Friday, 9 January 2009

Fantasy beer history: Gose

Gose is a beer very dear to my heart. One of my specialist subjects. I can recall my excitement when, reading "Die Biere Deutschlands", I first learned of its existence. For many years it was the beer I most wanted to try. When I finally tracked it down, it was no disappointment.

My very personal relationship with Gose explains why I get so upset when I read total rubbish about it on the web. Today I'm going to discuss a couple of shockingly inaccurate histories of Gose.

The first is from the website of Four Peaks Brewing:

A cross-cultural constant is that water, whether it comes from the Colorado, the Ganges or the Seine, can just get so -- I don't know -- boring? That's why beer has been a favorite beverage since the heyday of Ancient Egypt, and why -- somewhere between then and now -- some creative beer drinkers in Liepzig and Goseler, Germany decided to add to the usual hops, barley, yeast and water two interesting ingredients: coriander and salt. The result was "Gosebier," which became hugely popular, especially in Liepzig. It also became popular to add different fruit and nut-flavored extractions to this tart, refreshing and somewhat acidic wheat beer. Raspberry and almond-flavored Gosebier joined the plain version at tables all over Germany, and there was much rejoicing. Unfortunately, Gosebier was literally knocked out of existence around the year 1516 with the amalgamation of Eastern Europe and the adoption of the German Purity Law, which demanded that beer only be brewed using variations on its four base ingredients.

History seems to illustrate that even basic good beer can get boring, and eventually the desire for different flavors overtook the German purity law. Gosebier began to make a comeback. Just as this unique beer was regaining popularity, however, the Communist Party took over East Germany. People had a helluva lot more to worry about than, "what neat, fun ingredients we can throw into our bier now?"

Four Peaks is glad to report that, since the dissolution of Communism in that part of the world, Gosebier has certainly made its comeback in Liepzig and even in Goseler -- and that it has finally arrived at our brewery. Brewmaster Andy Ingram -- who was the source for all of this information -- describes the Four Peaks Gosebier as a combination of a Belgian white beer (wittbier) and a Berliner wheat (weisse) beer. "The Gosebier is a wheat beer with a mild spiciness from coriander and a tartness from yeast and lactic acid," said Ingram. "It's refreshing. Many people can get turned off by the idea of adding salt," he said, "but in this case, the addition of salt in just the right quantity does what salt is supposed to do -- enhance the flavors of the beer and give it a big, round mouth-feel." The upcoming beer dinner in March will also feature the three different, traditional Gosebiers as part of the dessert course: raspberry, almond liquer-flavored and regular. Four Peaks Gosebier, which is on tap now at the brewery, weighs in at a light, drinkable 4% alc./vol. Ahh . . . just in time for Spring drinking. Prost!

Where do I start? Almost everything in the first paragraph is total crap. The Reinheitsgebot didn't apply to the places where Gose was brewed until the 20th century. Gose wasn't the result of "creative beer drinkers" adding stuff to their beer. It's called Gose not Gosebier. The town is Goslar, not Goselar. And Gose is brewed from wheat as well as barley.

Now leat's consider paragraph two. Gose wasn't making a comeback before the communists took over, it was in decline after WW I. Gose was brewed during the DDR period.

I suppose as American brewers who probably can't read German, they may have an excuse. The author of the following disinformation can make no such claim. This was written by German-born Horst Dornbusch and can be found on his "German Beer Institute" website.

In the 20th century, with its wars and dictatorships, Leipziger Gose slowly faded into oblivion. The air raids of the Second World War wreaked havoc and destruction on the brewing facilities, which the planned economy of the Communists proved incapable of rebuilding. The division of Germany during the Cold War (starting in 1949) into a "workers' and farmers' paradise" in the Soviet East and a "revengist, bourgeois" hellhole of "exploitation" in the capitalist West — separated from each other since 1961 by a the Berlin Wall and a death zone with barbed wire, search lights, and a brain-washed, trigger happy "people's army" — not only kept the East Germans in their socialist prison but also caused their beers to wither. Gose was still a local specialty in Leipzig, when the Communist regime in East Germany decided it had better uses for its feeble economy's precious grain. This was because food shortages that resulted from the forced collectivization of agriculture turned bread-making, not beer-making, into the almost sole purpose of the precious grains. Not surprisingly, all brewing suffered under the Communist regime and, by the late 1950s, the last pre-unification Gose was brewed in Leipzig.

Only after the Wall came down on November 9, 1989, could this traditional beer style make a comeback; and many craft breweries in and around Leipzig started to brew it again. One of the driving forces behind the modern Gose-Renaissance has been the Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof (Gose Brewery Bavarian Station), wich opened its doors in 2000. It is located in the historic downtown train station dating from 1842 that linked Leipzig with Munich.

There's barely a true word in the first paragraph. The only brewery producing Gose in the 1940's was not destroyed in the war. It was on a country estate and survived intact. It never restarting brewing after the war. Gose was revived in 1949 (after the communists had taken over) at the newly-founded Friedrich Wurzler Brauerei in Leipzig. They were never short of grain for bread-making in the DDR. In any case, the bread was mostly made from rye, with a little wheat and certainly no barley . The last pre-unification Gose was not brewed in the 1950's. The Friedrich Wurzler Brauerei closed in 1966 after the owner died. It was so small and primitive that it wasn't worth nationalising and just shut down. Gose was revived by Lothar Goldhahn in 1986 and brewed at the Schultheiss Weissbier brewery on Schönhauserallee in Berlin until 1988.

Sorry to come across all negative, but this sort of unresearched "history" drives me nuts. It's not hard to find the correct information, if you can be arsed. Even wikipedia gets it right. Then again, it was me who wrote the section on the history of Gose.

If you're interested, I've an accurate history of Gose here:

"Gose Häppchen:100 Jahre Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken", 1999, pages 13 - 63
"Die Biere Deutschlands" Höllhuber & Kaul, 1988, pages 342 - 344.


Lars Marius Garshol said...

Good stuff!

One thing I've been meaning to ask you: what is the origin of the name? You say the origin is the name of the town Goslar. Some sources, such as "Die Biere des Ostens", say it's the stream called Gose that runs into Goslar.

Given that Goslar may take its name from the stream the question may be moot, but I was wondering whether anyone know of any evidence one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

Phew... I don't think I got that much wrong on Weizenweb, but corrections would be appreciated! Sadly I've yet to sample Gose although my brother lives in Leipzig.

Alan said...

You do realize that I gave up trying to write anything about beer history when you got into the game.

Anonymous said...

Great work indeed, Ron.

Michael Jackson once suggested that the terms "geyser", "gush" and "gueuze" might be related etymologically. I do not know if they are, in fact, but the suggestion seems to make sense.

It would also make sense to me that the term "Gose" for river has a similar origin, a rushing stream, something like that. Maybe the town took its name from the river (I don't know German and cannot say) and the beer type from the town or river name as opposed to the idea of gushing carbonated beer suggesting the name. Or perhaps the name of the river and town are a coincidence and the root of Gose the beer is indeed the idea of a carbonated beer produced from successive ferments in a closed or partly-closed vessel. I suppose the build-up of foam in the tall thin neck acted as a kind of stopper although it would have been easy enough to close the top in some way. Probably it was left open to gain access to atmospheric yeasts.

I have always thought there must be some connection between the two beers, which do bear certain resemblances. The idea that each beer is a "gusher" and took its name from that makes the most sense to me but I could be wrong obviously.

I have tasted a version of Gose exported to the U.S. It was bottled in a heavy-based, thin-necked flask, whether filtered or not I cannot remember now. I found it extremely good and wish I could buy more.

For American readers near Chicago: I bought it at the renowned Sam's Wines and Spirits, behind Goose Island Brewing Company. (Oh gosh there is a similar-sounding word, "Goose", which is a long-necked animal is it not? Will the linguistic concatenations ever end?!. :)).


I have tasted

Whorst said...

Please note that there is no affiliation between myself(Whorst, aka Wurst) and Horst Dornbusch. I'll also add, that the folks south of the border from myself, add salt and lime to their beer. Lets just say it's not something I would seek out.

Unknown said...

There are so many false and crazy things floating around the interweb (and books) about beer history. I think mostly because no one can get their hands on real historical documents. Every time someone does "research" it's from uninformed sources.

You need to hurry up and get some of your beer research published!

Lars Marius Garshol said...

The word geysir comes from the Icelandic geysir of that name, which again (says Wikipedia) comes from the Icelandic verb "gjosa", meaning to gush. Wikipedia further claims this may be etymologically related to the English "gush". Thus far St. Michael may be right.

Wish I knew more about the origins of gueuze. And the history of Belgian beer generally. Anyone know of any good places to start?

Kristen England said...

I love a good Gose. However most I have had have been massively over spiced and has to much salt. A good majority of them use a weizen yeast so they stink like bananas.

I like the Döllnitzer Rittergutsgose better than the Gosebraueri version but both are nice.

Ron Pattinson said...

Lars, there's a stream called Gose that runs through Goslar. It seems fair enough to assume that's the origin of the name of the beer.

Oblivious said...

Another great post

erictrimmer said...

Alan said: "You do realize that I gave up trying to write anything about beer history when you got into the game."

Here in the U.S., they call that a "chilling effect."

Steve said...

I was half expecting Gose to turn out to be a German analog of Gueze - one of those faux-ami things, I guess. Oh, and would you know ifthe brewery on Schönhauserallee is the one that later became the "Culture Brewery" venue?

Ron Pattinson said...

Steve, yep, that's the one. What's now a cultural centre used to brew the best Berliner Weisse. Never had their Gose, but the Weisse was definitely the best. Very sad when they closed.