Magical Mystery Pour 23: Magic Rock Salty Kiss + Special Guest Star

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.

The head on a glass of Salty Kiss.

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.

Session #116: Slightly Wrong Gose is Better Than No Gose

Gose, an obscure German beer style, has become a (small scale, low-key) battleground, and we’re not sure why.

Der­rick Peter­man is host­ing the 116th edi­tion of The Ses­sion where beer blog­gers around the world post on one top­ic. This month, Der­rick says:

Want to talk about the his­to­ry of the Gose?  How about how Amer­i­can brew­eries are tak­ing this style and run­ning wild with it with dif­fer­ent spice and fruit addi­tions?  How else has the Gose man­i­fest­ed itself out­side its Ger­man home­land?  Is the Gose here to stay or will it go the way of the Black IPA, once the hot style but slow­ly becom­ing a large­ly irrel­e­vant curios­i­ty?

We first encoun­tered Gose in The Bible, AKA The Great Beer Guide by Michael Jack­son. Back in 2008, when this blog was a year and half old, we trav­elled across Ger­many to the Czech Repub­lic, stop­ping off in snowy Goslar and Leipzig on the way. So, before we’d ever tast­ed a fan­ci­fied craft beer take on Gose, we had a good go on as near as there is to the real thing, at source.

We liked it, though some takes were bet­ter than oth­ers. It remind­ed us of a quirky cousin of Bel­gian wheat beer, and we like Wit, even, or maybe espe­cial­ly, Hoe­gaar­den. (We realise this gets us thrown out of both The World Kraft Klub and the Ain’t Wot It Used to Be Soci­ety of Great Britain but we can­not lie.) Rit­terguts had a bit more to it being a bit more tart. But, in gen­er­al, what Ger­man Gose isn’t in the 21st Cen­tu­ry is a deeply pro­found, com­plex, chal­leng­ing beer: it’s a fun refresh­er, no more tangy than a can of Fan­ta, no salti­er than a Jacob’s cream crack­er, and with corian­der present but hard­ly obtru­sive.

For a long time Gose’s big cham­pi­on was Ron Pat­tin­son who called for the sal­va­tion of this endan­gered style while pro­vid­ing his­to­ry lessons and set­ting some stan­dards along the way. But the exu­ber­ant UK craft move­ment, focused pri­mar­i­ly on IPAs and oth­er hop-led styles, took a while to respond.

A break­through moment was the arrival of Mag­ic Rock Salty Kiss in Feb­ru­ary 2013, brewed by Gia­da Maria Simioni (who has since left Mag­ic Rock) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Anders Kiss­mey­er. We don’t know that it’s the first exam­ple of a UK-brewed Gose – almost cer­tain­ly not – but it was the one that made a splash. Mag­ic Rock were, and still are, one of the buzzi­est brew­eries around and gave Gose a con­tem­po­rary twist with the addi­tion of sea buck­thorn, rose­hips and Eng­lish goose­ber­ries.

A can of Salty Kiss, close up.

We first tast­ed Salty Kiss in Sheffield in the sum­mer of 2013 and, from the off, loved it. We’ve liked every vari­a­tion we’ve tried – they’ve messed around with dif­fer­ent fruits from time to time and tin­kered with the recipe – and it’s become one of those beers we like to keep in the fridge at all times, if pos­si­ble. If you’ve nev­er had it you might imag­ine from the glo­ri­ous­ly gar­ish graph­ic design and the descrip­tion that it is bright pink and tastes like fruit juice. It isn’t, and does­n’t: those addi­tives are sea­son­ings, not flavour­ings, and it real­ly does­n’t seem huge­ly dif­fer­ent to the beers we drank in east­ern Ger­many eight years ago.

We test­ed that judge­ment recent­ly when we got hold of some bot­tles of Bay­erisch­er Bahn­hof Gose from Beers of Europe. It was great, in that bright uncom­pli­cat­ed way – the kind of thing it would be a plea­sure to drink from the bot­tle with a bar­be­cue on a hot day. Salty Kiss is in the same ter­ri­to­ry but dialled up just a notch or two, arguably bet­ter, cer­tain­ly no worse. It tastes how Gose tastes, it isn’t some sick muta­tion.

So when we read that Ron regrets wish­ing for more Gos­es (because every­one is get­ting it wrong, as we read it), or Ed being dis­gust­ed by Salty Kiss, or Alan describ­ing most mod­ern Gose as ‘Gatorade alcopop’, we feel a bit down­heart­ed. Is their dis­taste about beer, or beer cul­ture? We agree that a few more straight Gos­es with­out fruit and oth­er sprin­kles would be nice but, still, this feels like at least the begin­ning of a suc­cess sto­ry – a beer style so neglect­ed it near­ly dis­ap­peared alto­geth­er is now near­ing ubiq­ui­ty! As with IPA, get­ting peo­ple excit­ed and engaged about the idea – let­ting them have fun – is step one. Get­ting the his­to­ry right, at least at the sharp-end, in the brew­house, can come lat­er.

Why Brew Gose Instead of Mild?

There’s a simple answer to this question: because no-one in Britain actually likes mild.

Of course that’s not quite true – a few peo­ple are obses­sive about it, and quite a few oth­ers like the occa­sion­al pint for a change. In the Mid­lands through to the North West, it seems there are even some reg­u­lar mild drinkers left.

In gen­er­al, though, it’s a style that the Cam­paign for Real Ale has been try­ing to get peo­ple excit­ed about for 40 years with lit­tle suc­cess. First wave CAMRA mem­bers pref­ered cult bit­ters; in more recent years, they’ve turned their atten­tion to hop­py gold­en ales.

And many (most?) post-2005 craft beer enthu­si­asts think like Tony Nay­lor – what’s the point of it?

[Mild] as it devel­oped in the 20th cen­tu­ry, was a low-strength (around 3%), very-light­ly hopped beer, that became a sta­ple thirst-quencher for min­ers, fac­to­ry work­ers and any­one keen to sink eight pints and still get up for their shift the next morn­ing… Flavours… were delib­er­ate­ly dialled-down to an innocu­ous lev­el. Even its most misty-eyed fans admit that this was a beer designed to be unde­mand­ing, easy drink­ing.

They’ve got a point, too: if ‘con­nois­seurs’ reject­ed Fos­ter’s lager and Wat­ney’s Red because they were weak, sweet, bland and fizzy, then mild’s only point of supe­ri­or­i­ty is that it isn’t usu­al­ly high­ly-car­bon­at­ed. Not much of a sales pitch.

But no-one likes Gose either!” That might well be true but, if they dis­like Gose, it’s because it tastes weird, which is prefer­able in mar­ket­ing terms to tast­ing bland. And, as it’s usu­al­ly bot­tled or kegged, not that many peo­ple have to like it for it to be worth brew­ing or stock­ing. Cask mild, on the oth­er hand, needs a few peo­ple to drink sev­er­al pints a night if it’s to be any good at all.

Nor does it help that lots of milds are, regret­tably, bloody awful. We do like mild (most­ly, it must be said, for sen­ti­men­tal rea­sons) but even we strug­gle with pints of sweet bland bit­ter dyed black with caramel or, worse, mis­la­belled, watery stouts that taste like the rins­ings from a dirty cof­fee per­co­la­tor.

We’d love to see more mild around – we can go months with­out a taste of the stuff – but let’s not kid our­selves that, if only, say, Mag­ic Rock would make one, it could be cool again.

Gose in Leipzig

We real­ly liked Leipzig. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing and live­ly city with an inter­est­ing his­to­ry and sev­er­al great pubs. We weren’t there for very long this time round, so we only got to try a few places. Nat­u­ral­ly, being beer geeks, we focussed on the Gose.

We almost did­n’t make it to the Bay­erisch­er Bahn­hof. Ron Pat­tin­son’s not jok­ing when he says it’s hard to find. Or rather, the prob­lem is that it appears to be a mas­sive build­ing site, with no way in. Boak’s stub­born­ness pre­vailed, and after walk­ing through a cou­ple of estates, we made it.

Inside, we found an extreme­ly pop­u­lar and busy brew­pub. It has­n’t changed much from Ron’s descrip­tion, and is def­i­nite­ly worth the trip for all of the beers, not just the Gose. This Gose was orangey and a bit sour – like a wheat­beer with a drop of Tan­go in it. That makes it sound bad, does­n’t it? We liked it.

There were four oth­er beers on offer. The “Heiz­er” schwarz­bier was a lit­tle smokey and had good cof­fee notes; the “Kup­pler” weizen real­ly tast­ed like Schnei­der; the pils was decent enough; and there was a Bock which tast­ed a lit­tle Bel­gian (burnt sug­ar and pear drops). All were very well made, i.e. not like some Ger­man micro-brewed efforts. The food was also very good, and they do an inter­est­ing cumin liquour.

We tried the oth­er Leipziger Gose in Sin­fonie, a trendy cafe near the city cen­tre. Doell­nitzer Rit­terguts Gose is reck­oned by those who can be arsed to research these things to be the “most authen­tic” and it cer­tain­ly is an extreme­ly inter­est­ing drink. We were imme­di­ate­ly remind­ed of a Bel­gian gueuze (shure­ly shome rela­tion?). There is an imme­di­ate sour kick that gives way to a fruity, spritzy fin­ish. Strange­ly drink­able.

We also tried “Kigo” – a trendy “kirschgose”. It’s more inter­est­ing in the fact that it’s being done at all than for its flavour – unsur­pris­ing­ly, it was like one of the more bor­ing, sweet krieks. But if it gets the Leipziger kids inter­est­ed in their local beer, then that can only be a plus…

For more on Leipzig pubs and the his­to­ry of Gose, see Ron’s guide. This has lot more detail on the pubs vis­it­ed, includ­ing how to get to them.

Gose in Goslar

Crystal clear gose hell in Goslar
Crys­tal clear gose hell in Goslar

We’d bare­ly been in Goslar an hour before we had our first glass­es of Gose in front of us. It’s one of those leg­endary region­al styles that fas­ci­nates beer geeks – salt, corian­der and sour­ness? About as far from the bor­ing “pre­mi­um pil­sners” that are the norm in Ger­many as it is pos­si­ble to get.

We tried the big brand first, Brauhaus Goslar Gose. Lars Mar­ius had sug­gest­ed the Goslar gose was dumb­ed down and, sure enough, its only dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture was a dis­tinct salti­ness. It was­n’t cloudy, either. Odd and pleas­ant enough, but not Earth-shat­ter­ing.

That night, we tried our sec­ond gose, about which we can find very lit­tle infor­ma­tion. It’s appar­ent­ly micro-brewed and served, as far as we can tell, only at the Worth­muehle restau­rant. It was much more inter­est­ing – a dead ringer for a Bel­gian wit, and very unlike any­thing we’d had in Ger­many before. There was a lit­tle more sour­ness, less salt and a lot more corian­der than in Brauhaus Goslar Gose.

We liked it so much, we came back for more the next night.

Lit­tle did we realise how much more inter­est­ing things were going to get when we tried the two gos­es avail­able in Leipzig. More on that in our next post. Inci­den­tal­ly, there were dark ver­sions avail­able of both the Goslar intepre­ta­tions, but they were not par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy.  They were sim­i­lar to the pale ver­sions but tast­ed a lot more like home­brew.

Restau­rant Worth­muehle also does excel­lent food, mak­ing a real point about sourc­ing its meat local­ly and eth­i­cal­ly. Which got us won­der­ing… why do you nev­er ever see a pig? Pigs must out­num­ber humans in order to deliv­er that much Schnitzel and Schwein­haxe…

Also, Goslar is a real­ly inter­est­ing and pret­ty place, and def­i­nite­ly worth a vis­it even if you’re not intrigued by the Gose thing.