria fermentation yields a beer that is acidic and highly attenuated. It has a very light body. The carbonation of a Berliner Weisse is high. Clarity may be hazy or cloudy from yeast or chill haze. Fruity esters will be evident. No diacetyl should be perceived.”

What sets Florida Weisse apart from the traditional Berliner Weisse and even Sour Ales and Fruit Beer is the brewing process. Beer is brewed with the fruit itself. Fruit is not simply added at the end and syrups are not used. The sweetness balances out the overly acidic beer that is Berliner Weisse. The result is tart and thirst quenching, resembling something closer to a mimosa or beer cocktail perfect for brunch. ABV range is in the 2-5% region.

The Florida Weisse isn't the first time there has been a dispute over emerging beer styles. There are similarities to circa 2010 where East Coast and West Coast brewers clashed over the Black IPA, which is now sometimes referred to as Cascadian Dark Ale. There is always much drama when new regional styles emerge. Florida Weisse beer also premiered around the same time with a beer called Ich Bin Ein Rainbow Jelly Donut out of Cycle Brewing in St. Petersburg; you can imagine a beer with that name and flavor profile raising a few eyebrows.

Cycle Brewing and its Dunedin-based neighbor 7venth Sun Brewery have experimented with sour concoctions over the years. The Funky Buddha lounge in Boca Raton developed many delicious fruity brews featuring the tropical flavors mango, passion fruit, and key lime which helped them gain popularity and springboard into opening a full production brewery in Oakland Park in 2013. After three years of existence around the Tampa Bay area, Miami will be the future home of the annual Floridaweisse Bash, a sour beer festival that was re-branded from the name Berliner Bash to better fit this blossoming beer style.

The main issue that most have though, is that we are trying to call it our own, claim it as our own when other breweries across the country had already been brewing in the same style. There are both skeptics that think the new style shouldn’t even be deemed a beer and those who would gladly trade you something out of their Midwestern cellar for just a taste of a Florida Weisse. But here in the Sunshine State the type of fruit widely available year-round is what fuels the advantage and takes the old fashioned Berliner Weisse in a different direction. Cue the dancing passion fruit, guavas and neon colored elixirs.

Fast facts followed by some questions: 

Brewer: Johnathan Wakefield, hardcore Star Wars fan

Location: 120 NW 24th St, Miami, FL 33127

Best known for: Miami Madness (mango, passion fruit and guava) and Passion Fruit Dragon Fruit Berliner (passion fruit and dragon fruit)

MB: Let’s start with the basics…

JW: The raw fact is that fruit growing cycle will dictate availability, but at least one Florida Weisse will always be available on tap at the soon to open brewery.

MB: Hardcore OG’s (J. Wakefield Brewing’s members) will be sad to know that only 25% of the bar’s selection will be dedicated to sour styles, but on the bright side, they need the space to create new combinations.

JW: Mango is not available year round and I am not going to outsource outside of Florida. I take it to the next level, maximizing the amount of fruit that can be used, just crazy amounts like 10 pounds for a 5-gallon batch. The style is perfect for Miami with its heavy Latin American and Caribbean influence; using local products speaks a lot.

MB: Our local hero, J. Wakefield takes pride in using mostly locally foraged fruit from Homestead. Yes folks, he has a forager for his beers!

MB: Tell me more about Doug Dozark…

JW: At Cycle Brewing in 2010, Doug Dozark created Ich Bin Ein Rainbow Jelly Donut, a Berliner fermented with limes and raspberries.

MB: The beer is now discontinued.

JW: Back then, it wasn’t difficult to get growlers filled and the lines weren’t insane like they are now. I got a growler, brought it home, and did my homework. In terms of my life-changing gig, I was a big fan of Cigar City Brewing from the beginning and would drive there for every bottle release. I had the opportunity to intern there and brew on their pilot system. It was then that I experimented with Passion Fruit Dragon Fruit. The beer had its premiere at the first Hunahpu’s Day; it was pink and people went nuts in a good way.

MB: Dozark is credited with coining the name- Florida Weisse.

MB: How is Miami changing the scene?

JW: South Florida has gone in the complete opposite direction of traditional form of beer brewing, acting more like chefs. A range of flavors and flavor combinations exist in Florida that doesn’t anywhere else. For us, it’s normal to combine pineapple and guava and make it work.

MB: Why is there such a debate with traditionalists? 

JW: Traditionalists as a whole are opposed to the new style as adding adjuncts to beer takes away the craft to beer.

MB: Describe Florida Weisse in 3 words…

JW: I have two words: sour, sweet and one phrase: palate pleasing

MB: Some other great quotes and important lessons…

JW: “Sour styles are the gateway beer.”

“Women in craft beer is growing on both the brewing and consumer ends, especially in Miami and we need to make sure it continues strong.”

“What’s interesting is that this low alcohol style has as much complexity as a barrel aged stout and the like.”

And to think, it all began when Wakefield’s wife gifted him a Mr. Beer kit over a decade ago. Now, his brewery is one of the most anticipated openings in the state and one whose crowd funding campaign broke records, raking in over $100,000.

Post-script thoughts: Personally, I think the entire state has its beer a-game on and I can’t wait to see what else pops up. If the sour trend continues, we may even see our own version of the Gose style.

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J. Wakefield Brewing 

120 NW 24th St, Miami, FL 33127