There is water.
Much more than what plants crave, the refreshing combination of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom is an (the?) integral part of beer. There’s often more to water than just H2 and O, though. Those things are called electrolytes.
Water dissolving and water removing.
Remember the last time you were in Burton upon Trent, valiantly flailing to get all of the shampoo out of your hair? Burton’s water has high levels of the divalent cations calcium and magnesium. These positively charged ions are attracted to negatively-charged soap, rendering your shampoo unable to clean your hair after a day drinking Bass (or Worthington’s White Shield) from the source.
The presence of electrolytes, including high levels of other negatively-charged anions like carbonate and bicarbonate, also make Burton’s famous “hard” water ideal for making hoppy, mineral-tinged pale ales. The absence of divalent cations in Plzen’s “soft” water, conversely, is ideal for brewing pilsners.
Very few brewers discuss the essential—yet totally boring—aspect of water manipulation, yet copy on most beer cans and bottles gleefully describe the hops, barley, grains, fruit, and yeast strains utilized to craft the unique beer the drinker will enjoy therein. Very few of the US and A’s 5000+ breweries can boast that their two hydrogens and one oxygen come from some magical, pristine water source—under the rocks and stones, where there is water underground—located within arm’s length to their brewery. They can, however, add or subtract electrolytes from their water source to make it as “hard” or “soft” as they want. Boring. Yet so essential!
It’s only the river. It’s only the river.
Non-modern brewers, however, didn’t have it so easy. Hundreds of years ago in the mineral mining town of Goslar, Germany (the internets and experts seem to disagree how many hundreds, but I’ll trust Jeff Alworth’s amazing The Beer Bible and say at least seven), brewers had no choice but to use the slightly saline water from the Gose1 River that ran through town. Natural fermentation invariably brought Lactobacillus bacteria along with wild yeasts, with these bacteria adding lactic acid to create a lower alcohol, salty, tart-tinged brew. Coriander was often added for its aroma and bitterness.
The Goslar-style beer became popular enough in the mid-1700s that it migrated to Leipzig, 185 km to the southeast. Long before Goslar ended up as a West German border town in the Cold War, gose was an all but abandoned style. This changed around the turn of the aughts in the present century, about six years ago. Now, in the time of the listicle and the steep-sloped velocity adoption curve, gose is unavoidable—and even the Goslar Bräuhaus is brewing gose again!
Depending on who you believe, goses are the next IPA, or they’re akin to guzzling 355 ml of two hydrogens and an oxygen from the disgusting, polluted Atlantic, or they’re a harbinger of weirder, rarer, tarter beers on the horizon when brewers discover other forgotten styles. Here’s a fourth option: gose is a delightful, novel beer style that deserves exploration.
The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose hails from ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING COMPANY in Boonville, CA, where the local water supply isn’t salty and the local Boontling jargon is incomprehensible without helpful translation (e.g., the name of this beer, in English, is “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Gose” —thanks, AVBC! It’s a kettle-soured gose, meaning that induced Lactobacillus is allowed to do its souring thing in the kettle for a couple days after sugars are extracted from malted barley and wheat at the beginning of the brew. Brewers don’t like Lactobacillus hanging around the brewery if they’re going to make clean beers later, so they kill the bacteria by boiling the brew after the desired sourness is reached.
Kettle souring is easier to control, more hygienic, and cheaper than traditional souring, where long co-fermentation with yeast and bacteria occurs for weeks or months after the brewing process, often in wooden vessels. Some purists might argue that kettle souring by adding Lactobacillus cultures is cheating the natural fermentation process, although gose fans might balk when their USD$9/six-pack gose becomes USD$14/500 ml when traditional souring techniques are used.
The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose pours a hazy straw color with a brilliant white, small-bubbled head. It smells like cracking open a homemade cucumber/vinegar salad on a cloudy, deserted ocean beach about an hour after sunrise. Initially, The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose tastes like a rich, salty, malty verjus2, with Meyer lemon and barely ripe pineapple making its presence known a few seconds later. The finish is surprisingly substantial—there’s an earthy sweetness, possibly from the added coriander, and the complex, gorgeous savory and salty lemonade flavors stick around for a lot longer than expected. It’s a bracing, shock-to-the-system beer that can easily be enjoyed on its own, yet attempts to match it with complimentary food items were a great success: salty Marcona almonds and popcorn were given a summery lemon squeeze, and a spicy tuna ceviche (with, admittedly, salty corn chips) paired with The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose was synergistically amazing.
Into the blue again, in the silent water.
So tweaking the electrolyte content of water imparts all sorts of vital yet barely perceptible notes to your beer (at least to us amateurs). What happens when you tweak gose by adding unconventional ingredients, and they impart non-vital yet totally perceptible peach/cherry/black lime/cucumber/prickly pear/guava/etc. notes? Pick a favorite! Give gose a try, but, please, keep an eye peeled for unadulterated versions. Many delicious goses are out there—yes, even ones with all sorts of fruit or veggies added—but for my American dollars, The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose remains the Blessed Trinity, same as it ever was, same as it ever was. Amen3.
1Like every one of the hundreds and hundreds of Gose reviews out there, here’s the gentle reminder that the proper Deutsch pronunciation of Gose rhymes with Lederhose and is ‘goes-uh.’
2Winemakers will often thin or cut off whole grape clusters in mid-summer to concentrate flavors and ensure ripening of the remaining grapes. If these grapes are pressed and bottled, verjus is the result—a tart, slightly vinegary grape juice that can be used as a vinegar substitute or as a base for non-alcoholic (or alcoholic) cocktails. Medlock Ames in Sonoma County and Navarro in Anderson Valley make outstanding examples.
3A personal note: The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose was my introduction to gose (Shed, Healdsburg CA, August 2014, happy hour 473ml pint for $4; yes, I’m well aware that you didn’t ask and couldn’t care less). It was a paradigm shifter of a beer akin to my first Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. I’ve spent the intervening years (especially the last six weeks) chasing the gose dragon, with intermittent success.