Gose is a 1000-year-old, top-fermented beer style that is most closely associated with Leipzig, the capital city of Saxony, one of the German states in what used to be the so-called German Democratic Republic, the former East Germany. Saxony is the ancestral home of the Saxon tribe, a branch of which joined the Angles and the Jutes in the fifth century A.D. on a migration to Britain, where they largely displaced the resident Celts.
Gose takes its name from the river Gose, which flows through the town of Goslar in the state of Lower Saxony, about 100 miles west of Leipzig. Goslar rose to prominence in the 11th century not only as one of the wealthiest and most important copper, lead, zinc, salt, and silver mining towns in the German Empire, but also as a brewing center. It is known that even Emperor Otto III, who ruled Germany between 983 and 1002, sang the praises of Gose.
The city of Leipzig quickly became the Gose’s largest market. Certainly no later than 1738, it was brewed in Leipzig itself, as we know from the oldest preserved Gose license issued that year to an innkeeper named Giesecke by the Leipzig City Council. In fact, indigenous Gose brewing in Leipzig must have spread rapidly and undermined the economic viability of the Gose brewers who originated the style in Goslar. As a consequence of declining sales, in 1826 the City Council of Goslar eventually decided to abolish Gose brewing altogether and concentrate its brewing on more profitable styles of the region. In Leipzig, on the other hand, Gose had become the most popular beer by 1900, when there were more than 80 licensed Gose houses on record. This is why modern Gose has become identified more with the Saxon capital than with its city of origin. This is also cause for the popular name Leipziger Gose, which the style is often referred to these days.
On the palate, Gose comes across as an acidic mix between a Berliner Weisse and a Belgian lambic with one difference that makes it unique — Gose contains salt. It is likely that the original source of saltiness in Gose is the naturally saline water that comes out of some of the mineral-rich aquifers in and around Goslar. These aquifers were the sole suppliers of much of the brewing water for the old Goslar brew houses. We know that medieval alchemists had debated the health effects of “white salt crystals” from Goslar, which were then known by such names as vitriolum zinci Goslariense or blanc de Goslar. When these Goslar crystals were dissolved in water, the astringent and sour tincture that resulted was commonly known as “copper water.”
Though difficult to find in North America, Gose beer is still available in certain specialty shops, or via mail-order from Europe. The last time I had a Gose was in March 2004 in a half-liter bottle imported by B. United International Inc., of Redding, Connecticut. The brand I tried was the Gose Leipziger Spezialität brewed by the Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof of Leipzig, a craft brewery housed in Leipzig’s oldest and now converted railroad station.
After pouring, the brew developed a tall, slightly off-white, lacey head. The brew had a medium, pétillent effervescence and a medium mouthfeel. The nose of the Gose was mild and subdued, without the slightest hint of hops. The most notable characteristic of the aroma was a whiff of spicy coriander. On the palate, there was next to no upfront hop bitterness either, but the middle was dominated by an almost sour spiciness overlaid by a complex array of banana, green apple, dried apricot, zest and coriander. These tastes made the little bit of hops in the brew almost imperceptible. The finish was crisp, dry, almost mouth-puckering, yet very refreshing. The brew’s unique saline characteristics became more prominent the closer the brew got to the finish. There was no residual, malty sweetness at all, just saltiness. Although a delicious brew for those who prefer a little salt on the palate, this beer is obviously not recommended for people on a low-sodium diet.
Gose — A Victim of the Cold War
The division of Germany during the Cold War (since 1949) into a “workers’ and farmers’ paradise” in the Soviet East and a “revengist, bourgeois” in the Capitalist West caused their beers to wither. The Iron Curtain kept many traditional east European beer styles out of circulation.
In the 20th century, with its wars and dictatorships, Leipziger Gose slowly faded into oblivion. The air raids of the Second World War wreaked havoc and destruction on the brewing facilities, which the planned economy of the Communists proved incapable of rebuilding. In addition, food shortages that resulted from the forced collectivization of agriculture turned bread-making, not beer-making, into the almost sole purpose of the precious grains. Not surprisingly, all brewing suffered under the Communist regime and, by the late 1950s, the last Gose was brewed in Leipzig. After the wall came down on November 9, 1989, however, Gose experienced a renaissance, and many craft breweries in and around Leipzig are brewing it again. For these reasons, I call our recipe the Come-Back Gose. The Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof, the brewery that made the Gose that I tasted, was part of that revival. It opened its doors in 2000.
Different people have different tolerance levels for salt. Thus, when making Gose not with naturally saline water, as was the case originally in the brew’s birthplace of Goslar, but with tap water from your local water works, we must figure out how to salinify the brewing liquor. I suggest experimenting with carefully measured, small amounts of salt, perhaps in 1/4-teaspoon increments, dissolved in exactly one liter or one quart of lukewarm water (depending on whether you are a metric or non-metric homebrewer). For a more complex salt flavor, I recommend using mineral-rich sea or kosher salt rather than regular table salt — no matter what you use, it needs to be non-iodized. Taste the solution after each addition of salt. Remember, you want the salt to be noticeable, as in salted potatoes, but you do not want to brew with brine.
Once you have adjusted the salt to your liking, multiply the amount of salt at your subjective taste threshold by 19 (metric) or 20 (English). Scoop that calculated amount of salt into a measuring cup for use with your brewing. I found my tolerance limit to be at about 1/3 cup for 5 gallons (19 L). Your threshold may be higher or lower.
I consider this variable method of determining the size of the salt addition is justified because I believe that a beer’s subjective palatability is more important than its presumed objective authenticity, especially when you are brewing an ancient style that has a murky and indeterminate past.
The Gose grain bill is a mix of wheat and barley, usually at a ratio of 60/40. Like Hefeweizen, it is unfiltered, unpasteurized and bottle-conditioned. The color tends to be a dark pale to light amber. Gose, like Belgian wit, is only mildly hopped, but it is flavored with ground coriander seeds — a practice which made the beer run afoul of the German Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law) after reunification. Because of lobbying efforts by the Saxon state government, the Gose has since been granted the only exemption from the otherwise immutable Purity Law.
Originally, Gose, like lambic, was fermented spontaneously with both yeast and Lactobacillus. Today, Gose is pitched with pure brewers yeast (often Weissbier yeast), and the acidity usually stems from the injection of lactic bacteria in the fermenter. But there are also reports of brewers adding straight, biologically produced, lactic acid to the brew.
Homebrewers have a variety of methods they can employ to sour their Gose. One method is the liberal use in the mash of acidified malt. Perhaps the most readily available acidified malt in a homebrew shop is Weyermann acidulated malt, which contains about 1–2% lactic acid. It can lower mash, wort and beer pH. A 10% addition of this acidified malt to the grain bill reduces the pH-value by approximately 1 unit. Although this is quite sufficient for the degree of acidity needed in a Gose, this reduction in pH takes amylases way out of their optimal range. If you use acidulated malt, you may wish to stir it into the mash after conversion had taken place. (Keep in mind, though, that acidulated malt contains starch and — once the pH is low enough — this starch may not be converted. Acidulated malt adds not only lactic acid, but a well-rounded, complex flavor peculiar to that malt.
A second option is to add Lactobacillus to the fermenter and let the beer sour through the action of the bacteria. (See the October 2004 issue of BYO for how to sour a beer with lacitc acid.) Wyeast sells pure cultures of Lactobacillus delbrückii. The simplest method would be to add liquid, food-grade lactic acid (sold at homebrew shops) to the beer when you bottle or keg. This way, you can add the acid to taste. Obviously, you could also employ a mixed strategy. You could add a bit of acidulated malt to the mash (but not enough to drop the pH below 2.5) and also add some lactic acid bacteria after primary fermentation has finished. I have found that the juice of up to five lemons, strained off its pulp and pits and added to the primary fermenter, is a flavor-enhancing (though certainly not authentic!) way of supplying the beer with additional, mellow sourness.
Gose Brewing Peculiarities
For the exceptionally dry taste of Gose, use at least a two-hour single-infusion mash at 148–150 °F (64–66 °C). The longer the better. At this temperature, starches are converted mostly into fermentable sugars. The long diastatic rest is mostly a function of the large percentage of enzyme-poor wheat in the grain bill. Extending the mashing time hydrates the grain bed thoroughly and gives the barley enzymes extra opportunities to go to work on the wheat starches. Because of the large proportion of husk-poor wheat, and depending on the width-to-depth ratio of your grain bed, expect the runoff to be slower than normal. Because there is no pure Gose or acidified LME on the market, there is no extract-only recipe for Gose ale, only an all-grain and an extract-plus-
Gose is usually drunk straight in a cylindrical glass beer mug, but it may also be served, like Berliner Weisse, with a shot of raspberry or woodruff-flavored syrup. Because of the lack of residual sweetness and the strong salinity in the finish, the sugary
syrup clearly gives the beer a much smoother aftertaste.
In the last century, Gose was also often fortified with a shot of clear caraway schnapps, a custom that has since fallen out of favor. Fortifying a pint (about half a liter) of Gose with a shot of modern aquavit, for instance, turns the beer into a splendid drink for washing down assertively-flavored foods. Try it with seafood, for instance, such as a filet of blue fish, a morsel of smoked salmon, or a plate of oysters on the half-shell.
Horst Dornbusch is the author of “Prost! The Story of German Beers,” and BYO’s Style Profile column.