The Beer Babe

by Carla Jean Lauter
by Carla Jean Lauter

There Gose the Neighborhood

There’s really only one beer style I describe to beer lovers that makes them question my sanity every time I explain it: Gose.

I encountered my first Gose at The Festival, an event in 2013 sponsored by Shelton Brothers that featured imported Belgian styles, sours and ciders. I sidled up to the booth run by South Carolina-based Westbrook Brewing and asked them what they were pouring. They answered with one word: “Gose” (pronounced “goes-uh”).

Unfamiliar with the style at the time, I nodded and watched a pale, hazy brew slide into my festival tasting cup. I took a sip of the Gose and was delighted to find my taste buds dancing in uncharted territory. There was a tartness, an almost lime-like quality, a thin body and a hint of salt. Yes, salt.

By definition, a Gose is a wheat beer that uses yeast and lactic bacteria to impart an acidic tartness, and is then spiced with coriander and a minor addition of hops. Most strikingly, the style is brewed, at least in part, with seawater. The salt flavor that results doesn’t taste like you’ve emptied a shaker into the kettle. It’s more like the subtle brine of a good oyster, a gentle savory touch on top of a lightly, puckeringly sour finish. That’s what makes Gose unique among beer styles.

If you’ve seen a Gose listed on a menu recently and wondered about it, you are not alone. The style’s resurgence, after a long period of obscurity, happened just a few years ago. Its unexpected return was so rapid that its absence from the Oxford Companion to Beer, published in 2011, now seems like a glaring omission. The style, however, is far from new. Gose has been brewed for over a millennium, beginning in Germany.

The style was reintroduced into the American craft beer market when a handful of European brewers decided to export their versions to the U.S. Some credit Leipziger Gose with being the first to inspire the style’s resurrection. Once these beers hit the right people, intrepid U.S. craft brewers attempted to re-create the savory brews, and more have become available each year. Gose-centric puns abound in the names of these beers: “What Gose Round,” “Wake Me Up Before You Gose,” and even, “Or Else It Gets The Gose Again.”

If you really think about it, putting salt and tartness together isn’t really that odd. When someone tells me they like margaritas, I recommend a Gose because the taste can be similar. With an ABV under 5 percent in most cases, a Gose probably won’t get you as tipsy as you’d be after drinking the equivalent amount of that slushy, tequila-laced cocktail.

photo/Carla Jean Lauter
photo/Carla Jean Lauter

Sadly, Westbrook’s Gose, which remains one of the most critically acclaimed versions in the U.S., is not distributed in Maine. But Maine brewers have been concocting their own interpretations. Two of my local favorites are by Rising Tide and Barreled Souls.

Rising Tide’s, simply named Gose, is brewed in small batches, so it’s only available periodically. The Portland brewery started canning Gose this year, strengthening the style’s reputation as a great beverage to drink on a boat, beach or dock. Rising Tide’s interpretation is a sour wheat ale made with local seawater and some coriander. Pick it up if you see it — the batches come and go very quickly.

Slightly less traditional, but also excellent, is Space Gose, from Barreled Souls Brewing in Saco. Their version was my favorite beer at last year’s Maine Brewers’ Guild Festival. Space Gose is also a tart wheat beer, but in addition to coriander, Barreled Souls adds lemon zest and Maine sea salt. The result is a slightly fruitier interpretation, but the balance is why I keep going back for another. To get this one you’ll have to travel to Barreled Souls’ tasting room on Route 1 for a glass or growler.

So the next time you’re wondering about the Gose on the menu, I challenge you to dive in and give it a try. The (salt) water is fine.