An Ancient Beer Style Becomes a Summer Favorite

By Julie Johnson
Banner photo courtesy of Wicked Weed Brewing Co

At Sam’s Quik Stop in Durham, owner John Boy has monitored our changing beer tastes for over two decades, and built a great bottle shop by catering to them. But even he is surprised by a new favorite beer: an obscure sour German style flavored with coriander and salt.

Then, on reflection, he is less surprised. “It’s actually a great gateway beer, when you think about it,” he says. “It’s light and refreshing, but unusual. People will try it, and may feel like moving on to other craft styles.”

The style is called gose (pronounced GO-zuh), and it is one in a family of medieval wheat beers from Central Europe. Gose probably originated in the town of Goslar, where the salinity of the River Gose gave the beer a salty zing that remains a hallmark of the style. By the 18th century, gose came to be associated with the city of Leipzig. Its popularity dwindled in the last century, with the style disappearing completely a couple of times.

Anyone who monitors American craft brewing trends can guess what happened next. Our brewers have borrowed or resurrected one lesser-known European style after another (think porter, witbier, or kölsch), tweaking them to their own purposes. No sooner does a bemused beer writer quip, “What’ll they think of next – gose in a can?!” than it appears on the shelves.

What should you expect from a gose in the traditional mold? It is a hazy straw color in the glass, with a thin head indicating modest carbonation. Alcohol content is low, often lower than mainstream beers, suiting gose perfectly to summer drinking.

Wheat and barley are the base grains, with oatmeal added occasionally for a silky note. Historically, the tartness would have come from wild fermentation, which contributes a funkiness from the yeast Brettanomyces. Modern versions, however, rely on souring by another beastie, Lactobacillus (the bacteria used in yogurt), for a more controlled tartness minus the funk.

If this sounds like a stretch for your beer palate, consider the current interest in other so-called “sour” beers, as well as gose’s ancient cousins: witbier and lambic from Belgium, and Berliner weisse. And if a dose of coriander (the ground seeds, not the green leaves) in your brew seems strange, look no further than the huge popularity of Blue Moon, the Coors-produced Belgian-style witbier that is flavored with the same spice. Hop bitterness is absent: coriander provides the balance instead, with warm, lemony notes.

North Carolina brewers have been making traditional gose for a few years. Among the breweries unable to resist a pun is Southern Pines Brewing Company, with Off She Gose (a relatively strong 5.5%). This beer has a pucker-inducing sourness, accented by the addition of orange peel (also a staple in witbier).

That’s The Way It Gose from Four Saints Brewing Company in Asheboro is more restrained in every way, from its lean alcohol content of 3.0% to the lighter sourness that allows some wheaty sweetness to shine through. I’m not sure that the provenance or color of the salt (Himalayan, pink) adds much except trendiness, but I won’t quibble with the suggestion that this would be delicious with watermelon salad, fish, or German cuisine.

Steel String Brewery’s specific mention of Indian coriander in its Zupfen gose is, however, a relevant detail: the Indian variety is the more citrusy of the two coriander species, and brings a lemony brightness to the beer, mingling with a lightly salty note. A very refreshing 3.8% beer from the Carrboro brewery. Also on the shelves now is a Steel String special that would either blow German minds or appeal to a culinary tradition: Picklemania Dill Spice Gose, which has Zupfen as a base, with local dill and pickling spices, like peppercorn and allspice.

Although Preyer Brewery’s GSO-Zuh is of the classic salt-and-spice type, specialty versions illustrate the American inclination to tinker. The Greensboro company has released a dry-hopped gose, unusual in a style known for having no perceptible hop character; and Art of the Mango-Zuh, flavored with mangos, ginger and lemongrass.

Wicked Weed has mastered both soured beer and creative fruit additions, so this style is a natural for the Asheville brewery. Craft beer fans may have written off the company following its recent sale to Anheuser Busch, but those who haven’t can seek out Tropicmost Gose, flavored with passionfruit; and Pacificmost, with guava and mango.

Refreshing, tangy, lightly salty, fruit optional – doesn’t that sound like gose would be perfect by the pool?

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