Friday 24 August 2007


I'm having a day off Franconia. Instead I'm going to talk about another of my obsessions: Gose. For years it was the beer style I most wanted to try. When I finally did get my hands on it, I wasn't disappointed.

What is Gose?
Leipziger Gose is one of the world's most obscure beer styles, an isolated remainder of northern Germany's pre-lager traditions. About the only similar beer still brewed in Germany is Berliner Weisse, though Gose seems to have at least as much in common with sour Belgian wheat beers.

It's a pale, top-fermenting wheat beer, flavoured with coriander and salt. There's a hefty lactic acid content and was probably once spontaneously-fermented. A description in 1740 stated "Die Gose stellt sich selber ohne Zutuung Hefe oder Gest" ("Gose ferments itself without the addition of yeast"). I've always suspected some sort of link with the gueuze of Brussels, though not because of the similarity of the names. That, I'm sure is pure coincidence.

A source from 1927 says the following: "Gose is a Leipzig speciality. It is similar to Berliner Weisse, but sourer and not to everyone's taste. (Pour the bottle slowly.)" Now, Berliner Weisse can be mouth-puckeringly sour and most modern drinkers can't stomach it straight. I think that gives you an idea of just how sour Gose must have been.

There was once a whole family of sour wheat beers, brewed right across the North of Germany and the Low Countries, from Brussels to Berlin and beyond. In Germany you had Broyhan, Berliner Weisse, Gose, Grätzer. They were classified as Säuerliche Bier by Professor Franz Schönfeld in 1904. Broyhan, in particular, was brewed over a wide area and for a considerable length of time: for at least 300 years after its birth in 1526, from Hannover to Thüringen. In Belgium, there were Lambiek and several variations on the Witbier theme.

The precise method of brewing Gose was a matter of great secerecy in the 18th and 19th centuries. The beer's popularity (and the premium price that it commanded) made it an attractive proposition for any brewery. Naturally, those already in the business of making it weren't too keen on their rivals getting in on the act. The tricky part was getting the addition of the lactic acid bacteria right. Sometime during the boil, the precise moment was of great importance, a powder was added to the wort (according to a source of 1872).

Another important characteristic of Gose that makes it very different from other German beer of the 19th century is the method of conditioning. There was no long period of lagering at the brewery. Gose was delivered, still fermenting quite vigourously, in barrels to the Schänke. It was stored in the cellar with the tap bung closed but the shive hole left open, so that the still-active yeast could escape. Only when the fermentation had slowed to a point where no yeast was emerging from the shive hole, was the Gose ready to bottle. The barrel was emptied into a tank, from whence it was filled into the characteristic long-necked bottles. These were not closed with a cap or cork, but with a plug of yeast which naturally rose up the neck as the secondary fermentation continued.

How long this conditioning lasted depended upon a number of factors, most importantly the temperature outside. In the Summer an unlucky landlord could see his whole supply turn to vinegar. The minimum period for a bottle to mature was around a week. In warm weather a Gose would be considered undrinkable after about three weeks. The trick for the landlord was in serving his Gose at just the right degree of maturity. Some went so far as to have stocks of beer of different ages, so regular customers could have their beer just as they liked it.

You could consider this method as a sort of combination of the British tradition of cask-conditioning in the pub cellar and the Belgian tradition of lambic blending and bottling by pub landlords. The taste of the final product was determined as much by what happened in the pub as in the brewery.

The History of Gose
Gose has an odd history, having moved home several times in the 250 years it has been around. It was first brewed in the early 18th century in the town of Goslar, from which its name derives. The beer became popular in Leipzig, so popular in fact that the local breweries started to make it themselves. By the end of the 1800's it was considered to be the local style of Leipzig and there were countless Gosenschänke in the city.

A big contribution to the legend of Gose was made by Johann Philipp Ledermann. In 1824 he started brewing Gose at Rittergut Döllnitz, a country estate between Merseburg and Halle. He had been a brewer in Goslar, but was lured by Johann Gottlieb Goedecke, the owner of the estate, to come and brew for him. Goedecke's own attempts to brew the financially lucrative Gose in the estate's small brewery had not been a great success. After Ledermann died in 1852, his wife took over supervision of the brewing process until her own death in 1883. By this time the brewery had managed to build up a virtual monopoly in the supply of Gose to Leipzig.

Unlike most of their modern counterparts, the Rittergutsbrauerei Döllnitz were happy to put a limit on the expansion of their business. For most of the second half of the 19th century they were producing "around a million bottles" of Gose a year. I make this an annual output of between 7,500 and 10,000 hl (I'm not sure how big the bottles were); not exactly mass production. To put this figure in its historical context, around 1890 the largest Munich breweries were pushing half a million hl a year, and even the smallest could manage 20,000 hl.

The constant supply, but heavy demand, meant that the brewery effectively rationed the supply of Gose. It was seen as a great favour if they agreed to deliver to a new client. Each pub was allowed a specific quantity of Gose, based upon their average number of customers. This policy was, most likely, at least partly based upon the nature of the beer. A bit like British cask beer, it was a living product with a limited shelf-life. Only pubs with a steady stream of drinkers could turn over enough of the beer to ensure that it was always in good condition. It appears that although the beer was synonymous with the city, it was never really the everyday drink of the masses. The majority of pubs never sold it and it was more expensive than other beers.

The Decline of Gose
During the Second World War production of Gose, like all other beer, ceased for a while. Worse was to come in 1945, when the Rittergutsbrauerei Döllnitz was confiscated and closed. It appears that, at the time, it was the last remaining Gose brewery. Only in 1949 did before Gose make a return, brewed in the tiny Friedrich Wurzler Brauerei at Arthur-Hoffmann-Straße 94 in Leipzig. At this time there were a mere 18 pubs taking the beer.

Friedrich Wurzler had worked before the war in the Döllnitzer Rittergutsbrauerei. After landing in Leipzig during the war, he was able to start his own brewery, mostly based on the handwritten notebook in his possession, which explained the secret of brewing Gose. Before his death in the late 1950's, he handed on the secret to his stepson, Guido Pfnister. Brewing of Gose continued in the small private brewery, though there appears to have been little demand. By the 1960's there were no more than a couple of pubs in Leipzig and possibly one in Halle that were still selling it.

Gose struggled along until 1966, when, while working in his garden, Guido Pfnister had a heart attack and died. The local nationalised group, VEB Sachsenbräu, had no interest in taking over the small run-down Wurzler brewery and so it was closed. Another small private brewery, Brauerei Ermisch, considered continuing the production of Gose and took possession of Pfnister's brewing book. Their enthsiasm didn't last long and not only was no Gose produced, but the notebook also appeared to have been accidentally destroyed.

The last Gose was served in Hotel Fröhlich at Wintergartenstraße 14. Here they still carried on the tradition of buying barrels from the brewery and bottling the beer themselves. The final barrel was delivered on 31 March 1966. When the last of the bottles had been drunk, the customers had to make do with Berliner Weiße.The hotel was never to see real Gose again, being closed and then blown up in 1968.

Gose's Revival
That would have been the end of the story and Gose would have become another lost curiosity. In a strange parallel with Belgian witbier, the devotion and determination of one man led to its rebirth. An enthusiastic publican, Lothar Goldhahn, had decided to restore one of Leipzig's most famous old Gosenschenke, Ohne Bedenken, to its former glory. He though that it was only fitting that the revived pub should sell Gose. Goldhahn was determined to resurrect the style and interviewed many old leipzigers to ascertain its precise taste. More importantly, he was able to track down a former employee of the Wurzler Brauerei who had at least some of Pfnister's notes in his possession. The Getränke-kombinat Leipzig developed a "Werkstandard zur Herstellung von Leipziger Gose" ("work standard for the production of Leipziger Gose") based upon this recipe.

Goldhahn's intentions to have his beer brewed locally in Leipzig were soon frustrated. None of the local breweries had either the technology or the inclination to brew such an odd top-fermenting beer, so he had to look further afield for a producer. Eventually, a test batch of Gose was brewed in 1985, at the Schultheiss Berliner-Weisse-Brauerei in East Berlin. At a tasting held in Goldhahn's flat, a group of experienced Gose drinkers came to the conclusion that it was a "real" Gose. The first production batch followed in 1986 and Leipzig had Gose once more, if only in a single pub.

Since then, Gose has once more been on its travels. In 1988 the Schultheiss Berliner-Weisse-Brauerei decided that it couldn't be bothered brewing the tiny quantities of Gose any more. For a while Ohne Bedenken had to resort to serving Berliner Weisse again.

The third postwar Gose-free period ended in 1991, when Goldhahn bought the small Löwenbrauerei in Dahlen. He now had total control of brewing his own Gose. Sadly, the demand for Gose proved too limited even to keep a small brewery fully occupied. Goldhahn was forced to sell it in 1995 and look elsewhere for someone to contract brew for him. The Andreas Schneider brewery in Weissenburg (Bavaria) duly obliged.

Gose Today
For the first time since before 1939 there is more than one brewery currently making a Gose, two in Leipzig itself. It's still easier to find Kölsch in the city, so Gose hasn't been restored to its former popularity, but the style is more secure today than it has been for any time in the last 50 years.

In 1999 a new brewpub opened in central Leipzig, which places great emphasis on the Gose it brews. It's so committed, to the style that it's even part of its name:Gasthaus
& Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof
. This now supplies Ohne Bedenken and a few other pubs in the city. Obviously the Andreas Schneider brewery got bitten by the Gose bug whilst brewing for Goldhahn, because it is the owner of the brewpub. Maybe it's just me, but I find it very amusing for a Bavarian-owned brewery to be brewing a non-Reinheitsgebot beer.

The good news just keeps coming: another Leipzig brewery, Ernst Bauer, started brewing a Gose in 2002. The beer is being brewed under contract for Adolf Goedecke, a descendant of the owners of the Rittergut Döllnitz. According to a text from 1824, it was in the Rittergut that the only real Gose was brewed. This beer is also available in Ohne Bedenken and a few other outlets.

Brauhaus Goslar (in Goslar, unsuprsingly) brews not one but two Goses, a pale and a dark version.

Gose Links
These are a couple of links to articles by Michael Jackson about Gose:

Article about new Gose brewpub.
General article about Gose.

For those of you who can read German, here are some more Gose links:

Der Gose-Wanderweg von Leipzig nach Halle. A very interesting guide to walks between Leipzig and Halle. It's underlying theme is Gose and it lists an impressive number of (mostly) country pubs serving the beer.

Leipziger Gose A site dedicated to this very special beer.


Anonymous said...

Really interesting stuff - thanks for posting it.

I've often wondered about the Gose - Gueuze link; it seems like it should be connected (particularly because of the spontaneous fermentation and sourness of the beer). But that would probably be far too simple...

Anonymous said...

A brewpub in Minneapolis called the Herkimer brewed a couple batches of Gose earlier this summer. They were fairly well received by many, myself included. But then again this is in the American Midwest, and there is a certain amount of dumbing down that happens. I think it was a little more palatable to the newb than the original.

Ron Pattinson said...

Boak, the connection between Gose and Gueuze has intrigued me, too. I now doubt that there is a link between the names. I do think that they both belong to a family of sour wheat beers that were brewed all across nortehrn Germany and the Low Countries.

Before lager pushed out all the indigenous styles in the 19th century, North German brewing had more in common with Belgium than Bavaria. Sadly, so little of this remains that its hard to spot the patterns. Gose and Berliner Weisse are some of the last remnants of this tradition.

There are other (non-sour styles) that were common in both Holland, Belgium and Germany. Keut (or Koyt) was brewed in all three. It's a very old style, pre-dating the introduction of hops. Early versions were flavoured with gruit (a mixture of herbs) but after around 1600 it was hopped, albeit lightly. The only example currently available is Jopen Koyt, brewed in Holland (an excellent beer, BTW).

Ron Pattinson said...

Anonymous, how sour was the brewpub Gose you tried? That should be a good barometer of the level of authenticity. It should be about as sour as beer gets - like Berliner Weisse or a full-strength lambic.

It could be that the brewer at the brewpub has never tasted an authentic Gose. The Bayerischer Bahnhof version, which is commoner in the US than Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose, doesn't match contemporary descriptions or earlier recreations that I've tried.

Authentic versions are pretty challenging.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it was fairly sour, but not jaringly sour. I'd say it was as sour as a flemish red, my only real point of reference for sour beers. This brewpub also makes a Berliner Weisse, but I haven't had the pleasure of trying it yet.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gose should be as sour as a traditional lambic. I would say the one you had wasn't sour enough.

Anonymous said...

Here I was talking about this brewery and they actually got the nod on beeradvocate.

Ron Pattinson said...

anoniem - great name, BTW - I was at the Weyermann's maltings earlier this month:

They brew some interesting beers in their test brewery, I've got an IPA, Dark Ale, Kölsch and Rauchbier (their only regular beer) of theirs.

I've also had beer from the HArtmann brewery mentioned. Crzily enough, it's available here in Amsterdam at Wildeman and Bierkoning). I didn't make i to the brewery, though, when recently in Franconia. Just too many breweries to get around them all. Even at a rate of five a day in would take seven weeks.

It must be hard for anyone in the States who hasn't been to Leipzig to brew a Gose. The authentic one - Ritterguts Gose - doesn't seem to travel far from its home city. I think a brewer needs to try that to get a point of reference before they have a go themselves.