The penultimate beer of a set chosen for us by Rebecca Pate (@rpate) of Brewing East is an old favourite: Magic Rock’s take on the salty, sour native beer style of Saxony.
We’ve drunk this beer many, many times, and have written about it often, including in our short and short-lived columnette in the Guardian Guide back in 2015. Nonetheless, we were very happy to give it fresh consideration, especially as we had a twist in mind.
People have been telling us to try Westbrook Gose (South Carolina, USA) for ages but despite its being theoretically widely available in the UK we’ve only ever seen it accompanied by the words OUT OF STOCK. But this time luck was on our side and we managed to nab a single can at £4.90 for 330ml from Honest Brew.
Which leads us to a first point of comparison: Salty Kiss cost £1.99 per 330ml can from the same source, which means Westbrook Gose has to be more than twice as good – stratospherically brilliant, in fact – to justify its asking price.
We drank both side by side. They looked remarkably similar in the glass – hazy gold, soft peaks – but the Westbrook gave off a more obvious sour smell, like a lemon in the compost bin.
Salty Kiss is made with gooseberries but does not taste of them, is not green, and will not strike you as all that weird if you’ve ever had a Fentiman’s lemonade. If any fruit comes to mind, it’s strawberries, but maybe that’s because of the design of the can, like a grown-up version of that experiment from Home Economics lessons at school where banana-flavoured milk dyed pink so easily fools the palate. Gose’s eyebrow-raising headline ingredient is salt but we don’t really taste it, perhaps because it is in balance with beginner-level sourness. Nor do we particularly latch on to any coriander, which presumably means its been used with the light touch 21st Century craft brewers (def 2) are so often chided for lacking. Our impression this time, as always, is that this is a classy, well-constructed beer that closely resembles the beers currently sold as Gose in Leipzig and around, only with a bit more punch, which is why it’s on the A Team.
Our first impressions of Westbrook Gose were of a much greater sourness. If Salty Kiss is Victorian pop, then this is some kind of sports drink designed to be chugged from a plastic bottle under the Friday Night Lights. The sourness is of a particular type: a sweaty, cheesecake funk; milk left too long in the sun. The obligatory fruit comparison: peaches. It clings to the tongue like peach tin syrup, too. There’s a line beyond which this kind of thing ceases to taste much like beer and, from our perspective, this beer is on the wrong side. Which is not to say we didn’t enjoy it – there is something moreish about it, and it’s not insanely sour or anything. If you always Go Large when the option is presented then, of the two, this might be the Gose for you.
Going back to Salty Kiss after the Westbrook Gose was a revelation. It was almost a different beer – lighter, fresher, hoppier, its pale ale DNA suddenly rampant. Different and, yes, better. Amazingly great. We’re still in love.