It is entirely possible that I had to be soaked in salty brine off the coast of Apalachicola, Florida, for a week before trying a gose beer that I actually liked. Mrs. M and I were in the taproom of the Owl Café, sunburned and relaxed. And it was in that happy state that I spied the words "Briney Melon Gose." I was having a good week, I thought, why not ruin it with a sour beer?
It wasn't awful. In fact, it was refreshing. This wasn't one of those "got something to prove" beers. It was an Anderson Valley Briney Melon — with a watermelon freshness to it, and the sea salt to balance the acidity and fruitiness. I'm not saying the gose will ever be a go-to for me, but I was feeling briny, my face was starting to resemble my briefcase, and, right then and there, the gose really hit the spot.
If I had to guess, my initial "just say no" reaction to sour beers stems from the typical craft brewer's fetish for producing extreme versions of everything. The Germans, on the other hand, drink a lot more beer than we do, and they have gotten very good at it. They don't tend to go for those ABV of 8-9 percent, sticking closer to the 4-5 percent range. This makes them more drinkable or, if you're a beer writer, sessionable.
What gives me pause is that so many people describe these melon-laden gose concoctions as not tasting like beer at all. In fact, according to the Reinheitsgebot — German beer purity laws of 1516 — it isn't a beer. The style is considered a regional specialty. And it is an acquired taste.
Originating in Goslar, Germany, gose is traditionally a wheat beer. What sets it apart from other wheats is the saltiness of the local water — which is a bit of a mystery in and of itself, as Goslar is nowhere near a seacoast. To counteract the saltiness, sour lemony flavors and herbs were mixed in. It caught on in eastern Germany, where they recreated the taste by adding a little sea salt to the water used in the process — which is what brewers do now, along with adding the strain of bacteria that makes it all go "sour."
After World War II, the communists took over eastern Germany, and they tended to favor standardization over local specialties. Gose was forgotten on this side of the Iron Curtain, and, by 1966, the last bar serving it on the east side closed. It wasn't until 1986 when production restarted. And stopped again two years later.
It really wasn't until this century, after nearly every possible variation of the IPA had been played to death, that brewers jumped on the Belgian-sour-lambic bandwagon. The style was always a little too much for mass consumption, so they toned it down a notch with the gose style.
Anderson Valley Briney Melon weighs in at 4.2 percent ABV. It's out of Booneville, California, and I couldn't find it here. So, doing a little painstaking research, I found Terrapin Beer Co.'s Watermelon Gose out of Athens, Georgia (Go 'Dawgs and, for that matter, R.E.M.). It goes down well: a little tart, but won't make you pull a sour face. This is important if you haven't already completely given up and are trying to look cool while you drink. Terrapin is available all over town, but for their Watermelon Gose, I had to go to the Madison Growler Shop.
People have told me gose beers should be paired with chicken and fish. Perhaps, but over the course of a meal, I'm not sure how many foods the tartness wouldn't wreck.
Yeah, I tease brewers for being trendy, but I was resisting a refreshing and interesting beer on the grounds that ... I'm a blockhead. So it gose.