Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why Is Gose Suddenly the Hottest Style in Craft Beer?

Watching trends can be disorientingly weird when you're deep on the inside of them. Craft beer is now so many levels down the "hyper-niche" rabbit hole that we can have little explosions of importance within the community that are, I would guess, pretty much invisible to the outside world.

Any niche hobby or interest works this way, of course. What can seem entirely played-out to us, the weirdo beer nerd (or weirdo nerd of whatever interest), is still barely scratching the surface of general public awareness. Remember when, once upon a time, there was pretty much one main huge trend in craft beer: IPA? And IPA created enough buzz in the world at large that soon even outsiders had at least heard of the stuff, even if they hated them. Maybe they couldn't tell you what an IPA was, specifically, or what made it so, but lots of people, all over, had heard the term a bunch. But now we're pretty far into this whole craft beer thing, and within a niche, trends become fractal, smaller, more honed in on their audience, and practically invisible to the world at large. Does a random bar-goer with only a passing interest in beer know what an IPA is? They can probably lay down a reasonably-accurate definition. Could they tell you about gose? I'm guessing not. And yet gose has seen such a surge in this world, it's easy to look at yet another brewery producing yet another gose and think: "Great, just ride that bandwagon like you're in Fast & the Furious." Hell, the New York Times just did a piece on gose. It's out there, even if it's only out there as "this is a niche thing for beer nerds."

Modern beer strikes me as a lot like music, in some of the ways it flows culturally. (I maintain that arguing about who's really 'craft'' is the new arguing about who's really 'punk'). Something almost has to get played out to the point of craziness within its original circles before the outside world even hears about it. As someone who listens to indie-folk, you have to be really, really sick of Of Monsters & Men before your mom calls you up and asks if you've heard about this new band and their novel "hey! ho!" vocals.

So now we're in this peculiar situation where lots of breweries are turning out gose, to the point where it may seem to us that every brewery is suddenly making one, but most people will have no idea what this hot new style of gose is (or how to even pronounce gose). Overnight, we're going from hardly any options (when I first heard about the style four years ago, I could only manage to track down one example at all) to, now, I don't know, a reasonable number of options. I'm not alone in noticing this, of course: I've seen Ed Coffey call summer 2015 the "Summer of Gose", and Bart Watson over at the Brewer's Association called out the style's explosive surge in a recent article analyzing "The Next IPA," which we seem to be searching eternally for.

This is where the education side of the industry comes in. Sometimes, we're going to blow things up real fast and have to help the general public catch up to what we're doing. Gose seems to have happened quicker than most. Still, despite a few vocal online haters of gose, I don't think it's any great mystery as to why the style has seen such an upswing.

What is gose? It's a tart wheat beer from German similar to Berliner Weisse, which experienced the same popularity upswing here a few years earlier. Why did Berliner Weisse get suddenly popular? Because sour is so hot right now, there's a huge demand for such beers, but unlike other sour styles, Berliner Weisse can be made quickly, in a standard production timeline. It gives the consumer what they want within the boundaries of what most normal breweries can fulfill. Gose does all those same things, but gose has one major difference from Berliner Weisse, being brewed with salt. That may seem a very slight difference if everything else were the same, but it turns out to be a pretty big difference in flavor. (Some also include coriander in their gose, but I personally don't consider this addition to be integral to the style, and usually leave it out. I'll have to defer to a beer historian like Ron Pattinson to settle how historically ubiquitous this tactic was).

And I wonder if gose isn't just somewhat attention-grabbing in its uniqueness, helping to bounce it up the Styles of Interest list faster than usual. What other beers are brewed with salt, anyway? Historically, this was done simply because the water of Goslar, Germany, where the style originated, was especially saline. Lots of historic styles derive their personality from the water they were brewed with — how that town's water supply inspired or mandated a certain direction of the beer — but gose is more overt than most. A softness of the water in Pilsen doesn't really scream for attention, and drinkers might enjoy the balance and roast of a Guinness without having any clue as to how and why water chemistry made those beers work. But add enough salt to a beer's brewing liquid, and you'll taste it, and know what you're tasting. Gose makes a great case for how one simple addition can really set the shape of a beer into something new and different.

Some may recoil at the thought of putting salt in something that's already sour and kind of funky — people that don't like gose complain that it's like drinking sweat, but I would argue that if you've ever drank sweat, you have bad taste and do not deserve gose. Adding salt to beer makes sense, if you think about it; salt is a flavor enhancer. Much of water treatment, to me, is about bringing forth the brightest and most expressive flavors in a beer, allowing you to take a very simple recipe and light-footed beer, and accentuate its most interesting, nuanced qualities. Gose goes a little further, dialing up the salt to a level where you're actually aware of its presence. That's fairly unique, but still: salt is a flavor enhancer. (It's also a preservative, which, interestingly to me, makes gose perhaps the closest beer style to lacto-vegetable ferments). So not only does it highlight all the nuanced flavors of a simple sour beer, but it adds its own unique dimension, a new quality of flavor. It's refreshing. It makes you salivate. It makes a less complicated beer a bit more complex.

And it makes for a great foundation for many other flavors, as salt and acidity naturally do. Fruit is even better in a gose than in a Berliner Weisse, though both of course work well to draw out the succulent refreshing qualities of the juice. Or throw some zest in there. Or how about dry-hops? Aromatic hops are great over a sour, but why spend all that time aging some mixed-culture sour in a barrel, only to spike it with an ingredient that's best consumed fresh? Dry-hops add a great deal of complexity to a simpler sour character, and from a brewer's perspective, can be turned around almost as if it were any other hoppy beer. Hence why Alternate World, Kent Fall's dry-hopped gose, is able to be one of our core beers.

Gose gets you sour. It's culinary, it's got unique dimensions, it's versatile, it's pairable. I would guess that IPAs are so popular because so many harmonious, distinct flavors can be extracted from hops without drastically changing the foundation of the beer. IPAs can be highly refreshing (depending on the take) and juicy while offering significant variety. Gose offers that same foundation: an accessible, affordable foundation for the sour beer craze. As experimenters, we love sturdy foundations with which to start. We love beers that refresh in their simplicity. That is why we love gose.


  1. Gose comes from the city of Goslar originally. Any salinity in the water doesn't come from the ocean. Goslar is 150 miles from the sea.

    I'd say coriander is an essential element of the style.

    1. Ah, thank you for the corrections. Much appreciated. Wrote this post running on way too little sleep.

  2. Derek,

    Just got two more bottles of the Shower Beer wife really enjoys those as do I. Can't wait to try the next Gose.


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