Berliner Messe: An Introduction

Those who have made it out to our open tasting days have encountered a great many foreign and foreign sounding beer styles and descriptors, and we thank you for indulging in that linguistic globalism. Among them, our Berliner Messe receives its fair share of questions about process and pronunciation and etymology, which will be addressed here.

 Berliner Messe - Alleluiavers at conception: mature beer rising up over fresh New Jersey peaches and nectarines

Berliner Messe - Alleluiavers at conception: mature beer rising up over fresh New Jersey peaches and nectarines

The Berliner Messe beers are named after a full choral mass (or "messe" in German, pronounced "mess-uh") of the same name, written by Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt.  Pärt's Berliner Messe consists of eight movements, which provide the tonal framework for our process variables, though we combine his Erster and Zweiter Alleluiavers for a total of seven movements:

Kyrie / Gloria / Alleluiavers / Veni Sancte Spiritus / Credo / Sanctus / Agnus Dei

It is important to note that these beers are not intended to be the same from year to year. Rather, the aim is to match the aura of the movement as closely as possible with the fruits in season and the sourcing of appropriate character barrels, while allowing full freedom of experimentation with the natural flavor palette available to us here in the Garden State.

 The loose framework around which the 7 Berliner Messe movements are crafted

The loose framework around which the 7 Berliner Messe movements are crafted

To date, only the base beer, Gloria, and Alleluiavers have been available. Sanctus and Agnus Dei are being blended and bottled this month, with Veni Sancte Spiritus and Credo blends in the Spring. We only use fresh fruit, so we're waiting on this summer's harvest to produce our first batch of Kyrie.

The wort for these beers is loosely based upon a Berliner Weisse recipe and brewing process, but borrowing certain aspects from the Lambic brewing tradition, namely, a partially turbid mash, a considerable portion of unmalted wheat, aged whole hops, open inoculation and cooling in a traditional coolship, and a full spontaneous fermentation. Where it differs: the Berliner Messe wort cools for 4-5 hours in the coolship until it drops from boiling to 120F, at which point it is transported back to the blendery and held warm in a separate vessel for 2-4 days, with a gradual temperature drop to 90-105F. This period is characterized by a natural acidification by spontaneously inoculated airborne lactobacillus, which thrives at these elevated temperatures. Following the acidification, it gets racked into oak barrels for spontaneous fermentation as the wort temperature drops into the active range for the wild yeasts present and formerly dormant. The beer spends between 4 and 12 months in oak barrels fermenting and conditioning.

 A manuscript page of Arvo Pärt's, in which he seeks a melodic structure based on notation derived from the shape of a bird in flight.

A manuscript page of Arvo Pärt's, in which he seeks a melodic structure based on notation derived from the shape of a bird in flight.

Arvo Pärt presents a truly inspirational artistry to the work we do. His techniques are simple, frequently drawn from nature, as seen above. He eschews many of the more technically advanced tools at a composer's disposal today in favor of a consistent elongation. Everything lies in the performer's intonation and resonance, with the works arranged to showcase those lesser-touted challenges. Where many modern works seem agoraphobic, eager to fill all with technique, Pärt lives for the silences, leaves space for the nothing to shine through.

The illustration above, culled from an old book (like so much else), is an homage to the bird-flight derived aesthetic of Arvo Pärt. Only here, one looks at the jacketed bird and the scientist's spool, and cannot help but marvel at how much is lost in between.