As sour beers become more and more prevalent in the craft beer community, folks might have started to notice them popping up on tap lists to a point that could almost be called mainstream. If you see some of these styles, they may not be as self-explanatory as say, a brown ale or imperial coffee stout. Two such styles that are similar in name, color, and alcohol are gose and gueuze (sometimes spelled geuze). They’re both sour and originate in Europe, so let’s do a bit more to differentiate them.
Gose (pronounced as either “goes” or “go-suh”) is a German style of beer brewed with about 60 percent wheat malt and the addition of coriander and salt. It should have pleasant citrus tartness that originates from the lactobacillus bacteria that is added to the beer (naturally or purposely inoculated) before the boil happens. This style nearly died out in the 20th Century, but thankfully gained a second wind in the past few years due to the popularity of sour beers. While it’s not necessarily easy to brew, it is far less time-consuming than most sours, which often require months of aging in wooden barrels. Thus, more breweries are willing to brew a gose as a way to foray into the world of sours without a significant initial investment. My first encounter with the style was Anderson Valley’s The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose, and to date, is still my favorite (although I did pick up a bottle of Sante Adairius’ gose last time I was there that I need to drink…). A quick note on the name: Boonville, CA is not only home to Anderson Valley Brewing Company, but also an extremely specific regional dialect called Boontling. In this dialect, “kimmie” means man or father and “yink” is a boy or son, so I’ll let you put two and two together.
With apologies to Miller High Life, the true champagne of beers is gueuze. It demonstrates some of the highest levels of craftsmanship in the brewing industry and takes years to make. Gueuze is a blend of spontaneously fermented sour beers called lambics, which have been aged from one to four years. Spontaneous fermentation occurs when the brewer leaves the wort (unfermented beer) out in the open overnight in a koelschip (say: coolship), which allows all of the bacteria, yeasts, and microbes to fall into it and begin the fermentation process. The beer is then put into barrels where it sits for either one, two, three, or sometimes four years. The brewer or blender, as sometimes it is a separate job, chooses the ratio of each vintage to go into the final blend, which is called gueuze. The result is a sour, layered beer with flavors ranging from mushrooms to grape must to peaches to oak. Be forewarned though, the beer usually carries a strong Brettanomyces aroma, which smells like a horse blanket or sweaty socks. Enough exposure removes the negative connotations of this aroma and clues you in to the amazing flavors that are likely to follow. The most well-known and arguably the best producer of gueuze is Cantillon, in Brussels, but a few other breweries do outstanding beers as well. Drie Fonteinen, Tilquin, and Hanssens each make gueuzes that hold up nicely to the beers of Jean Van Roy, the master of brewing and blending at Cantillon.
In a slight bit of prevarication from the title of this post, I’m not actually going to tell you which to choose, but hopefully you now have a better understanding of these two similar-at-first-glance-but-not-really beer styles. So, go forth and drink sour beer!