The Session #100: Why has the Gose re-emerged in United States?

One of the more unexpected developments in America’s brewing landscape is the re-emergence of the nearly discontinued Gose style. With its odd sour-salty balance, this obscure German style seems like quaint historical brewing artifact rather than a modern commercial hit.  Yet a few breweries in the United States have found success reviving this style, two of the largest being Northern California’s Anderson Valley Brewing and Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing. So when Reuben Gray asked us to write about resurrecting lost beer styles for this month’s Session, it got me asking:  Why has the Gose style come back in the United States?

While I’m afraid I can’t give a comprehensive answer to the question, I did talk with Anderson Valley Brewing and Boulevard brewing about the origins of their Gose beer and made some interesting discoveries along the way.
I first spoke with Anderson Valley Brewmaster Fal Allen about his brewery’s Gose and learned the beer was largely a product of serendipity.  “We really didn’t set out to brew this beer in the first place”, described Fal Allen of its origins.  “At the time, we were experimenting with a sour mash and someone suggested we try brewing a Gose.”  Everyone around the brewery liked it, and after tweaking the recipe four or five times, they released it to much success in 2014.  Anderson Valley has since followed-up their regular Gose with a Blood Orange Gose. Anderson Valley has another Gose with a different spice or fruit addition in the works to be released within the next 12 months which Fal Allen was not ready to talk about it yet.

Then I gave Jeremy Danner over at Boulevard Brewing a call, Jeremy being one of Boulevard’s Ambassador Brewers.  He told me Boulevard’s Hibiscus Gose started as an employee Christmas present at the end of 2012.  “We usually brew a beer for the employee Christmas present that normally does not have much commercial potential, but something we want to drink,” explained Jeremy of this brewery tradition.  Not only was Hibiscus Gose a hit with Boulevard’s employees, they took a couple kegs to the brewery tap room and to local beer festivals and discovered it was a big hit there, too.  “We knew we liked it, but it was cool that the public liked it too,” exclaimed Jeremy. Boulevard released Hibiscus Gose in 2014 and it’s been one of their more successful new releases.

It’s only a couple data points, but notice a couple trends.  Both breweries were engaging in an esoteric brewing experiments that seemingly only a brewing wonk could love, yet discovered the general public also enjoyed it.  The other thing to note is that both beers rely on novel, non-traditional ingredients to stand out.  In Boulevard’s case, they added Hibiscus to make the beer pink.  Sure, the Hibiscus gives the beer a nice light citrus and cherry character but they wanted to brew a pink beer. Cranberry was considered and discarded because Boulevard had concerns about the sugar content and how it might re-ferment in the bottle.  While Anderson Valley brews a straight Gose, they’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of their non-traditional Blood Orange variant.  While the Blood Orange adds great flavors and aromas to the beer, Brewmaster Fal Allen wasn’t very bashful when he exclaimed “It gives the beer a cool name!”

(Photo from Boulevard Brewing)

My hunch is that we’re going to see a lot more long dormant historical beer styles resurrected in the United States for three reasons.  The first reason is none other than most of these old styles taste pretty good in their contemporary revision.  I’ve sampled all three of these Gose beers as well as other resurrected styles and enjoyed every one of them. All were made by skilled brewers, which certainly helps, but there was a reason why these styles were popular at some point in history, and all these reconstructions made that seem obvious.

The second reason is because information simply travels faster than ever before. In the 19th century, it would take months for a Gose recipe to reach the United States.  In the 20th century, that time reduced to a few days.  Today with a simple mouse click, any enterprising brewer can find a historical recipe in seconds.

Lastly, let’s admit that most of the 3,000+ breweries in the United States are looking to do something new and original to stand out from the rest. Only so many beers can be brewed with bull testicles  or smoked goat brains before those gimmicks get pretty stale.  So why not go into the past and find some fresh and original from a centuries old forgotten style?

As the modern brewing revolution continues to push the limits of what beer is, a fortunate by-product is further discovery of what beer was.

Anderson Valley’s Fal Allen Talks About Highway 128 Gose

Fal Allen of Anderson Valley Brewing
(photo from Anderson Valley Brewing)

One of the more unexpected brewing success stories of the past year was the unlikely popularity of Anderson Valley Brewing’s “The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose”, released last year for package sale as part of their Highway 128 Session Series.  If it wasn’t surprising enough that a Gose, a nearly extinct German style would be a hit, its odd combination of sour and salty flavors is also not something that immediately sounds like a winning combination. Yet, somehow, the light malt, sour and salty flavors coupled with a low 4.2% alcohol by volume all came together to create a novel and highly refreshing brew. A little later, Anderson Valley added blood orange to the mix and scored another hit with their Blood Orange Gose.

So why did Anderson Valley even think about brewing the obscure Gose style in the first place? How was unlikely flavor combination of sour, salty, and blood orange discovered?  Are there more riffs on the Gose style in the works?  I spoke for a few minutes with Anderson Valley’s Head Brewmaster Fal Allen to discuss both the genesis and future directions of Anderson Valley’s Gose.

“We didn’t really set out to brew this beer in the first place, ” explained Allen.  “At the time, we were experimenting with a sour mash and someone suggested we try brewing a Gose.  Only a couple breweries in Germany were brewing this style at the time.  So we tried that and we all liked it.”  Of course, with most beers, there’s a process to tweaking the recipe to get the final brew.  “It took us about 4 or 5 months and 4 or 5 test batches to finally get the recipe,” recalls Allen.  “It wasn’t too difficult figuring out the grain bill and hops for the beer.  The bigger challenge was determining how sour or salty to make it, and what level of “funkiness” it should have.”

Fal Allen takes a highly democratic approach in the development of all Anderson Valley beers, soliciting input from all of his brewers to determine the final recipe.  “I find it important in getting all the different points of view so the resulting beer appeals to wide spectrum,” explained Allen.  “If it were just me doing the tasting, I’d end up brewing beers I like, but maybe not a lot of other people would.”

The Gose gets is light sour taste from lactic acid bacteria, which is not something a brewery would usually want in its brewhouse infecting all the other beers.  So Allen is careful to create the sour flavor in the brew kettle using a long, eight hour process and then thoroughly boiling the wort to ensure all that bacteria is killed off.

As for how blood orange found its way into Anderson Valley’s Gose, with the success of the original Gose, Allen started experimenting with other additions.   He tried different spices, and had high hopes for a tamarind Gose, which turned out to be a disaster.  “Tamarind is also sour, and sour on sour is just too much.”  He also tried tangerine and grapefruit, but found blood orange created better flavors and aromas.  And as Allen enthusiastically added, “It gives the beer a cool name!” In case you were wondering, Anderson Valley does indeed have another version of Gose in the works to be released within a year from now. They just aren’t ready to talk any more about it yet.

One of more exciting revelations from America’s recent brewing revolution is that the seemingly simple beverage of beer has been taken new and unexpected direction.  Anderson Valley’s Gose and Blood Orange Gose are simply recent proof of that.

(It should be noted the author enjoyed an Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose while writing this article.)

Is Anderson Valley’s Hightway 128 Gose Better with Blood Orange?

One of my favorite new beers this year was Anderson Valley’s Highway 128 Gose, a nifty session beer (4.0-4.5% abv) with a slightly bracing sour tang, some lemon citrus character and a pronounced salty finish.  (OK, its real name is
“The Kimmie, The Ying and The Holy Gose” but most people I know call it Highway 128 Gose.)  It’s a little hard to find around here so I pick up a six-pack nearly every time I see it.  Now Anderson Valley has added some tangy blood orange to the mix.  Does it work?

This version isn’t quite as bracing in its sourness, more fruity, the saltiness doesn’t come through as much.  The flavors are little more complex, but each component is a little more muddled.    Is it better?  I keep leaning one way or another but never make up my mind which one I like more.  What do you think?