Craft beer is a fickle, mercurial field when it comes to styles. They can spring up seemingly overnight, and with the community so interconnected (and incestuous) as this one is in 2015, the spread is immediate and unstoppable. Case in point: Remember the initial discovery and expansion of black IPA as a style? In the course of one year, drinkers went from hearing about these hop-forward black beers for the first time to seeing them at nearly every one of their local breweries. Black IPA now feels just as established to us as any other style—there are more than 1,500 of them entered into Beer Advocate alone, for god’s sake. That’s ubiquity, in just a few years.
And to a lesser extent, that’s the same path gose has been on. Last year was, among other things, truly the Year of Gose. It wasn’t the year that gose, a very old German ale style, was introduced to American shores, but it was the year that gose truly caught on fire. All you had to do to see it happening was visit any brewery so much as dabbling in sours—if they weren’t afraid to use a little lactobacillus in their brewhouse, then there was almost certainly a gose produced there at one point.
But if you’re new to the style, let’s break it down: What is gose? Well for one, it’s pronounced “goe-suh,” which initially threw me for a loop, the first time I was corrected. Like its closely related cousin Berliner weisse, which Paste just ranked in a separate tasting earlier this week, gose is a style of tart, German-inspired wheat ale. They have a little bit of witbier-like influence in the typical inclusion of coriander as a spice, are usually soured by lactobacillus, and are unique in one other way—the inclusion of noticeable levels of salt. The salt is really where gose diverges from the pack, as I’ve still never heard of another style where salt isn’t just a possibility but a requirement. Gose, therefore, strikes a middle ground that seems almost perfectly suited to summertime drinking in the American craft beer scene: Tart (which is of course in), sessionable (which is in), obscure (which will always be in) and salty (because most Americans don’t get nearly enough sodium in their diets).
Therefore, as we did with Berliner weisse, we decided to break all the gose examples off from our upcoming American sour ales tasting and give the style its very own ranking. And unlike the Berliner weisses, we also decided this far enough in advance to make it a completely blind tasting.
Rules and Procedure:
- All entries are defined by their breweries as a gose, and all are from American breweries.
- If it’s a notable beer and you don’t see it on our list, then we probably tried to get it. If you leave us a note in the comments and it’s not a brewery already in our PR contacts, we’ll do our best to include them in the future.
- Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners and assorted journalists. Badass, Paste-branded glassware is from Spiegelau.
- Beers were judged by how exemplary they were as individual experiences, and given 1-100 scores.
City: San Francisco, CA
Key ingredient: Lemon verbena
The verdict: Almanac recently impressed us with both their Saison Dolores and Dogpatch Sour (which is also in the upcoming sours tasting), so we were surprised to find that tasters weren’t thrilled by the Golden Gate Gose as well. It may have been the lemon verbena, which multiple tasters at the table expressed an unfamiliarity toward—it could be that the herbal/lemon component it added didn’t come through entirely as intended. Others found this entry to be unusually malt-forward in a way that goses typically aren’t—almost a toasty, amber ale-like maltiness at times. The salt element, regardless, is low, and the beer is primarily dominated by malt and herbal flavors. Interesting stuff, but apparently not quite what the tasters were looking for.
City: Brooklyn, NY
Key ingredient: Jacobsen Salt
The verdict: An unusual take on gose that highlights the spicy side of the style more than most. Although almost all of the examples have “coriander” in there somewhere on the ingredient list, few of them really make you think about the spice while drinking—it’s almost always more of a supporting character than a star player. Between that and the bitter orange peel-like impression, minimal tartness and a fairly low level of salinity, Sixpoint’s take on gose almost comes off as more of a witbier, although a pleasant one. However, it’s lacking some of the characteristics you would expect.
City: Blanco, TX
Key ingredient: Fresh lime juice
The verdict: A very neutral but pleasant gose, Real Ale’s 18th anniversary beer is on the mild side for the style in most ways. Tartness is a bit lower than in most of the other examples on the table, as is the depth of wheat beer flavor, but it’s also very clean and crisp. The lime presence does give it a bit of a different citrus spin, which is appreciable. Very easy-drinking and sessionable, with a primarily lemon-lime flavor profile.
City: Atlanta, GA
Key ingredient: Ginger
The verdict: The salt is definitely present in this gose, well-complemented by the spicy character of coriander and ginger, which always seems to help make other spices pop. Tartness is on the lower end, making for a drinkable but not extremely adventurous beer. Some lemon citrus pops up as well. There’s not much we would change—this is fairly close to a classic gose—except bumping up the dial of intensity on most of the flavors. Otherwise, a well-balanced offering from a new brewery making its first foray into the still evolving style of gose.
City: Downingtown, PA
Key ingredient: Sour cherries
The verdict: The most divisive beer on the table. Some tasters were smitten with this cherry-infused gose, and others didn’t care for it at all. Those who liked it lovingly praised the round, juicy fruit flavors and brilliant red hue—others found the cherry flavor to be artificial tasting and forced, although we know the beer was clearly produced with actual fruit. There is, however, enough salt to remind you that this is a gose and not a Berliner weisse or some other style of American sour. It’s difficult to say which tasters were in the right on this one, but due to the disagreement it falls somewhere in the middle of the field.
City: Kansas City, MO
Key ingredient: Dried hibiscus flowers
The verdict: Boulevard’s entry into the gose game isn’t lacking in characteristics that remind us of its wheat beer nature—there’s a pleasant bready/biscuit malt flavor that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from the pinkish hue. That color is of course derived from the hibiscus addition, which comes across with a pronouncedly floral aroma which plays pretty nicely with light tartness. Tasters complimented a “sweet/sour balance,” although one did describe it as Jolly Rancher-like—that may have been influenced by the color. But in general, a nicely balanced example that uses its titular ingredient in a dignified, measured way.
City: Chicago, IL
Key ingredient: Two carefully blended beers
The verdict: Off Color says that to create Troublesome, they blend together “a somewhat uninteresting wheat beer” with “an overly acidic and funky beer” brewed entirely with lactobacillus, which is perhaps how they ended up with one of the more unusual goses on the table. The first thing one notes from the aroma is that it’s packed with unusual esters and phenols typically found in classic Belgian ales—the banana, clove and spice notes might make a blind taster think that this some sort of cross between witbier or saison rather than gose. It is, however, still slightly tarty and a bit salty, and as you continue to drink, more of the gose characteristics present themselves. Very nice wheat/bready flavors are a highlight—regardless of the rest, this entry certainly treads off the beaten path.
City: Brooklyn, NY
Key ingredient: Eucalyptus
The verdict: The only beer in the tasting to boast eucalyptus as a flavoring component, it’s probably not surprising that a few tasters used the word “medicinal” in describing the flavor profile, given the typical use of the plant in products such as cough drops. Nevertheless, “medicinal” was meant more in the sense of how refreshing and zingy-tart this beer is rather than as a negative—tartness is moderate to high, and coupled with the low ABV, it’s pretty refreshing stuff. A lemon-lime citrus character is also present, and the salinity is right in the middle. It’s an assertive, fun gose and makes a great case for why these beers are some of the most flavor-forward brews you can consume in the 4% ABV range.
City: Boonville, CA
Key ingredient: Malted white wheat
The verdict: Our favorite beer from Anderson Valley is an extremely well-balanced and thoughtful gose, one of the best balanced examples on the table. Nothing in this beer is too out of proportion—tartness is moderate, right in the middle. Salt is present but not especially assertive. There’s a bit more biscuity wheat malt presence than in most of the other examples. There’s a little spice and a little citrus; a little bit of every major flavor in the gose family just rounds things out—it’s complex, but in an approachable sort of way. Yes, I realize that’s essentially an oxymoron. Final note: The balance of flavor and refreshment would probably make this a great food beer for pairing with a wide range of dishes.
City: Athens, GA
Key ingredient: Cucumber
The verdict: This was a blind tasting, but there was no missing that this was the cucumber beer, which speaks to how well Creature Comforts was able to capture the essence and light, refreshing vegetal flavor of cucumber. Indeed, from a refreshment standpoint it’s very tough to beat this one—the cucumber adds a thirst-quenching dimension in the same way that sliced cucumber added to water refreshes the palate. The salt is also fairly assertive in this one, which keeps it from being too bland, and the lime adds a final citrus note on the back end. Acidity plays nicely with the citrus, making it difficult to tell where the lactic character ends and the fruity character begins. The hotter it gets, the more appealing this gose becomes.
City: Portland, OR
Key ingredient: Coriander
The verdict: The coriander pops more noticeably than usual in this gose from Cascade, giving it a bit of a witbier-like spiciness. It’s an effervescent, lively beer, with flavors that are in good balance—tartness is moderate, saltiness on the lower side. Creamy wheat malt pops up for a moment and is occasionally detectable behind waves of citrus, brine and spice. Not quite as sour as some goses—and not quite as sour as you tend to expect from a Cascade beer, come to think of it—but just the right amount of tartness to make it go down smooth. Whether an extremely sessionable beer like this one should really be able to command a $25+ price is an entirely different matter—we’re rating flavors here, not value per ounce, so please keep that in mind.
City: Mount Pleasant, SC
Key ingredient: Lactobacillus
The verdict: It’s probably not exaggeration to say that this gose is one of the biggest reasons this tasting would exist now in the first place. Westbrook’s take on the style has, for better or worse (and some people would argue for worse) been a heavy influence on how American craft beer drinkers define the style of gose, and thus an influence on how American craft brewers design their gose recipes. This becomes clear as you taste a dozen of them blind, but what also becomes clear is this: Westbrook Gose is an exceptional beer.
The funny thing is, it’s not particularly balanced, not compared to some of the other examples. Westbrook leans hard into the lactic acid, which can be a dicey proposition, but it just works so well here. Yes, this beer is very tart, possibly more tart than the style was ever meant to be, but it just works. It amplifies and heightens every other flavor. The citrus (especially lemon) flavors pop hugely. The spice is just barely present. A moderate to high level of salinity reminds you that this is a gose, and not just a particularly tart Berliner weisse. It all finds its way together.
The beer packs an inordinate amount of flavor in its frame. It’s almost impossible to believe that this thing is 4% ABV. Finding beers with this much flavor in that ABV range is like looking for the one reliable, cheap car on a used car lot full of rusted deathtraps. To think that this beer is lower in ABV than a Bud Light … that’s mind-blowing. It’s part of why gose is such a wonderful, intriguing “new” style, and part of the reason why Westbrook is bringing home the title of Paste’s best gose.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor. He apologizes yet again for the lack of de Garde, but he can’t force breweries to participate. You can follow him on Twitter.