Guest post from Lost Lagers attorney Josh Hubner
“Would you like to try my gose?”
José held out a small tasting glass of a straw-colored, hazy beer. We were gathered around a table in the back of a dimly lit Miami bar, about an hour into a monthly get together hosted by the local hombrewers club, the Miami Area Society of Homebrewers (M.A.S.H., founded in 1995).
“Yeah, absolutely. Tell me about it,” I replied, taking the glass and bringing it to my nose for a whiff. “Whoa.”
“I made it with ocean water,” he said. “Really?” “Yeah man, I was at the beach the other day and filled up two carboys before I left.” I took a sip, and after the initial shock of drinking saltwater subsided, I noticed that while pungent, it was actually flavorful, with a rounded mouthfeel, and even somewhat balanced tartness. Extreme, yes, but not bad either.
“Wait, you brewed this entirely with ocean water?” I replied, dumbfounded. “Yup, pretty nuts right?” While unlike anything I’d ever tasted before, it couldn’t have been unlike any gose ever brewed before. In fact, it had all the characteristics that we’ve learned to expect: salt, sour, and herbal, with a wheat dominant grain character.
So why was I so surprised? First off, it was unexpected. I’ve seen commercial examples of gose all over the U.S., made with watermelon, guava, or mango. So the concept of non-traditional ingredients is nothing new. And I was in Miami, where the traditional “rules” of beer styles and ingredients never made it past Customs. But saltwater in a beer? That was truly unexpected, even here.
This beer was definitely not Reinheitsgebot.
But then again, neither is gose.
The origins of the style are murky, and likely have layers of convergent influences. A bottle of the Original Ritterguts Gose, a “sour German beer brewed with salt and spice,” states that it is “a Leipzig tradition since 1738.” In Randy Mosher’s, Radical Brewing, and in Tasting Beer, we know that the style originated in East Germany, in its namesake city of Goslar, 120 miles west of Leipzig. And was available in those cities, as well as in Jena, roughly 65 miles south of Leipzig. The Goslar Brewery was established along the Abzucht river (the Gose river is a tributary) in 995 and brews a helles gose and a dunkel gose, each weighing in at 4.9% ABV. Though it’s unknown when the beer brewed in Gose became the gose we recognize today.
So we have the name, and geographic region, but that doesn’t explain the coriander or the salt.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum var. microcarpum, var. vulgare) is a member of the carrot family, the plant itself is called cilantro, and used in cooking. The seeds, also used in cooking, are commonly used in gin distillation, in Belgian witbier1) Stewart, Amy. “The Drunken Botanist” p.156., and of course in gose.
Knowing that Belgium and the Low Countries were on-again, off-again, parts of the German empire throughout the first two thousand years, A.D., it makes sense that coriander would make it’s way into German brewing. Witbier from Belgium and genever from the Netherlands use coriander seed as an essential ingredient. But digging a little further provides additional insight.
The seeds of the coriander plant, unlike the pungent leaves, contain high levels of the monoterpene alcohols linalool and geraniol. If these compounds sound familiar, it is because linalool and geraniol are two essential oils commonly found in hops, and considered to be important factors in hop-derived beer flavor. Linalool (floral, spice) and geraniol (rose, citronella) occur in high concentrations in both Citra and Cascade hops, among others, and geraniol is a precursor to β-citronellol (lemon, lime) production in boiling wort2)Takoi, K., et al, “The Contribution of Geraniol Metabolism to the Citrus Flavor of Beer: Synergy of Geraniol and β-citronellol Under Coexistence with Excess Linalool.” The Institute of Brewing & Distilling, 2010.. So whether they knew it or not, these northeastern German brewers were “hopping” their tart, salty, wheat beers by adding coriander seeds to the kettle. It tastes pretty good too.
Salt (NaCl) is not uncommon as a beer ingredient, albeit generally a passive one; all groundwater contains ions of sodium and chloride. Additionally, adding salt to a beer as a water treatment, is a legitimate practice to increase mouthfeel 3)Mosher, Randy. “Radical Brewing” p.55. and to decrease the perception of bitterness, and water hardness. And while the taste threshold for saltiness varies from person to person, the generally recognized threshold for sodium chloride is 200-300ppm (mg/L), meaning it would not add saltiness below that level, and would add saltiness above that level. One well-researched homebrew recipe for gose calls for an addition of salt at 735ppm (14g in a 5 gal. batch) for a gose reminiscent of Bayerischer Banhof in Leipzig, and suggests doubling that amount to replicate U.S. craft brewed examples.
It is quite possible then, that the groundwater around Goslar, Leipzig, and Jena was traditionally quite hard, requiring salt additions to round out the harshness and to make for a palatable beer. We’ll need to look into that. But common experience tells us that we develop taste tolerance to salt over time – the more (or less) you use, the more (or less) you need to use. I haven’t seen any consistent explanation as to why gose beer became synonymous with salty, but it’s surely possible that it evolved over time, first as a treatment for hard water, then later for flavoring as tastes adapted to the salt.
Which brings us back to the saltwater gose. One of the great things about brewing in Miami, is that there is no real limit to what should – or shouldn’t – go into a beer. Miami, as a microcosm of the resurgence of the style in the US, where one can extrapolate that more gose is produced than anywhere else in the world, is the perfect setting for a gose brewed with water from the Atlantic. And why not? Where is it written that your salt has to come from a shaker?
Being too quick to judge this homebrewed gose would be just as foolish as a Bavarian scoffing at the beer poured two hundred years ago in Leipzig. Salt and coriander in a soured hefeweizen, flaunting the Reinheitsgebot? Blasphemy!
But there is something about a gose that makes it the perfect summer beer, and maybe that’s why it’s found a foothold here in the U.S. It is simultaneously tart, refreshing, light, and – hopefully – just a tad bit salty. Add some fruit to the mix, as is common among craft brewers, and also traditionally (mit schuss, as is also common with Berliner Weisse), and you have the perfect beer for a hot, sunny day.
About two weeks after I tried the saltwater gose, I was back at the same Miami bar, Boxelder Craft Beer Market. This time sitting outside at a picnic table on a typically hot and sunny October afternoon.
The featured bottle of the day: The Original Ritterguts Gose, brewed from the traditional recipe, dating back hundreds of years. So of course I ordered a bottle. It poured almost identical to the homebrewed beer I sampled before; hazy and deep straw yellow. The taste, compared to the other, was subdued and delightful. Tart, refreshing, and just noticeably salty – a perfect accompaniment to the hot, sunny afternoon. My drinking companion took a sip too: “Oh, god, that’s gross! Why would you drink that?!?!?”
I probably should have warned her that it was not a hefeweizen, but I was too late. In responding to the rhetorical question though, I drink gose from time to time because it is unique among beers and quite complex, while still being light and refreshing. No two are alike, and new varieties are popping up seemingly everywhere.
It’s somehow fitting for an antiquated style from northeastern Germany, almost lost to history, to now be emblematic of the diverse and creative American Craft Beer market. And even though everything under the sun had been done a thousand times over, there’s a lot of life left in old styles, and more still to uncover.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Stewart, Amy. “The Drunken Botanist” p.156.|
|2.||↑||Takoi, K., et al, “The Contribution of Geraniol Metabolism to the Citrus Flavor of Beer: Synergy of Geraniol and β-citronellol Under Coexistence with Excess Linalool.” The Institute of Brewing & Distilling, 2010.|
|3.||↑||Mosher, Randy. “Radical Brewing” p.55.|