BEER CLINIC :: The Elusive Gose – How Far Would You Run to Catch a Gose?

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on July 29, 2015

Gose (rhymes with “Rosa”) is a very old beer style that is starting to generate interest among craft brewers, if only because it is so challenging to brew. Summer is the best time to drink these unusual beers, but gose’s can be hard to find, and some can be downright unpleasant to drink. In order to spare you the effort, I thought it would be a good idea to seek out and try an original Gose, from Leipzig, Germany, and report back. Then we can see how the American crafts compare.

First, a bit of history. Gose is a top-fermented beer made from half-and-half mix of malted wheat and malted barley, spiced predominantly with coriander and a small amount of hops. Although the German Beer Purity Laws require a beer to be made only from barley and water, and to be spiced only with hops, Gose is given a pass because it is a very old, traditional style.

Leipzig

Leipzig

The Gose style is named for the town of Goslar in Saxony, where it was first brewed about 1000 years ago. Goslar was noted for mining copper, lead, zinc, silver and salt. The aquifers which feed the river Goslar, and which were used by the Town’s brew houses, are mineral rich. The region was known in the Middle Ages for its production of a white salt crystal (Blanc de Goslar), which contained a mix of minerals which gave it a stringent and sour taste, and which was considered beneficial to health. Perhaps the townspeople thought that their local brew, which was made with the salty Goslar water, was healthy as well. In the late Middle Ages the mines were depleted, the town declined, and the making of Gose beer moved to the larger town of Leipzig, about 100 miles to the east. Today, Gose beer is most closely associated with Leipzig.

The River Goslar

The River Goslar

Like many ancient beers, gose began as a spontaneously-fermented brew, but by the 1880’s the Leipzig brewers worked out how to get a more consistent sourness using lactic bacteria in addition to yeast. Gose beer continued to be in high demand in the region, and by 1900 it was the most popular beer in Leipzig. Although the communist takeover of eastern Germany shut down gose production, the gose style was revived with the fall of The Wall in 1989. Several breweries now produce this beer style, and Bayerischer Bahnhof, in Leipzig, Germany exports bottles to the US.

indexBottles of gose are hard to find, but I was lucky to score a couple of Bayerischer Bahnhof ‘s Gose in a local beer store. The beer is usually served in a tall, straight-sided cylindrical glass–see the picture on the bottle. In summer, you might drink it in a weisse glass with a shot of raspberry syrup. I didn’t have a traditional gose glass so I used a weisse glass. I taste-tested the gose on a hot summer day, comparing it to a German weisse, Hofbrau’s Heffe Weizen.

bottlesThe gose, ABV 4.6%, poured out with a great head, off-white in color, and the beer was a pleasant gold color. It was not cloudy, as I expected for a bottle-conditioned beer or a weisse, but was clear, since the yeast packed down to the bottom of the bottle–if you drink one, though, pour it out, don’t drink from the bottle or the yeast will dislodge. The mouthfeel was medium-dry. Hop flavor was barely perceptible, and the coriander flavor was mild and not overwhelming. When comparing the two  I found the spice was much stronger in the hefe weizen than in the gose, which is interesting because there is no added coriander in the Hofbrau beer, the spice taste is due solely to the yeast. The malt taste and alochol level were very similar to the Heffe Weizen (ABV 5.2%), but the gose had a prominent lactic sourness. The beer was not overly sour, but just enough to be thirst-quenching, like a good lemonade, with a dry finish, and crisp on the palate. The surprise was that the beer did not taste salty. Overall it was nicely dry and refreshing. This would be a great summer drink on a hot day, and no doubt the raspberry syrup would be a nice addition, too. I can see why the Leipzingers liked this ale. Given the choice for a summer drink, I would go with this gose over a wheat ale.

I have had only a few opportunities to try an American craft Gose. The first one I came across was Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Highway 128 Blood Orange Gose, which was available on draft at my local brewpub. I have to admit I was immediately prejudiced against this beer because the brewers clearly did not do their homework– the name of their gose beer series is based on an incorrect pronunciation of the term, using it as a pun to rhyme with “Holy Ghost.” Their basic gose, based on a pun for “Father, Sun and Holy Ghost,” is called The Yimmie, the Kink and the Holy Gose. (I haven’t tried this one).

 Anderson Valley’s Gose styles are fermented with lactic acid bacteria and then followed with yeast fermentation, getting the sour note correct. With the Blood Orange Gose which I tasted, I had hoped that the additions of citrus fruit during fermentation would add some nice flavor. It provided a pleasant, mild citrus note, with a slight touch of orange peel bitterness, but it was nothing like the sweetness you might get with the traditional German raspberry syrup.

However, unlike the Bayerischer Bahnhof brewery, Anderson Valley does not brew with salted water; instead they add salt to the finished product. As stated on their web site, “To get the salt right, they experimented by dosing the base beer with varying amounts, ranging from none to a lot, before deciding on “‘medium’.” This, I believe, was a mistake. Yeast can only take so much salt to ferment properly. When it is added after fermentation, then sky is the limit. Recall that the traditional Leipzig gose that we tasted, above, was not salty at all. Perhaps the Anderson Valley beer was seasoned to the brewers’ tastes, but it was not to my taste. The end result was a brackish beer, with orange peel bitterness. I deem this one to be unpalatable. I try to be open minded about crafts and tolerate quite a bit of “interesting” experimentation, recognizing that gose is not an easy style to brew; however, at the end of the day a beer has to be drinkable.

indexI located another Gose while visiting my daughter in Wisconsin, Hop Gose the Grapefruit, another unfortunate attempt which tried to make a pun using the wrong pronunciation. (Will they never learn?) This gose was brewed by Mobcraft Brewing Company, Madison, WI, an interesting company which relies on crowdsourcing for revenue as well as beer ideas for small batches. This brew is labeled a Gose-IPA hybrid, but I would disagree with that designation, since it has neither the malt balance (50% wheat) nor the hoppiness of an IPA (only 35 IBU–and most of it in the dry hop). I would call it a moderately-hopped gose. From this perspective, though, I think they got it right. At 4.5% ABV, the alcohol level is correct; at only 1 oz. of sea salt per gallon–added prior to brewing–they got the salt right, too. The grapefruit puree and peel was added to the mash, but is barely discernible in the finished product. The end result is very like a classic gose with the characteristic snappy, dry finish. A very nice and refreshing drink.

indexTroublesome, (4.5% ABV) brewed by Off Color Brewery (Chicago, IL) is one of the best gose-style ales I have come across so far. I say “gose-style” because, strictly speaking, it’s a beer blend, an amalgam of styles that comes off tasting very much like a gose. To get the proper flavor, the brewers blend together a rather bland wheat beer with an overly acidic and funky beer fermented solely with lactobacillus, with coriander and salt added at the tail end of fermentation. The result is a tasty, light, lemony beer with a good mouthfeel. Like a good gose you don’t really taste the salt, unless you directly compare it to a standard wheat beer. Troublesome is a very good beer; of all the American craft gose’s that I tasted, it was the best. I would recommend that you seek this one out.

I was hoping to have the opportunity to taste another gose when I attended the Boston Marathon in April this year. indexBoston Beer Company (a.k.a.Samuel Adams) produces a seasonal gose for this big event, since this beer style is traditionally felt to be particularly thirst quenching, and the salt is appreciated by runners. Boston Lager 26.2, named for the length of the Marathon in miles, is available exclusively at official race-related events, as well as bars and restaurants along the Marathon route and in the Greater Boston area. I tried three different venues, and all had sold out every ounce of the gose days before the race started! Eventually I gave up the chase, since I didn’t want to have to run the length of the marathon to find it. I was unable to taste the elusive gose at the Marathon this year.

As the gose style starts to gain in interest among brewers (if not popularity among drinkers) I will keep my eyes out for new craft releases to try. I strongly suggest that you try a gose this summer; it’s the perfect drink for what appears to be the hottest summer on record. I look forward to tasting other brewers interpretations of this style. I will, however, keep in mind what a gose is all about, and how the original tastes, before trying to learn to develop a taste for salt in my beer.

You can read more about the history of the gose on the German Beer Institute’s web site,

Thanks to Jon and Ashley Malesic for helping me with research for this article.

3 TroegsIn addition to her fascinating essays on a variety of topics to be found @ 3 Quarks Daily, also available from Dr. Westbrook: 

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

admin July 29, 2015 at 4:14 pm

A GREAT piece. First, I love a good sour, but also have enjoyed brews that are distinguished by even just a hint of sour, so this has me on the make for one of these. I also found the discussions concerning the water to be fascinating. Just as we learned, when at Church Brew Works about what needed to happen to get Pittsburgh water as close as possible to that of Munich’s in order to replicate that city’s signature beer, the Dunkel, your discussion concerning Leipzig and, more specifically, the water from the River Goslar and it’s role in the creation of gose was fabulous. Danke, Frau Westbrook.

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