If you live in the northern hemisphere or in climes where summer and winter are abstract concepts, it’s still warm enough to pick up one of this season’s hottest beer commodities. In the amount of time it usually takes to down a Maß of Märzen in Munich, our style of the summer has streaked across the sky like a shooting star to claim a place on the calendar of North American seasonal beer releases. Many a craft beer geek who might but a year or so ago have mistaken Gose for a Belgian beer blended from young and old lambics now waxes poetic about its bracingly refreshing tartness.
But it hasn’t always been that way for our salty stalwart, even if the ever-intrepid homebrewer has been onto the style long enough for the BJCP to take notice. Gose now sits alongside other rejuvenated or rediscovered historical styles like Berliner Weisse and Grätzer. (Fearless prediction: The refreshing smoked wheat beer known alternately as Grätzer or Piwo Grodziskie will be next summer’s thirst quencher of choice. You heard it here.)
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Nearly two decades have passed since famed beer hunter, Michael Jackson, attempted to introduce the English-speaking world to this sour wheat beer that had only just reemerged from obscurity in the city with which it is most closely associated. That city is Leipzig, where one Johann Sebastian Bach served as Cantor of the Church of St. Thomas until his death. Bach’s legacy has never waned in Leipzig. Not so for the fortunes of our summer seasonal, which declined with the rise of lager in the late nineteenth century, and suffered a further blow when many of Germany’s cities were reduced to rubble in the middle of the twentieth. The postwar division of Germany didn’t help matters much either.
Even if Gose is closely associated with Leipzig today, it is named for a town and region in the Harz Mountains that pioneered the style nearly a millennium ago. In fact, the beer did not arrive in Leipzig from Goslar until the early eighteenth century.
Gose takes its name from the river that flows through Goslar. In the Middle Ages, Goslar was known as much for its brewing prowess as it was for the rich deposits of silver ore and other mineral resources buried deep in the nearby mountains. Brewers drew their water from this river that flowed through the center of town, giving rise to the latter-day speculation that the mineral-rich acquifiers in the vicinity of Goslar contributed a signature saline quality to the finished beer.
Once a prosperous Hanseatic town, Goslar’s economic influence began to wane with the loss of the Rammelsberg mines to the Duchy of Brandenburg, precipitating the migration of Gose to Leipzig.
By the time the first recorded license to brew this refreshing thirst-quencher was issued in 1738, Leipzig was a vibrant legal and publishing center. With its renowned university, the city proved to be fertile ground for the spread of the beer’s popularity. So beloved was Gose that some eighty-odd Gose cafés and taverns dotted Leipzig at the turn of the twentieth century. One such Gosenschänke was the fabled Ohne Bedenken, which opened its doors in 1899. The destruction wrought upon Leipzig during the air war of WWII destroyed much of the city’s brewing capacity. During the postwar years of German division, the flow of Leipzig’s once widely-consumed beer slowed to a trickle. It wasn’t until some three years before the Berlin Wall came down that the style began to enjoy a very modest renaissance.
At the center of this revival was the Ohne Bedenken. Since its postwar closure in 1958, the site had served as a library, an X-ray clinic, and even as the meeting point for the National Front of the German Democratic Republic:––all this before Lothar Goldhahn was granted official permission to restore the Ohne Bedenken to its former function as a public house. When Michael Jackson acquainted himself with Gose a few years after the fall of the Wall, he did so at the Ohne Bedenken.
And what of the name of this institution? Apparently a patron asked one of the original servers at the tavern whether this swill was even drinkable, to which the server replied: “Ohne Bedenken.” Without doubt and without even the slightest reservation.
When I arrived in Leipzig in 2009, the Bayrischer Bahnhof had long-since joined the Ohne Bedenken as one of the premier spots to drink Leipzig’s rejuvenated beer style. After my first taste at the Bayrischer Bahnhof, I must say that I concur wholeheartedly about the eminent drinkability of this crisp and refreshing style, ohne Bedenken.Odds and Ends:
Bottles: Back in the day, our Leipziger beer arrived at student cafés and taverns in a cask before being transferred into bottles that resembled the flatly bulbous flasks of Franconian wine. The slender eight-inch neck would then clog with enough foam and residue from the still vigourously-fermenting yeast to stopper the bottle and carbonate the beer.
Toasts: In place of the traditional German toast (Prost! or Zum Wohl!), the Leipzigers have another: Goseanna!
Worth Many a Goseanna:
Leipzig played a central role in the toppling of the communist dictatorship that ruled the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) between 1949 and 1990. During the communist era in East Germany, the church was the only institution that remained beyond the control of the communist authorities. Its status made the church the focal point of the intertwining peace movement and ecological movement. The Church of St. Nicholas (Nikolaikirche) in Leipzig began holding prayers for peace in 1982, demanding both a peaceful resolution to the Cold War and––more ominously for the regime––respect for human rights.
On Monday, September 4, 1989, some 1200 anti-regime protesters gathered on the square in front of St. Nicholas after a prayer meeting. At first, the Stasi tried violence to suppress what quickly became weekly “Monday demonstrations,” but to no avail. The defiant crowds soon forced the resignation of the long-ruling hardliner, Erich Honecker, and set in motion a chain of events that would culminate in the toppling of the Berlin Wall.
Related Tempest articles:
Sources and Recommended Reading:
Michael Jackson, “Going for Gose” (2000).
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).
On Leipzig and 1989, see the informative website, German History in Documents and Images.
Still Life with Geuze: F.D. Hofer
Bach in Leipzig: F.D. Hofer
Old Town of Goslar: Y. Shishido (Wiki Commons)
Cajeri’s Gosenstube “Ohne Bedenken”: Ohne Bedenken website (www.gosenschenke.de)
Ohne Bedenken, Leipzig: Ohne Bedenken website (www.gosenschenke.de)
F.D. Hofer (par lui-même)
Antique Gose Bottle, Moulded Glass: © Foto H.-P. Haack (Wiki Commons)
© 2014 Franz D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.