Sour beers have become increasingly popular in recent years with American beer lovers who are constantly on the hunt for new and exciting flavors to tantalize their taste buds. Although all Gose beers are sour not all sour beers are Gose.
Gose is a specific style of sour beer that hails originally from Germany while the term sour encompasses a whole spectrum of styles that originate from a variety of countries, notably Germany and Belgium. Many of the US craft brewers have quickly adopted these styles and many sours and Gose-style beers are now being brewed here in the US.
What makes a Gose different from other styles of sour beer? What are the other styles of sour beer? Read on for our brief guide to everything that is sour.
A Quick Overview of the Key Differences
While sour beers generally tend to be fermented using wild yeast strains such as Brettanomyces, which grows on fruit skins or can be found present in the atmosphere, Gose beers are fermented using a traditional top-fermenting ale yeast, to which lactobacillus (a type of wild bacteria) is added. Gose beers also contain salt and coriander which contribute to the beer’s unique flavor and give the Gose a level of salinity.
|Origin||Germany||Belgium, Germany, and USA|
|Characteristics||Medium to light sourness, a hint of fruitiness and coriander-lemony flavors with a kick of fresh bread-like aroma. Some salinity from either salt water or added salt.||Vinegar-like aroma with a remarkable tartness.|
|ABV||4% - 5%||5% - 8%|
|Ingredients||Malted wheat & barley with coriander & salt.||Pilsner malt, crystal malts, malted wheats, and often fruit.|
|Fermentation||Top-fermenting ale yeast with a strain of lactobacillus bacteria.||Wild yeast strain such as Brettanomyces which produces lactobacillus as a result of fermentation.|
What is a Gose?
Let’s start with Gose. The origins of the Gose beer can be traced back almost a millennia to the small mining town of Goslar on the banks of the River Gose in Lower Saxony, modern-day Germany. It’s said that the salty waters of the River Gose are what originally gave this beer its unique savory taste. Gose was said to be the favorite beverage of the German Emperor Otto II.
If Gose was born in the 11th Century, its popularity across Germany didn’t really take off until the mid-18th Century when the small-town brewers of Goslar looked for larger markets in the nearby towns of Leipzig and Halle. Ironically, Gose became known as Leipzig Gose due to the popularity of over 80 gosenschenkes (Gose taverns) known to be operating in the city of Leipzig by the later part of the 18th Century.
It was due to its popularity in Leipzig that Gose beer was given an exemption from the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 which required any beers made in Germany only to use water, malted barley, and hops.
Gose is a top-fermented beer that is brewed with salt and coriander in addition to the standard ingredients of malted barley and wheat, hops, and water.
One of the defining characteristics of Gose is its tartness. The beer has a sour, tangy flavor that is balanced by the saltiness and herbal notes from the coriander. Salt would often be added to the brewing process, if not already using the original salted river water of the River Gose, giving the beer a slightly savory quality that sets it apart from other sour beers.
Gose is typically low in alcohol, ranging from 4% to 5% ABV. This makes it a refreshing and easy-drinking beer that is perfect for warm weather or outdoor activities. In fact, Gose was originally brewed for miners in the town of Goslar, who needed a low-alcohol, thirst-quenching beer to drink after a long day’s work.
Another unique aspect of Gose is its cloudy appearance. This is due to the use of wheat malt in the brewing process, which creates a hazy, straw-colored beer. Gose is also often unfiltered, which can result in a slightly gritty texture.
In the 20th century, after nearly disappearing completely following World War II, Gose was given a European-protected status which means only Gose beers brewed in the Goslar region or nearby can be considered a true Gose. Those produced overseas such as in the US have to be labeled Gose-style beer.
Overall, Gose is a complex and refreshing beer that is perfect for those who enjoy tart, savory flavors.
BJCP Guidelines for a Gose
|IBU||5 - 12|
|SRM||3 - 4|
|ABV||4.2% - 4.7%|
|OG||1.036 - 1.056|
|FG||1.006 - 1.010|
What Is a Sour Beer?
Sour beer or a sour ale is a beer that has been fermented to be acidic and sour in flavor. The sour flavor of the ale is due to the use of wild yeasts and bacteria in the fermentation process rather than a clean controlled strain of yeast.
Although the first sour beers are credited as being invented in Belgium, moving back in time to around the year 4000 BC, nearly all beers were sour beers. The exact quantities of the ingredients were still an experiment – basically, a trial and error process.
Fermentation processes would often produce a certain type of wild bacteria known as lactobacillus (sour milk bacteria) which would give the beers their sour flavors. As brewing technology and sanitary practices improved, sour beers almost disappeared with cleaner, fresher forms of beer taking their place.
Sour beers nowadays often revert back to being aged in wooden vessels which allows bacteria to grow naturally compared to the sanitary conditions of metals such as stainless steel.
Sour is not a specific style of beer, but rather a category that encompasses a wide range of beer styles with varying degrees of tartness. Some of the most popular sour beer styles include Berliner Weisse, Flanders Red Ale, Lambic, and of course Gose.
Sour beers are typically made using bacteria or wild yeast strains that produce lactic acid during the fermentation process. This gives the beer its tart, acidic flavor. The use of bacteria and wild yeast also gives sour beers a unique funkiness that sets them apart from other beer styles.
Different Varieties of Sour Beer
Overall, sour beers are a diverse category of beers that offer a wide range of flavors and aromas. They are perfect for those who enjoy complex, tart flavors and are looking for something a little bit different from their standard beer fare.
Often seen as the younger sibling of a Gose, Berliner Weisse is a sour beer that again originated in Germany, but this time from Berlin, as the name suggests. Berliner Weisse was first produced 500 years later in the 16th Century and was a very popular beer in the 18th Century. Berliner Weisse is made with up to 50% of the grain bill being wheat, although the Weisse in its name actually refers to a “white” beer rather than wheat.
It is a light-bodied beer that is highly carbonated and typically has a low ABV. Berliner Weisse is known for its tart, lemony flavor, and it is often served with sweet fruit syrup to balance out the sourness.
|IBU||3 - 8|
|SRM||2 - 3|
|OG||1.028 - 1.032|
|FG||1.003 - 1.006|
|ABV||2.8% - 3.8%|
We have looked at the differences between these two German sour beers, the Berliner Weisse and Gose beer in more detail, and you can find it here.
Flanders Red Ale
Flanders Red Ale is a sour beer that originated in the Flanders region of Belgium. It is a dark, malty beer that is aged in oak barrels for up to two years. This aging process gives Flanders Red Ale its distinctive sour flavor and a complex, fruity aroma.
|IBU||10 - 25|
|SRM||10 - 17|
|OG||1.048 - 1.057|
|FG||1.002 - 1.1012|
|ABV||4.6% - 6.5%|
Lambic is a sour beer that is brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium. It is made using a spontaneous fermentation process, where the beer is left to ferment naturally using wild yeasts that are present in the air.
Lambic is a complex beer that is known for its sour, funky flavor and its dry finish. Lambic beers are traditionally served uncarbonated and change their flavor profile as they age over time. Younger versions will often have a strong lactic sourness while the funky flavors can develop over time.
|IBU||0 - 10|
|SRM||3 - 6|
|OG||1.040 - 1.054|
|FG||1.001 - 1.010|
|ABV||5% - 6.5%|
Not to be confused with Gose beer, a Geuze is a blend of young and old lambics to create a more complex flavor profile that often reflects the personal preferences of the blender. Most Belgian brewers would consider the vinegary or cider-like character of a Geuze to be a fault.
A good Geuze beer should not be too pungent but possess a full and tantalizing bouquet with a sharp aroma and a soft velvety texture. While lambics will often be served uncarbonated, a Geuze is always served sparkling and normally comes in a champagne-style bottle with a cork and cage. Geuze beers which are labeled as rude or vieille (“old”) are considered to be the most traditional.
|SRM||5 - 6|
|OG||1.040 - 1.054|
|FG||1.000 - 1.006|
|ABV||5% - 8%|
A Belgian-style brown ale, the Oud Bruin is a malty, fruity, aged beer with a caramel-chocolate flavor and can be quite substantial in alcohol. A slight sourness will often become more pronounced in well-aged examples, with many saying it has a sherry-like character producing a “sweet-and-sour” profile.
The balance should be malty but with fruitiness and sourness present. Belgian brewers consider the Oud Bruin and Flanders Red Ale to be part of the same family but the distinction was made when Michael Jackson first defined his beer styles, with each beer having a distinctly different flavor profile.
|IBU||20 - 25|
|SRM||17 - 22|
|OG||1.040 - 1.074|
|FG||1.008 - 1.012|
|ABV||4% - 8%|
There are of course other varieties of sour ales available but these are the ones officially recognized by the BJCP style guidelines. Fruited Lambics also appear in their categorization and beers such as Berliner Weisse and Gose are often served with syrups such as Woodruff (green) or a bright red raspberry syrup to balance the sourness with a little sweetness. Many brewers even brew fruited versions of Gose or Berliner Weisse beers too.
What Makes a Sour Beer Sour?
The Brettanomyces wild yeast used either partially or fully for the fermentation of sour beers is what gives them their sourness. This strain of yeast often grows wild on the skin of fruits. Although winemakers will go to extreme extents to avoid the wild bacterias that go with this yeast, sour beer brewers will embrace them.
Traditionally, brewers would use a strain of yeast such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae which doesn’t help too much to break down the longer chains of sugar into alcohol. Musty, earthy, or fruity flavors are imparted by the phenols and esters Brett uses to break down those sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide These rustic flavors are what give Belgian beers, especially the sours, their funky flavor.
Sourness basically refers to the acidity level of the beer caused by the acids that wild bacteria such as Pedioccus and Lactobacillus produce when introduced to the beer. These bacteria will feed on any leftovers and create lactic acid and even vinegar acid, acetic, in some cases.
Most sour beers are not brewed in a sterile environment, with some, especially the lambics, brewed using open fermentation which uses airborne wild bacteria. Many of the modern brewers of the US, however, use a process called kettle-souring where the wild bacteria is introduced to the wort in the kettle before being boiled and sterilized prior to fermentation.
This is a much-preferred technique as it can be easier to brew, can give better control, and can lower the risk of contaminating the brewing area.
Commercial Examples of Sour Beer
|Type of Sour||Characteristics||Examples|
|American Sour||Wild punch from bacteria and kettle souring||Samuel Adams American Kriek|
|Belgian Fruit Lambic||Brewed with fruit for a sweet and intense flavor and aroma||Upland Brewing Company's Raspberry Lambic Dogfish Head Festina Lente|
|Flanders Red Ale||Malty & fruity flavor with a strong sour taste||New Belgium Lips of Faith la Folie The Lost Abbey's Red Poppy Ale|
|Belgian Geuze||Extremely strong and sour flavor||Ruwerij Boon's Boon Geuze The Bruery's Reuze|
Gose Beers You Must Try This Summer
The fruity nature and low ABV of the Gose style make them an essential refreshing summer beer.
|Ballast Point Citrus Cove Gose||San Diego||Zesty Lime|
|Six Point Citrus Jammer||Brooklyn, NY||Fresh lemon and Juicy Tang|
|Victory Brewing Kirsch Gose||Downingtown, PA||Tart cherry|
|Founder's brewing Green Zebra Gose Style Ale||Grand Rapids, MI||Watermelon and a hint of salt|
Gose vs Sour – Final Call
Gose and sour beers are both styles that offer unique and enjoyable drinking experiences. Gose is a simpler, more straightforward beer that is perfect for those who enjoy savory, salty flavors and a lower ABV. Sour beers, on the other hand, offer a wider range of complex flavors and styles that can appeal to a broader range of beer drinkers.
Ultimately, it comes down to individual taste and preference, so why not try both and see which one you prefer?
If you are a home brewer looking to delve into the world of sour beers it’s advised to start off with smaller batches until you understand the combinations of wild yeast and bacteria you need for your desired beer.
Although all the variables can be controlled, especially when kettle souring, there is always going to be some room for unpredictability due to the wild nature of the ingredients used to ferment the beer.
While many sour beers use a wild yeast strain such as Brettanomyces, Gose beers can use a traditional ale yeast with lactobacillus bacteria added to the wort and a touch of salt and coriander for the beer’s unique and fruity flavors. You can even add fruit (skin on) to your brew for that desired dose of wild bacteria.
If you are an experienced home brewer you could soon be brewing your own unique and flavourful sour beers with enough practice and a better understanding of the wild yeasts and bacteria involved. Just try not to kill anybody, not all wild bacteria are good!