White Birch Brewing founder Bill Herlicka started making his own beer in 1994. He spent 15 years brewing for himself before going commercial, honing his craft making Belgian dubbels, tripels, and quads before moving on to imperial stouts, baryleywines, and finally wild ales. He had a penchant for brewing strong beers.
"When I started in New Hampshire I quickly realized that most of my favorite homebrews would have to be toned down to under 12 percent [alcohol by volume]," he said.
Herlicka founded the Hookset, N.H. brewery in 2009, progressing from the 15-to-20-gallon batches he started out with to the seven-barrel system he uses today. White Birch brews an eclectic mix of styles, and their seasonal offerings are particularly impressive. Two of their summer beers, Berliner Weisse and Hop to Wit, are currently available.
-- Berliner Weisse:
One of my favorite summer styles, this traditional German brew was described by Napoleon's troops as the “Champagne of the north” due to it's light, refreshing qualities. The beer is brewed with Lactobacillus, a bacteria which in large amounts acts like a spoiler but in the right amount imparts sour flavors into the beer.
A traditional Berliner Weisse is low in alcohol, usually under 4 percent. Herlicka brews his at 5.5 percent.
"The reason I brew it a little stronger than tradition is I like the soft lemony sourness that is created by a fuller bodied beer," Herlicka writes on his website. "The lighter 3 percent ABV Berliner’s I’ve tried tend to be sharp, thin and sometimes astringent unless you use traditional German Woodruff or raspberry syrups when serving."
White Birch Berliner Weisse has a subtle sour kick at the end but is otherwise very approachable. It's refreshing without being tart. The mouthfeel is light like a Champagne and the finish is brief and palate-cleansing. While that may not adhere to tradition, it makes the beer a good entry point for folks who've never tried a sour beer before. This will be one of my summer go-to's. If it were available in cans, I'd take it everywhere this summer.
-- Hop to Wit:
A Belgian wheat ale brewed with grapefruit peel and pink peppercorns, Hop to Wit pours a paler yellow than its counterpart. It smells like cotton, lemon, and spice.
Bubble gum dominates the first sip. That's normal for a wheat beer, but I can't recall one with quite this much bubble gum flavor. I get a little fading cucumber as the beer lingers on my palate. This one isn't quite as refreshing as the Berliner Weisse, but it's a solid beer. The price is right on both of these beers, which each retail for around $5.