There’s been talk lately of a relatively little known beer style called Gose (pronounced "goze-uh"). Historically, extremely difficult to find outside of Germany, Gose is emerging as a revitalized niche beer amongst a handful of American craft brewers. Hailed as the second coming of the beer by some, and as the harbinger of doom that will "kill craft beer" by others, Gose is an old style that has stood the test of time and is finally making its way into the hearts, minds and palates of a small but vocal American craft beer audience.
Not to be confused with Gueuze (a dry, funky, sour lambic ale from Belgium), Gose originated over 1000 years ago in and around the town of Goslar in what is now Lower Saxony, Germany (which was also formerly part of East Germany). It is a style that embodies terroir in beer: the idea that, like wine, the environment in which a beer is produced imparts certain taste characteristics into that beer. Unique in flavor, Gose is tangy and slightly salty due to the high mineral saline quality of the Gose tributary, the primary water source for breweries in and around the town of Goslar.
Its rich history and water source (nowadays breweries add salt to mimic the Gose tributary's saline levels) isn’t the only thing that makes Gose distinct. In addition to barley, this beer style is brewed with a large percentage of malted wheat which, on its own, provides tartness and smooth mouthfeel. Then the beer is traditionally fermented with wild yeast and Lactobacillus (the bacteria that also sours yogurt, kimchi and sourdough) and is then spiced with coriander. The result is an unfiltered, dark pale, heady, medium bodied beer with floral and spicy aromatics and with secondary fruity notes of banana, apricot and citrus zest. The hop profile is low, but the beer finishes dry and puckery, with lingering wafts of brine.
... in the last century, Gose virtually died out due to two World Wars and a food shortage that caused the communist government of East Germany to allocate grain for bread-making instead of beer-brewing.
By the 1900s, Gose-brewing was primarily happening about 100 miles away in Leipzig, Germany, where it was the most popular beer style among its residents. It was so popular, in fact, that "traditional" Gose is now considered Leipziger Gose.
Unfortunately, in the last century Gose virtually died out due to two World Wars and a food shortage that caused the communist government of East Germany to allocate grain for bread-making instead of beer-brewing. It wasn’t until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 that the style was resurrected by locals in Leipzig and now by craft brewers worldwide.
A handful of innovative American craft brewers are running with Gose and putting it on the map, relying on the spirit of terroir and the sour and salty framework of the classic, but also using modern techniques and new ingredients to make it their own. Some are dry-hopping their Gose with big, high alpha-acid American hops, some are adding New World herbs, some are adding Brettanomyces (or Brett) yeast to amp up the funk, some are adding flowers, some are barrel-aging, some are adding Brittany Gray sea salt, smoked sea salt, Himalayan red sea salt. The possibilities seem endless.
Jesse Friedman is cofounder of San Francisco Bay Area’s innovative Almanac Beer Company, which makes the refreshing Golden Gate Gose, the descendent of their very popular, draught only, one-off Flowering Gose. Friedman says that he brewed a Gose because the style was "pre-made for Almanac." He explains, "Every Almanac beer is tied in with California terroir and agriculture, and that’s why Gose, which is sort of like a fresh hop beer, is so great for us. We get our coriander from Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz. They grow it just for us and it’s dried in the field in the sun, creating a coriander that’s floral and aromatic and bright and fresh. For the salt, we use San Francisco Bay sea salt."
Gose has one foot in the fresh beer world, a foot in the sour world and a foot in the wheat beer world.
Almanac’s nod to terroir, coriander and salt additions are upholding the traditional methods of Leipziger. Says Friedman, "Our Gose is fiercely non-traditional. Three years ago when we were developing this recipe, no one had heard of a Gose before. No one had any frame of reference at all for what a Gose should be." Along those lines, Friedman includes lemon verbena from Eatwell Farm (Dixon, CA) in his version and uses a yeast strain traditionally used in making a Saison style beer, which brings a lot more fruit character than one would traditionally find in a Gose.
Regarding the divisive salt addition, Friedman advocates going light. "If you can put your finger on it, you’ve overdone it." The resulting amalgam is the half-sister of the Berliner Weisse, like a slightly spiced, tart Witbier. "Pair Gose with seafood all day, it acts like the spritzy lemon wedge."
In addition to Almanac’s Golden Gate Gose (5% ABV), other American versions to try are Baltimore’s Stillwater Artisanal Ales' Gose Gone Wild, a (4.3% ABV) refreshing Gose dosed with West Coast Citra and Amarillo hops and fermented with the aforementioned Brett, hoppy and funky. Kansas City’s Boulevard Hibiscus Gose is a (4.2% ABV) floral, tangy, sweet and sour beer that pours a vibrant pink and finishes with a pop of citrus. Northern California’s Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose adds the seasonal fruit to its (4.25% ABV) version. And Portland, Oregon’s sour mecca Cascade Brewing makes a "Northwest style" Gose with the hand-harvested French Sel Marin de Noirmoutier sea salt (7.5% ABV).
So, what is the future of Gose? Does such an admittedly weird beer style have a place at the bar? "Education is a key component of Gose," Friedman says, "and Gose is not going to be the next IPA, but it’s carving out a nice niche for itself. Gose has one foot in the fresh beer world, a foot in the sour world and a foot in the wheat beer world. It’s a really great introduction to the world of sours." Gose is, as Friedman explains, a gateway to a whole world of previously lost beer styles. It’s the beginning of craft beer, not the end.