The Ghost of Gose
On the hunt for the ghost of gose, I visited Leipzig, Germany last weekend.
The Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guidelines consider gose a “historical beer” – a definition encompassing styles that have either “all but died out in modern times, or that were much more popular in past times and are known only through recreations.”
Gose technically fits both parts of the definition – the style nearly died out completely when production ceased in 1966.
Although it has been revived, the examples available today are recreations and we may never know they’d compare with the original.
Hence why on my trip to Leipzig this weekend, I felt as if I was seeking out the spirit of the style – the ghost of gose past.
Gose takes it’s name from where it was first brewed – the town of Goslar, along the Gose River – back in the Middle Ages. The beer was brought to Leipzig in 1738 and its popularity proved immediate.
Gose had its heyday in Leipzig from 1880 to 1930. It’s said there were over 80 gose houses, or Gosenschenke, in Leipzig in 1900 and gose was the most consumed beer in the town.
Brewed with Pilsner and wheat malt, fermented with a symbiotic culture of top-fermenting ale yeast and lactic acid bacteria, Lactobacillus, and set-apart with the addition of sea salt and coriander seed, this style is slightly sour, full of flavor and incredibly refreshing.
Sadly, the increasing popularity of Pilsner-style beers and the turmoil in Germany in the 1930s and ‘40s proved to be too much for gose. After the end of the war, most gose breweries were closed.
The Döllnitz brewery, which had been producing their Ritterguts Gose since 1824, closed down in 1945. A few years later, a brewer in Leipzig obtained the Ritterguts recipe and attempted to revive production, but in 1966, his brewery was shuttered, too. At this point, gose production had ceased entirely.
It wasn’t until 1986 when gose was given another go; one of the original gose houses, Gosenschenke “Ohne Bedenken” (translating to “without concern”), was reopened. Founded in 1899, the gose house closed when “gose ran dry in the 1950s”. But upon reopening in the late ‘80s, it had to source the once-local Liepzig specialty from East Berlin and Bavaria.
It seemed this may have been the spark needed to bring gose back, however, as local production finally returned to Leipzig in 1999, with a revival of Ritterguts Gose, and in 2000, with the introduction of Leipziger Gose at the Bayerisher Bahnhof Gosebrauerei.
Even with the original Ritterguts recipe, ingredients, brewing equipment and production practices have changed over time, so we’ll never truly know how the revived Ritterguts Gose tastes compared to the original.
But in my opinion, a recreation in the spirit of the style is better than its loss.
While in Leipzig, I was able to taste both the revived Ritterguts Gose and Leipziger Gose on draught at Gosenscheke Ohne Bedenken, and what a treat it was.
Old tin signs for goses of old are tacked up what’s left of the walls above the dark wood paneling. The bar had a buzz about it on Saturday night, despite being tucked away in a rather residential neighborhood (but maybe that’s because it was getting a bit too chilly to sit out in the beer garden!)
Served in a branded, fluted glass, in the traditional 30 cl measure, Ritterguts Gose was golden in color with good clarity. It’s got a sharp sourness to it with a light, refreshing spritzy quality.
To tone down the tartness, gose is often served with a sweetening syrup (like raspberry or woodruff) or liqueur (caraway for the men and cherry for the women, I was told). Never one to be told what a women should or shouldn’t drink, I gave the caraway version a go and was pleasantly surprised. The sharp edge is blunted, yes, but the beer takes on a beautiful, spicy rye note that plays perfectly the brightness of the beer.
Although the same style, there were noticeable differences between the Ritterguts Gose and Leipziger Gose.
Leipziger Gose was cloudier in appearance and had much more coriander spice on the nose. It also seemed to have a fuller body and slightly higher salinity. Every sip really made my mouthwater and made me want to go back for more. If it’s a sharp sour note you’re after, however, go with the Ritterguts.
Serendipitously, the gose house Ohne Bedenken was due to launch their own house-brewed gose the day after my visit and I was able to try a taste. It seemed to sit right in between the other two versions, it had the cloudy appearance and fuller body of the Leipziger Gose with the sharpness of the Ritterguts.
We may never be able to visit the original breweries where gose was first brewed, but thanks to Gosenschekne Ohne Bedenken, the spirit of the style is alive and well in Leipzig.
If you visit, give each of the modern recreations a go and see which version of gose you’d go for. It may only be the ghost of gose past, but it’s certainly better than an empty glass.
Images by Natalya Watson (yes, my photography skills need some work!)