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Thirsty Thursday: Ritterguts Gose

Beer, Thirsty Thursday | February 4, 2016 | By

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Studying for my Cicerone test is rapidly expanding my exposure to and appreciation for different beer styles. The historical German Gose style is fascinating to me as its sour, funky baseline flavors consist primarily of coriander and salt.

First brewed in Leipzig over 1,000 years ago, this style began to die after World War II and did not resurface there until 1988. As the German Beer Institute states:  

Pronunciation guide for English speakers: “Gose-uh” as in “rose” plus “uh”.

Gose is a 1000-year old top-fermented beer style that is now most closely associated with Leipzig, the capital city of Saxony, one of the German states in what used to be the so-called German Democratic Republic, the former East Germany. Saxony is the ancestral home of the Saxon tribe, a branch of which joined the Angles and the Jutes in the fifth century CE on a migration to Britain, where they largely displaced the resident Celts.

Gose takes its name from the river Gose which flows through the town of Goslar in the state of Lower Saxony, about 100 miles west of Leipzig. Goslar rose to prominence in the 11th century, not only as one of the wealthiest and most important copper, lead, zinc, salt, and silver mining towns in the German Empire, but also as a brew center. It is known that even Emperor Otto III, who ruled Germany between 983 and 1002, sang the Gose’s praises.

Unlike any other beer style, Gose is brewed with slightly salty water. It is likely that the original source of saltiness in Gose is the naturally saline water that comes out of some of the mineral-rich aquifers in and around Goslar that supplied the water for the old Goslar brew houses. We know that medieval alchemists had debated the health effects of “white salt crystals” from Goslar, which were then known by such names as vitriolum zinci Goslariense or blanc de Goslar. When these Goslar crystals were dissolved in water, the astringent and sour tincture that resulted was known as “copper water.”

As the Goslar mines gave out in the late Middle Ages, Goslar declined and Gose-making migrated to Leipzig, which quickly became the Gose’s largest market. Certainly no later than 1738, it was brewed in Leipzig itself, as we know from the oldest preserved Gose license issued that year to an innkeeper named Giesecke by the Leipzig City Council. Indigenous Gose brewing in Leipzig must have spread rapidly and undermined the economic viability of the Gose brewers of Goslar. As a consequence of declining sales in 1826, the City Council of Goslar eventually decided to abolish Gose brewing altogether. In Leipzig, on the other hand, Gose had become the most popular beer by 1900, when there were more than 80 licensed Gose houses on record. This is why modern Gose has become identified more with the Saxon capital than with its city of origin, and it is now often referred to as Leipziger Gose.

With the current rise of sour beer popularity, I’m genuinely stoked that Gose is being revived in the US. Even large scale breweries are introducing their take on Gose such as the Otra Vez, Sierra Nevada’s new Gose-style ale brewed with cactus and grapefruit. As exciting as that is, absolutely nothing compares to true, authentic Gose such as Ritterguts The balance and complexity of this beer with its slight saline finish is nearly perfect in my opinion.

IPA, I think we need some time apart.

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