Written by Leah Kitagawa
A while back I was doing research for an article on the history of Reinheitsgebot and wondered how gose, a beer seemingly in violation of so many purity laws, has managed to survive over time. Well, it turns out there’s a pretty great story behind this ancient brew.
What is a Gose?
A gose, pronounced go-suh, is a top-fermented German wheat beer soured through lactic fermentation and flavoured with coriander and salt. The sourness and salinity should be noticeable but not overwhelming, as a gose should have a lively thirst-quenching acidity. Hops work in the background to provide a hint of bitterness without contributing to the overall flavour.
According to beer blogger Lars Marius Garshol, gose was first documented in 1470 but he believes the style is likely much older. Some beer experts speculate that this beer style has actually existed for over 1000 years.
The origin of gose is tied to Goslar, a town in Eastern Germany named for the Goslar River flowing through it. Although it’s unclear whether the beer was named for the town or the river, its roots are inextricably tied to the river and its natural salinity.
Originally gose was spontaneously fermented with naturally-occurring yeasts and delivered to local taverns in casks. As the initial fermentation started to slow, the beer was transferred into the traditional long-necked bottles. Secondary fermentation pushed yeast into the long neck where a natural yeast cork formed, indicating it was ready to drink.
It wasn’t until 1738 when Goslar’s brewers discovered a larger market in nearby cities of Leipzig and Halle, that gose got its foothold in the beer industry. Goslar’s gose production couldn’t keep up with its rise in popularity, and the Leipziger Gose was born as a result. Leipzigers could not get enough of this tasty brew and by the 19th century, the city was home to over 80 Gose taverns. In the 1880s, brewers abandoned the spontaneous fermentation process, and found they could achieve similar results using cultured, top-fermenting yeast and lactic acid bacteria.
The Rise of Lagers
During World War II, the production of gose along with many other German beers ceased for a multitude of reasons, including rationing resources and increased taxation. As breweries reopened after the war, lagers which could be stored and transported much more easily, started taking the place of local top-fermenting wheat beers. Gose enjoyed a brief renaissance in 1949, but it died out again in 1966.
Revival of Gose
Gose was resurrected again in 1986 when Lothar Goldhahn purchased of one of Leipzig’s most famous Gose taverns, in hopes of reviving the historical style. Interest in the Leipziger gose beer began to grow in the late 1990s and has gained international attention in more recent years.
What about the Purity Laws?
German purity laws have been modified several times since the now famous 1516 Bavarian purity laws were introduced. In 1993 beer laws were amended allowing brewers to use other malted grains such as wheat in their beer. Although coriander is not permitted in German brews, gose gets an exemption on the basis of being a regional specialty and because it predates the original purity laws.
Over the past several years gose has gained popularity particularly in North America, where the style continues to change and evolve. If you’re looking for a light-bodied, tart and refreshing beer, this may just be the brew for you.