Sour beers are not just from Belgium, you will also find many sour beers which originate from Germany. Sure, most of our favorite sour beers seem to be Belgian, including the lambics, Flanders red ale, and my personal favorite the Geuze beer, but Germany also produces some excellent sour beers, with the two most famous styles being the Gose beer and the Berliner Weisse.
Although they both use a blend of wheat and barley grains, they are both soured by the lactobacillus strain of bacteria and are relatively low in alcohol. They are two very distinct styles, so let’s dive in and learn more about the differences between these two German sour beer styles.
Berliner Weisse vs Gose – At a Glance
|Origin||Berlin, Germany||Goslar/Leipzig, Germany|
|ABV||2.8% - 3.8%||4.2% - 4.8%|
|IBU||3 - 8||5 - 12|
|SRM||2 - 3||3 - 4|
Berliner Weisse vs Gose Beer – Which Came First?
Gose and Berliner Weisse beers are two of the oldest beer styles still being brewed in Germany today.
Berliner Weisse was referred to as the “Champagne of the North” by Napoleon as far back as 1809, due to its lively and elegant nature. However, the origins of Gose can be traced back even further to the year 1,000 C.E. and the small town of Goslar on the Gose River in Lower Saxony, in present-day Germany.
Both styles of beer were incredibly popular in the 19th century, with the majority of Gose-brewed beers by then coming from the nearby city of Leipzig, but both beers nearly became extinct by the late 1960s.
It was only in the 1980s, and later following the reunification of Germany, that interest was revived in both styles of sour beer. Nowadays, there are still only a handful of brewers in Germany making Modern-Day Berliner Weisse beers and Gose, although many American craft breweries are also devoting more time and resources to recreate the sour taste of these classic German beers.
The Origins of a Gose Beer
Gose (pronounced gos-suh) beer is a very traditional style of beer with a long history that dates back centuries further than the other more famous types of German beers like Pilsners, Kölsch, or Märzens.
Written records trace the beer back to the 15th Century and the small town of Goslar in Eastern Germany, although other sources claim Gose is at least 1000 years old and was the favorite drink of the German Emperor Otto III.
The town of Goslar was founded in the 10th century after the nearby find of rich silver deposits. The surrounding grounds were also found to be mineral rich with other mineral deposits such as copper, lead, zinc, and salt. Beer historians believe it was the natural salinity of the town’s nearby river, the River Gose, which gave those original Gose beers their distinct salt taste.
If Gose was born in Goslar more than 1000 years ago, its popularity didn’t really take off until the mid-18th Century, when Goslar’s small-town brewers found a much larger market for their beer in the nearby cities of Leipzig and Halle. The popularity of the beer exploded and ironically Leipzig was called the Gose City with over 80 gosenschenkes (Gose taverns) operating in the city by the late 1800s.
Obviously, the smaller brewers of Goslar couldn’t meet the demand of the larger city so a Gose brewery was set up in the nearby town of Döllnitz which still operates to this day.
It’s due to the popularity of Gose beer in Leipzig (often called a Leipziger Gose) and their political influence that Gose beers were given a regional exemption from the German beer purity laws which forbade the use of ingredients other than barley, water, yeast and hops in a beer.
How Is a Gose Beer Brewed?
Gose beer is a top-fermenting beer, which means the yeast responsible for fermentation is pitched on the top of the brewing vat of beer rather than at the bottom as with most German ales, especially lagers.
A traditional Gose beer uses a standard ratio of 40% pilsner malt (or a variety of barley) and 60% wheat. Wheat is what gives the beer the characteristic fruitiness. Fruited Gose may also add fruits at a later stage, too. Hops are minimal in Gose beer, which is low in bitterness.
Lacto-fermentation is what gives the beer its sourness. Originally it would be spontaneously fermented, meaning it got its yeast and bacteria from the presence in the air, but modern brewers now have more options including adding a specific strain of lactobacillus bacteria to a top fermenting yeast in the brewing process. Lactic acid itself can also be added to the finished beer for more of an acid taste.
Although the salt in the traditional Goslar-brewed Gose beers came from the water which was used, brewers would also add flavorings such as coriander at the last stage of the brewing, and table salt if not present in the water.
Leipzig Gose beers were sometimes much saltier in taste as it would be hard to exactly recreate the saline nature of the River Gose water. The salt and coriander add that hint of brine and a citrus-like tang which Gose beers are famous for.
The Origins of a Berliner Weisse
Berliner Weisse beer originated from the region around Berlin which was developed gradually from the 17th Century to the 20th Century. Berliner Weiss (pronounced vice-uh) actually refers to the white or lightness of the beer rather than the wheat as many people mistakenly assume.
The modern-day Berliner Weisse was developed relatively late in the 19th century with over 700 breweries producing what was to become Berlin’s most popular alcoholic drink. Within Europe, Berliner Weisse has been granted an appellation controlee in recent decades, which means Berliner Weisse beers can only be produced within the city limits of Berlin.
Wheat beers produced in Berlin were not originally sour but were light and easy to drink compared to many of the heavier, darker brown beers of the time. The beer was also significantly lower in ABV at 3% than many of its contemporary beers. The sourness of the beer occurred mainly due to the brewing process of the beer and the wort either being not boiled or, at the very most, partially brewed.
The result of this almost “wild” fermentation was a range of beers that had vastly differing levels of acidity, meaning the beer failed to meet the expectations of Berlin’s beer lovers.
To cut the acidity levels of the beer, Berliner Weisse would often be served with various syrups including the bright green woodruff syrup or a bright red raspberry syrup. This tradition, Berliner Weiss “Mid Schuss” (with syrup), has carried through to today’s Berliner Weisse drinkers, who are normally offered the choice of a red or green beer, and some craft brewers have taken it further with the production of Fruited Berliner Weisse beers.
How Is a Berliner Weisse Brewed?
Unlike the Gose beers, which would have originally used spontaneous fermentation, Berliner Weisse beer used a type of infusion mash where yeast was pitched but carried both yeast and bacteria from previous beer fermentations.
Similar to a Gose beer, the Berliner Weisse again uses a blend of barley and wheat grains, but the ratio tends to be 50/50 rather than the extra wheat of a Gose.
The wort of a Berliner Weisse beer would not be boiled, and the amount of hops used (which remember have astringent properties) was quite low. As the wort was not boiled, the hops instead would be boiled with water separately and this hop infusion would then be added to the wort to increase the mash temperature. This allowed the brewers to reach mash temperature without using deception techniques where some of the wort would be removed to heat separately.
With no sterilization of a boil, there was a huge range of microorganisms that would survive, including the heat-tolerant lactic acid bacteria which would even survive the addition of the boiled hop infusion. Malt also has plenty of its own lactic bacteria which meant the beer would ferment with a dry and lightly acidic taste.
Acidification of the beer could occur in the mashing process if the mash stood for too long at low temperatures, during fermentation from the cross-contamination of previously used yeast, or during storage from micro-flora in the pores of the wooden containers.
The 19th-century brewers would use new technologies to better control the fermentation, especially in the ratio of yeast to lactic acid bacteria during fermentation and the secondary fermentation or lagering-like process.
Nowadays, modern brewers no longer use that yeast/bacterial blend in the beer but rather carry out a bacterial fermentation separately which is then blended with the beer for a defined acidity. Brettanomyces bacteria strains may also be used to give the beer a bit more of a funky complex flavor.
Gose Beer vs Berliner Weisse – The Key Differences?
Gose beer is very similar to a Berliner Weisse and often you will hear people asking for a Gose Berliner Weisse. If you were to remove the salt and coriander from a Gose beer you would be left very much with a Berliner Weisse.
Gose beer is classed as sour, but it has a more complex flavor profile than Berliner Weisse. In addition to the sourness, Gose beer has a slightly salty taste from the addition of salt. The coriander gives the beer a spicy, citrusy flavor that balances out the sourness and saltiness. The overall flavor is refreshing and complex, with a slightly tart finish.
Gose beer is slightly higher in alcohol content than Berliner Weisse, with an average alcohol content of 4% to 5%. While this is still relatively low compared to other beer styles, it is higher than Berliner Weisse at just 3% – 4% ABV.
Gose beer is pale in color, but it has a slightly darker hue than Berliner Weisse. The addition of coriander gives the beer a slight haze, which adds to its overall appearance. Gose beer is traditionally served in a tall, slender glass, while a Berliner Weisse is often served in a bowl-shaped glass that showcases its cloudy appearance.
Both Berliner Weisse and Gose beers are on the milder side of the sour spectrum, especially when compared to the all-out head-bangingly sour taste of the Belgian lambics. With a Berliner Weisse, you should be able to taste the notable and potentially dominating lactic sourness but it shouldn’t veer on the vinegary side.
If the brew has any Brettanomyces added you should be able to detect fruitiness from the esters. The beer may have a little bready flavor from the malt with just a trace of hop bitterness.
Food Pairings of Gose vs Berliner Weisse
Both Berliner Weisse and Gose beers pair well with a variety of foods, particularly those with bold or spicy flavors.
Berliner Weisse is often served with sweet syrup, which makes it a great option to pair with desserts. It also pairs well with light, summery dishes, such as salads, seafood, and grilled vegetables. The tartness of the beer helps to cut through the richness of these dishes.
Gose beer pairs well with spicy foods, such as Mexican or Thai cuisine. The saltiness of the beer helps to balance out the spiciness of the food, while the sourness helps to cut through the richness of the flavors. It also pairs well with seafood and grilled meats.
Berliner Weisse vs Gose – Popular Examples
Personally, I prefer the more complex flavors of a Gose beer and it has a more interesting back story too. The salt added to the beer enhances its flavors while pulling out more aromatics from the ingredients.
If you are looking for a traditional German Gose, there is a brewery called Bayerischer Banhof that brews an exceptional example simply called Leipziger Gose. Unfiltered and brewed with a generous dose of coriander seed, this Gose has a distinct lemon fruitiness which is balanced with a pronounced salinity.
Anderson Valley here in the US produced a range of Fruited Gose beers which include a Blood Orange, Cherry, Framboise Rose, or Briny Melon Gose. The watermelon and salt combination in particular works well with candied watermelon rind and citrus qualities giving the beer a pleasant sweetness. A subtle layer of earthiness and citrus is added by the coriander seeds.
Even Sierra Nevada has got in on the Gose craze, with Sea Level Gose a light and zippy take on the traditional German Gose style. Brewed with a pinch of coriander and a dash of California sea salt, it’s currently only available on tap.
If you don’t really fancy the taste of salt in your beer (many do, see our article on how much salt is in beer (add link)), the craft brewers of the US have embraced the Berliner Weisse style just as much, if not slightly more.
Over the last decade, the Berliner Weisse style of beers has experienced extreme popularity across America. Brewers like Creature Comforts and Night Shift have built up entire series of Weisse beers. The fun really starts when they start experimenting with which fruits to add to a Berliner Weisse. I’ve seen everything from blood orange, guava, pineapple, or strawberries to hibiscus and kiwi finding their way into a Berliner Weisse beer.
Creature Comforts Brewing Company makes a seasonal series of Berliner Weisse beers with different fruits for each release called the Athena Paradiso Fruited Berliner Weisse range.
For those early spring months, the Athena Paradiso is brewed with tart cherry, raspberry, and cranberry while the Winter version of Athena Paradiso of October and November features blackberries and blackcurrants. At just 4.5% ABV they are slightly stronger than a traditional Berliner Weisse but still very sessionable.
Night Shift Brewing bump the ABV of their Berliner Weisse range of beers up to 7%, but with fruited additions, they are still very easy to drink. They do a Weisse which features tangerine, kiwi, and mango, a summer Slushie Weisse with strawberry, peach, and orange, and finally a winter berry version that adds raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry to their Jammin Weisse.
Berliner Weisse vs Gose – Last Call
Sour beers are a great way to explore new tastes in the world of craft beer. Think of the German sour beers as “beginner” sour beers as they tend to be more refreshing than other sour styles such as the Lambics or Geuze beers of Belgium.
Berliner Weisse or Gose beers are generally low in alcohol and very low in bitterness too, and so are much easier to drink. The unique tart but fruity flavor of a Berliner Weisse or Gose can be enhanced by adding syrup to the beer (you must try the traditional Woodruff syrup) or hunting down a Fruited version.
Try looking for a Gose beer or Berliner Weiss on your next visit to the local craft beer hangout, you will be pleased you did!