GOSE (pronounced GOH-zuh): An ancient and venerable draught from Goslar via Leipzig. A crisply sour ale that, if the ballads and poems of yore are to be believed, makes men strong and women beautiful. More recently, the sensation of the summer in North America. Versatile with food (see below). A beer worth its salt.
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We arrived from Berlin in Leipzig’s cavernous turn-of-the-twentieth-century train station on one of those spring mornings that had banished any lingering traces of winter. It was still early enough that not a single spot to get a croissant and coffee was open yet. Undaunted, we wended our way through narrow streets to the Church of St. Nicholas (Nikolaikirche), a focal point of the 1989 protests that led to the ouster of notorious East German dictator, Erich Honecker.
From the church square we headed to the nearby Kaffeehaus Riquet, a fin-de-siècle patisserie combining the splendours of Vienna and Paris, to plan the rest of our weekend. On the agenda: the local food dish, Leipziger Allerlei (admittedly not one of my favourite German specialties); a bottle of the local caraway seed schnapps, Allasch (worth seeking out if you’re in Leipzig); and, of course, Gose. Why else, pray tell, would we have come to Leipzig in the first place, except, perhaps, to hear organists and choirs perform pieces composed by some guy named Bach?
That first Gose we had with dinner on the terrace of the Bayrischer Bahnhof was reminiscent of a Witbier, but sour-tart and like a crisp sea breeze.
Gose’s saline quality makes it rare among beer styles. Even so, it’s a quality that requires a delicate hand: the salt should only remind you of its presence rather than dominate the flavour profile. As Michael Jackson once put it, the salt should contribute a refreshing tang just as it does in Lassi.
A moderately hazy beer, Gose can range in colour from pale straw-yellow to orange-yellow. Gose develops an elegant and dense cap of off-white foam when poured into its traditional narrow cylindrical drinking vessel. Bright coriander reminiscent of a Belgian Witbier contributes to the aroma profile, along with a citrusy-sour character evocative of sourdough bread. A complex array of green apple, stone fruit, champagne yeast, and, of course, that mineral-like and tingly hint of the sea rounds out the scents and flavours characteristic of this effervescent beer. The finish is refreshing, dry, herbal, and tart, but not mouth-puckeringly so, with acidity balancing the malt in place of any discernible hop character.
Leipzigers usually take their Gose straight, but like their Berliner Weisse-drinking compatriots to the north, they are not averse to cutting the tartness and acidity of their beer with a shot of raspberry syrup (Himbeer) or the green essence of woodruff (Waldmeister). On occasion, a shot of the local caraway liqueur, Allasch, makes it into the glass. Mix this into your Gose and you have a beer drink called a Regenschirm (umbrella).
Somewhat counterintuitively for such a vibrant and refreshing beer, Gose is also a candidate for aging. Michael Jackson mentions a turn-of-the-(twentieth)-century book that, in addition to listing original gravities for Gose between 1036 and 1056, makes reference to young and old versions of the beer. Garrett Oliver provides another indication of Gose’s aging potential, noting apropos of the similarly sour Berliner Weisse that “after months or even years of aging, [Berliner Weisse] emerges with a floral lemony fruitiness and fine, knifelike acidity” (Oliver, 99). Two vintages of Oklahoma’s Choc Gose in my recent Gose tasting session (see the next article in the series) lend further weight to the case for aging this beer in order to develop some of its secondary yeast characteristics.
Gose with Food
As far as food pairings go, Gose’s refreshing acidity, spice, and mild salinity extend the range of possibilities in the direction of dishes that also go well with Berliner Weisse, Gueuze, and Witbier. Try Gose with grilled halibut, or with any fish served in a citrus beurre blanc. Gose’s inherent tartness cuts the richness of a Hollandaise or Bearnaise sauce at the same time that its dash of salt complements the eggs and butter in these sauces. Gose would also make an excellent accompaniment to moules frites; better yet, add the beer to the braising pot in place of wine. With its coriander notes, Gose pairs seamlessly with ceviche.
And it goes without saying that Gose has enough acidity to pare down even the heaviest of German meat and potato dishes. But not all German food is as heavy as Eisbein. Back in Leipzig, we had the perfect marriage of northern German cuisine and local beer at the Bayrischer Bahnhof: pickled herring (Matjesfilets) with onions in a cream sauce––a sublime food-and-beer pairing if ever there were one.
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Gose is low in alcohol (typically around 4% ABV), and is eminently thirst-quenching. If you haven’t yet tasted any of this sour wheat beer with its coriander spiciness and traces of mineral salinity, get ye to a bottle shop before the shadows start to lengthen on summer. Related Tempest articles:
Gose: A Beer Worth Its Salt (on the history and revitalization of the style)
Michael Jackson, “Salty Trail of Germany’s Link with Wild Beer” (2000: originally published in What’s Brewing [October 1, 1996]).
The German Beer Institute, “Gose” (2004).
BJCP, “2014 BJCP Style Guidelines Draft” (2014).
Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster’s Table (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).
Gose bottle and glass: www.gosenschenke.de
Stained window, Thomaskirche: F.D. Hofer
Glass of Gose: www.bayrischer-bahnhof.de
Leipziger Allasch: www.bayrischer-bahnhof.ed
Matjesfilet: F.D. Hofer
Visual pun on Berlin’s Ampelmann at a Leipzig café: F.D. Hofer
© 2014 Franz D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.