Leipziger Gose

Pronunciation guide for English-speakers:
"Gose-uh" as in "rose" plus "uh"

Gose is an ancient, sour and saline tasting ale, made from more than half malted wheat and the rest malted barley. The brew is fermented with both yeast and lactic bacteria and is spiced with both coriander and hops. It is brewed with slightly salted water. This peculiar beer style is now most closely associated with Leipzig, the capital of the German State of Saxony.

After pouring, the brew develops a tall, slightly off-white, lacey, and substantial head, which stems from the high protein content of the wheat. The brew has a medium, pétillant effervescence and a medium mouthfeel. Its nose is mild and subdued, with no hop notes, and just a whiff of spicy coriander. On the palate, there is next to no upfront bitterness, but the middle is dominated by an almost sour spiciness overlaid by a complex array of banana, green apple, dried apricot, zest, and coriander. These tastes make the hops in the brew almost imperceptible. The finish is crisp, dry, almost mouth-puckering, and very refreshing. The brew's unique saline characteristics are particularly prominent in the dry finish. The Gose's color tends to be a dark pale to light amber. Though nowadays shipped in modern crown-capped bottles (right), Gose use to be sold in specially-shaped, slender-necked bottles (bottom left) reminiscent of Francianian wine bottles.

A gose brand imported into the United States is the Gose Leipziger Spezialität brewed by the Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof of Leipzig, a craft brewery housed in Leipzig's oldest and now converted railroad station. This beer, however, is hard to find and usually available only in specialty beer stores.

Gose is usually drunk straight in a cylindrical glass beer glass (top left), but it may also be served, like Berliner Weisse, with a shot of raspberry or woodruff-flavored syrup. Because of the lack of residual sweetness and the strong salinity in the finish, the sugary syrup gives the beer a much smoother aftertaste. In the last century, Gose was also often fortified with a shot of clear caraway schnapps. Though this custom has since fallen out of favor, fortifying half a liter of Gose with a shot of modern aquavit, for instance, turns the beer into a splendid drink for washing down assertively-flavored foods. At the table, Gose—fortified or not—holds up especially well when paired with distinct-tasting seafoods, such as a filet of blue fish, a morsel of smoked salmon, or a plate of oysters on the half-shell.

The Strange History of a Strange Brew

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.

In the 20th century, with its wars and dictatorships, Leipziger Gose slowly faded into oblivion. The air raids of the Second World War wreaked havoc and destruction on the brewing facilities, which the planned economy of the Communists proved incapable of rebuilding. The division of Germany during the Cold War (starting in 1949) into a "workers' and farmers' paradise" in the Soviet East and a "revengist, bourgeois" hellhole of "exploitation" in the Capitalist West — separated from each other since 1961 by a the Berlin Wall and a death zone with barbed wire, search lights, and a brain-washed, trigger happy "people's army" — not only kept the East Germans in their socialist prison but also caused their beers to wither. Gose was still a local specialty in Leipzig, when the Communist regime in East Germany decided it had better uses for its feeble economy's precious grain. This was because food shortages that resulted from the forced collectivization of agriculture turned bread-making, not beer-making, into the almost sole purpose of the precious grains. Not surprisingly, all brewing suffered under the Communist regime and, by the late 1950s, the last pre-unification Gose was brewed in Leipzig.

Only after the Wall came down on November 9, 1989, could this traditional beer style make a comeback; and many craft breweries in and around Leipzig started to brew it again. One of the driving forces behind the modern Gose-Renaissance has been the Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof (Gose Brewery Bavarian Station), wich opened its doors in 2000. It is located in the historic downtown train station dating from 1842 (depicted here as it looked in 1912) that linked Leipzig with Munich.

Because Gose is spiced with coriander, next to hops, a spice that is technically verboten to be used in beer by the German Beer Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot). It took an exception from the otherwise immutable Purity Law for Gose to reclaim its former glory after German reunification.

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