There are few things more thrilling for a seasoned Alehead than discovering a wholly new flavor profile. I still remember the joy of drinking my first Tripel (a Westmalle) forever ago. My first encounter with a true sour beer was a Monk’s Cafe in San Francisco and it was life-changing.*
*My life isn’t terribly interesting, so it doesn’t take much to change it. I’ve had life-changing cookies. And poops.
A couple of years back, I started noticing some white cans of Westbrook on the package store shelves labeled “Gose”. I kept passing them by because I mistakenly thought it was just Westbrook’s version of a standard summer ale. I saw the words “wheat” and “coriander” and my initial thought was “312 Urban Ale” or “Sam’s Summer”. Nothing wrong with a nice, light wheat beer in the sweltering summer months, but like most Aleheads, I prefer an IPA when the sun starts kicking my ass.
One weekend, I was tasked with procuring a variety of brews for a trip to the lake with my wife’s family. My goal was to purchase things that I would enjoy drinking, but that wouldn’t offend the palates of about 30 different people. So no Imperial Stouts or Double IPAs or Oud Bruins. I mostly stuck with things like Fat Tire, Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, and Ellie’s Brown. On a whim, I grabbed a six-pack of the Westbrook Gose, figuring it would be a bland, easy-drinking summer brew.
Well, I was right about the latter half of the statement. The Gose IS an easy-drinking, perfect, refreshing summer beer. But it is anything but bland. If I had bothered to read the label more carefully, I would have noted in large, bold letters, the words “Salty” and “Sour”. Those are not words you generally associate with what Doc once called the “Ubiquitous Summer Ale”.
My first thought upon sipping the Gose was that I was drinking alcoholic pickle juice. This is not a bad thing. It was tart, crisp, sour and salty. You know how Gatorade is supposed to “replace your electrolytes” after a workout even though it’s just garbage sugar water? The Gose actually tasted like it was replacing every drop of sweat that was exiting my body in the hot, summer sun. Professional athletes should chug Gose during games. They’d feel utterly refreshed and the booze would just make it more fun!
I absolutely loved this new flavor. It had been quite awhile since I tasted a beer so utterly different than what I was used to. So, like any good Alehead, I did a bit of research about this unusual brew…
Gose (pronounced “Goze-uh”) is a thousand-year-old beer style hailing from the Leipzig area of Germany (named after the river Gose which flows nearby). It’s made with at least 50% wheat malt and is unfiltered which gives it a characteristically hazy, yellow color (like a hefeweizen). All Goses are low-ABV (generally between 4-5%) so they’re full-on session beers (at least until American brewers start cranking out Imperial Goses…then all bets are off). There’s little in the way of hops with a Gose (though they are present), so the flavoring comes in the form of coriander seeds (which gives the beer a citric bite), lactic bacteria (giving it a sour tang), and the unusual addition of salt (which makes it, umm, salty). Beer historians believe the saline flavor in the beer was due to the salty mineral water that supplied the brewhouses in the region. Because of the addition of coriander to balance the brew, Gose violated the extremely restrictive German Beer Purity Laws (the Reinheitsgebot) which said that nothing but water, barley, hops, and later, yeast could be used to make beer. As such, the style faded in Germany and almost ceased to exist.
Thankfully, the Reinheitsgebot doesn’t have the same stranglehold on German beer that it did 500 years ago so Gose is starting to make a comeback. American brewers, always eager to try their hand at classic styles, have taken a shine to the strange brew and have started churning out absolutely sensational versions of the style. Many of these American versions use adjuncts (like Boulevard’s Hibiscus-flavored Gose). This is actually somewhat historically accurate since Gose, like Berliner Weiss, was often consumed with a sweet syrup (like raspberry or woodruff) to cut the sourness.
If you haven’t taken the Gose plunge yet, I would highly recommend it. It may sound like a novelty, but once you acclimate yourself to the strange flavor profile, there’s a good chance it’ll become one of your favorite styles. There is honestly nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold glass of Gose on a hot, summer day.
I’ll leave you with 5 great, American Goses to try if you have access to them. Enjoy!
1. Westbrook Gose: The first I ever had and still my favorite. The Westbrook doesn’t “dumb down” the classic sour, salty and tart Gose flavors. Those flavors hit you full force and you’ll be a better person for it. If you have a friend in your life who just can’t seem to connect with craft beer, take a risk and hand them a Westbrook Gose. You’d be surprised at how many people I’ve converted into Aleheads since this beer came along.
2. Boulevard Hibiscus Gose: The addition of the hibiscus flavoring makes the Boulevard Gose a little less overwhelming than the Westbrook version. It’s a bit sweeter and those jagged Gose edges are shaved down a bit. I prefer the Westbrook version personally, but if the salt and sourness are just too much, the Boulevard is sensational. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either.
3. Anderson Valley The Kimmie, The Yink and the Holy Gose: Certainly the winner for the best Gose name (even if it’s in the proprietary, weird “Boontling” language that Anderson Valley so cherishes). The Kimmie is more citrus-forward than the other two on the list, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. Uber-refreshing and lemon-centric, the Kimmie is a killer summer beer if a little less “Gose-y” than the other two.
4. Victory Kirsch Gose: As the name implies, Victory flavors their Gose with cherries which makes it quite unique and very tasty. The cherries overwhelm some of the more traditional Gose flavors so this one leans heavily towards the “tart” side of the equation, but some Aleheads may prefer that.
5. Sixpoint Jammer: A much more subtle version of the style, the Jammer amps up the wheat flavors over the salt, sour and tartness. While I prefer Goses that are the other way around, for those that find Gose a little “weird”, this may be the version that will win them over.
So get out there and grab a Gose! And let us know of any other great Goses you’d recommend, Alehead Nation…