Berliner, Lacto and the resurrection of the Holy Gose,
or why American brewers are fascinated with Berliner-Weisse and Gose and it might mean destruction.
Will the rise of Berliner-Weisse and salted Gose beer be the death of Craft Beer as some have been predicting and what is behind it’s huge upswing in popularity? With this weekends Sour Solstice Berliner-Weisse and Gose Festival it’s an appropriate time to discuss the rise of German-style lactic beer in the U.S. and if it marks the beginning of the end for American micro brewing as Joe Keohane writing for Thrillist declared earlier this year.
Both Berliner-Weisse and Gose hail from Germany, both brewed with wheat, both tart and low alcohol. In 2009 Oregon craft brewers began to discover the lost style of “Gose” when the imported Leipziger Gose from Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof (Gose Brewery Bavarian Station) started to become available. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware had already introduced a slightly similar forgotten style called Berliner-Weisse with their own take called “Festina Peche” by early 2007. By now most readers probably have heard the story of Gose, created in Goslar, Germany the style was adopted and popularized 100 miles down the road in Leipzig and eventually died out in World War II under the thumb of communism and declining popularity. Bayerischer Bahnhof helped resurrect the style and introduce it back into the world where American breweries have embraced it as warmly as Leipzig did in the early 1700’s. While the Thrillist article on Gose was keenly aware of it’s history the writer seemed to think salting beer was a new sign of the devil. While brewers now salt the modern day Gose’s the original versions saltiness was more likely a natural quality of the river Gose’s mineral-rich aquifers.
The resurgence of Gose probably owes as much to a similar upswing in American made Berliner-Weisse-styles that Dogfish Head helped pioneer with their “Festina Peche” that debuted in 2007. In Germany the Berlier-Weisse is brewed as a plain low alcohol and lightly tart wheat beer that is flavored in the glass with spoonfuls of syrup, usually Raspberry or Woodruff (a green herbal syrup that reminds me of marshmallow). Dogfish Head skipped the extra step of syrup and brewed the fruit directly into the beer by using an Peach juice concentrate. Not a traditional fruit flavor for Berliner’s the Peach does come with it’s own natural tartness and the added fermentation of the sugars make for a drier product that craft beer drinkers appreciate more. It’s what America is perhaps best at, taking other cultures best ideas and trying to make them our own. For me this was also an early example of an approachable sour beer and that fruit beers were not all sweet and cloying.
The same could be said for Gose, even more so than Berliner-Weisse as American brewers quickly amped up the low alcohol brews sourness almost immediately. A relic of Goslar, Germany the original Gose’s were wheat beers spiced with Coriander and likely got their saltiness and tartness naturally from the towns salty water and tartness from spontaneous fermentation of wild yeasts and bacteria or a sour mash. It’s unlikely but unknown that the ancient Gose’s were sour but more likely very lightly tart with a lemon quality from the Coriander. If you seek out the Bahnhoff Leipziger Gose you would find that calling it “sour” would be a stretch and while it is refreshing and delicious the salt and the coriander and extremely light body might be unrecognizable to what we now perceive as the style.
One of the earlier breweries in America to adopt the Gose was Portland’s Upright Brewing. The first edition was fermented with a saison yeast and used a partial (10% of the grain is left overnight in water to sour before brewing) sour mash to achieve the subtle tartness with a small addition of salt and Coriander added in the boil. It’s still probably one of the more accurate American versions but if you read the review sites they are peppered with comments on how it’s not sour enough. Even Upright has updated the recipe even after it won a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup, last year they introduced a version with White Truffles and recently has shifted to doing a kettle sour for just a slightly sharper twang.
Cascade Brewing was one of the first to start really adding their own mark upon the style with special versions brewed for each season from a winter one with cinnamon and nutmeg to another with Orange peel and Cranberry. All of Cascades Gose’s featured a fuller sourness and even the first more standard interpretation a strong saltiness.
While regular joes and trend focused Thrillist contributors seem to think craft brewers may have jumped the shark by adding salt to a beer its really nothing all that original or uncommon. Salting American lagers has been popular at least since the industrial area, so much so that there is an entire line of flavored “Beer Salt” that is still available. On the production side, brewers have been adding water salts to beers forever in an attempt to mimic the water quality in famous brewing towns like the famous Burton-on-Trent water named from the town it originates from in England. This towns well water comes from many layers of a stone riverbed of sand and rock that has deposited a rich mineral base that is reflected in the water supply and thus lending a flavor to their traditional English ales not well copied in America. A waters “soft” or “hard” quality directly impacts the flavors, how we perceive them and can accentuate or flatten flavors like hops or sourness. However from all the brewers I talked to about Gose, not one had thought to actually emulate the water from Goslar in any way but adding their own salt to it. This might say something about craft brewing’s punk rock charge ahead attitude than anything, more interested in resurrecting something old and making it trendy and “cool” again than recreating it. For instance brewers have lately taken to adding more than kosher or even sea salt to Gose’s but trying everything from expensive Jacobsen’s Sea Salt to smoked and truffled versions. The results vary from subtle salinity to overwhelming briny ocean water. When I asked Jeremy Danner, Ambassador Brewer at Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, MO what inspired them to make a Hibiscus Gose it was mostly because they were “already really excited about making a pink beer.” Which may be similar to what Victory Brewing was thinking when they launched their Kirsch Sour Cherry Gose in April of 2015 melding natural fruit sweet tartness with citrus and saline. Boulevard Brewing uses sea salt during the boiling process for their Hibiscus Gose which has gotten popular enough to go from an employee special to a special larger release and bottling to a beer they are considering for regular rotation.
Boulevard’s Jeremy Danner thinks there is a good reason why Gose is is becoming so popular with brewers: “Gose sits at the perfect intersection of two very popular trends in craft brewing right now: session beer and sour beer. Beer drinkers are seeking out beers that are lower ABV that can be enjoyed over a long period while American palates are almost craving beers with pronounced acidty. I think gose is a great base beer for brewers to add their own creative touches while still retaining and showcasing the hallmarks of the style. I think the best interpretations make use of ingredients that play into the tartness of the gose.“
I think that our recent fascination with session style beers isn’t as popular as people think though, this is evidenced by the increasing ABV of “session” beers once considered to be 4%ABV or less, than 4.5% and now easily up to 5% or more. When a true Gose would be in the low 3% range, Boulevard’s Gose is still pretty low at 4.2% and Victory’s slightly higher at 4.7%.
In Oregon the Gose style seems more popular than anywhere with current attempts like Goslar the Gozarian, Boysenberry infused Gose from Laurelwood and a Cocoa flavored brown Gose from Everybody’s Brewing across the gorge to Breakside Brewery’s Cucumber Gose. Recently Breakside teamed with Fat Head’s Brewing to make a Salted Plum Gose where they relied on only the natural saltiness of Japanese Umeboshi pickled plums added to the beer that added a significant saltiness. I, myself may be responsible for the strangest Gose of all when I came up with what I called the “BLT Gose” for my birthday a few years back and brewed it at Breakside. That weird take was based on the Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwich but in place of bacon used a block of sea salt we hand smoked all day with hickory, instead of lettuce we used fresh Lemongrass to get the “L” and also accentuate the lemony tartness and for tomatoes we pureed tons of canned green Tomatillos. Brewmaster Ben Edmunds at Breakside is still not convinced that Gose is the next big thing, pointing out that it does not yet have it’s own category at the Great American Beer Festival but does see the appeal obviously. “I think that many brewers view Gose as kind of a fun springboard for experimentation with lots of adjunct flavors because it shares some kinship with both Berliner weisse and Witbier, both of which are styles that lend themselves to fruit. Acidity and salt and fruit are a natural combo in part because it really helps the fruit pop more dramatically.”
Perhaps the most popular Gose’s of modern day has been brewed by Boonville, California based Anderson Valley Brewing Co. Known for the high local population of pot growers and their annual campout Boonville Beer Fest the Anderson Valley Brewery was not known for creative or trendy styles until new ownership has recently encouraged reinventing the wheel. Anderson Valley’s director of Marketing, Steinber Kimmie seemed equally attracted to what was trendy but also attempting to set themselves apart, “In today’s competitive environment many of us are searching for some fresh angles. We believe Gose provided an opportunity to introduce a “sessionable” beer that was not merely another IPA like many of the recent session beers.” When Anderson Valley introduced the oddly named “The Kimmie, The Yink, & The Holy Gose” they were optimistic it would do well based on feedback on test batches but still found this one-off can release had a “speed in which it took off was exciting and surprising.” In addition to the novelty of finding such a strange sour beer in 12oz cans the name of the beer must have added to the intrigue and it ties in well to the unique and slightly strange culture of Boonville, California where they have their own native “Boontling” dialect. In that strange native slang a “kimmie” is a man or father and a “yink” is a boy or son. “so The Kimmie, The Yink, and The Holy Gose is our playful take on a common phrase,” said Steinber Kimmie.
Anderson Valley’s “The Kimmie, The Yink, and The Holy Gose” was so popular it was followed up by the current seasonal offering of “Blood Orange Gose” perhaps an even better take on the style. Anderson Valley has kept the ABV low at 4.2% and used sea salt at the end of fermentation for a clean and mild salinity. Blood Orange puree is added midway through the beers fermentation, similar to Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche the point is to let the puree’s sugars ferment out a bit so the beer ends dry and crisp and less sweet. The bitter sweet-tart citrus plays terrifically off of the lemony tartness and the subtle saltiness leaves you wanting more. Anderson Valley’s success in Gose also may owe as big a debt to kettle souring than anything which lets a six pack of 12oz cans retail for a surprisingly affordable $10. In fact the Gose’s are so popular for Anderson Valley that they expect it to be their leading brand of beer by the end of 2015. I think we can put the impending craft beer armageddon on hold because like Jesus we already executed Gose ( perhaps for its sins against the Reinheitsgebot) and it has been resurrected after considerably longer than three days. The Holy Gose is risen and it only took a couple hundred years, how much longer until the Brewers Association recognizes the American-style Gose beer as a category?