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Gose: A rare beer worth its salt

One recent beer trend I've noticed is an emphasis on specific regional styles. American brewers are releasing lambics and saisons as part of their standard lineup, single-hop beers are common (showcasing a varietal's regional characteristics) and previously scarce styles like rauchbier and berliner weisse are enjoying unprecedented popularity.

Sometimes, this can lead to a resurgence of a style that had been all but forgotten. One such style is Gose ("GOES-uh"), a 1,000-year old style of wheat beer originating from Goslar, Germany, that, up until a few years ago, was all but impossible to get outside of the Leipzig area. My introduction to Gose occurred with an article in a homebrewing magazine.

In the piece, Gose is described as a "salty" beer, something I couldn't even imagine at the time. Originally, this was due to the high salinity of the local water sources, but today salt is added to the brewing water to reproduce the traditional flavor of Gose. In addition to a malt bill consisting of at least 50 percent malted wheat, Gose is also flavored with coriander — think Witbier, but with salt added instead of orange peel!

Like Berliner Weisse, another highly regional wheat beer from Germany, Gose beers are often somewhat sour. Originally, Gose was spontaneously fermented, so modern reproductions of the style include an addition of lactobacillus to recreate the desired effect.

Surprisingly, the characteristics of modern Gose are the result of a simple Q&A between a German pub owner Lothar Goldhahn and his patrons. The original recipe was lost in 1966 when Guido Pfister — the sole possessor of the "secret" to making Gose — died, leaving the style extinct for nearly 20 years. Goldhahn used advice based on the recollection of his patrons who had enjoyed Gose in the past to authentically recreate the style. But demand was low, and Gose disappeared again in the late '80s.

My quest for Gose eventually paid off with a bottle of Gose Leipziger Spezialität from Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Banhof, a small Leipzig brewery that began brewing the style again in the early 2000s.

To this day, I can't remember where I ended up finding this beer, but the bottle still sits in my collection of rare and interesting empties. I continued hearing the name Gose in the years to follow, but it wasn't until earlier this year that I started actually seeing it on tap lists.

At Cajun Café on the Bayou's recent sour festival in Pinellas Park, Gose was surprisingly prominent. Rapp Brewery, slated to open later this year in Seminole, brews Gose as part of its standard lineup, and a lime-flavored version called Gose Rita was also on tap at the festival. Both were pleasantly tart, with a noticeably salty finish. Fellow Pinellas brewer Nelson Crowle was also pouring his Gose at the Dunedin Brewer's Guild tent. Of all the Gose I tried at the festival, his was the most balanced and traditional-tasting, with subtle salt and acidic undertones and a nice nutty finish.

There are also a few examples available commercially, such as Widmer's Marionberry Hibiscus Gose, which I recently tried on tap at Datz in Tampa. Widmer gives their Gose an unusual twist by adding tart Oregon marionberries and dried hibiscus flowers, giving the beer an interesting pink-red color, a very floral nose, and a light residual sweetness to balance its mild salinity.

My favorite, however, has to be Verlorn, one of the new releases on Sam Adam's Small Batch Series. "Verlorn" means "lost" in German, which is quite a fitting name This one is very subtle and nuanced, with the salt and lactic acid lingering in the background of a crisp, refreshing wheat beer. This could well be my new go-to summer beer. The Small Batch beers are supposed to be limited releases, so it may be wise to grab a bottle or two while they're still easily found on local beer store shelves.

Gose is a forgotten style no more. You can enjoy it right here in the bay area, on tap at select tap rooms, and in bottles on the shelves of nearly every craft beer retailer in town. Over the course of its singular history, Gose has disappeared from the face of the Earth twice, only to be revived years later. With the current focus on niche regional styles, it may just stick around for good this time.

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Gose: A rare beer worth its salt 08/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012 4:30am]
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