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Monday, June 19, 2017
Food / Drink ...

One of my reasons for starting this blog (way, way back in 2002) was to share my impressions of the various craft beers that I had come across and have generally enjoyed. Over the years, however, I’ve found a bunch of other things to talk about, so I’ve only posted a handful of beer reviews. My last one was in September, 2014, with some thought on Duclaw’s “Sweet Baby Jesus”, an interesting porter style flavored with chocolate and peanut butter.

As to the flavor and overall “experience” from drinking Sweet Baby, I had reported my generally positive impressions about this concoction (it is indeed much more sweet than your usual brew, yet the hops keep it from becoming cloying). This is a nice drink to have once, but you might not want a second one right away. Anyway, it’s been almost two years now, but I finally have another interesting beer experience to report. This one is quite the opposite of Baby Jesus, though — instead of sweetness playing against the bitterness imposed by hops, i.e. the classic beer formula, I got rushed with with a flood of sour and astringent flavors. The beer in question is quite a bit different from your usual pour.

The beer in question is called “Cranberry Gose”, put out recently by Long Trail, an honorable craft brewer from Vermont. I came across a six-pack of Gose not long ago at a local high-end liquor store (shout out to Scott at Rutherford Wine Shoppe, who usually keeps a nice craft brew selection). To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the “gose” style; I actually thought this would be just another Long Trail flavored ale. And let me admit, I misread the label; I thought that the name was “Cranberry Goose” (perhaps a bit of Vermont whimsy). So, I wasn’t ready at all for what happened about 10 days ago when I opened up and poured a bottle with my dinner.

When I took my first sip, I wondered if I should even swallow it. I didn’t taste any cranberries, and I sure didn’t taste the usual malty grain and hop signatures that go along with most styles of beer. My taste buds were overwhelmed with sourness and with the unusual flavor of coriander poking through. Well, I shouldn’t say that coriander is all THAT unusual in a beer; I’ve had a lot of Blue Moon White’s, which is a popular beer that combines coriander and orange peels within a fairly malty body. But coriander in the midst of a soured mash extract is NOT something that I would have ever expected to come from a beer bottle. At first I thought that this was just beer gone bad, but after a few minutes it dawned on me that this was by design. If I really strained, I could just detect a hint of cranberry in the mix. And admittedly, this had a fairly smooth finish to it, unlike the puke-y sense you get in swallowing something that has truly fermented itself in the wrong direction.

So I finished my first Cranberry Gose, but I really did not enjoy it. Why did Long Trail put out something like this? Later in the evening I got around to doing some web site research. First off, “gose” is indeed a traditional German beer appellation (so, live and learn).

Gose originated in Goslar, Germany, and it is intentionally a bit sour and very low on hops; in other words, it trades bitterness for sourness. It is mostly a wheat beer, but the German brewing recipe in fact calls for coriander and a bit of salt. So, goodbye to the usual slightly-sweet malted body in beer with some bitter hops playing against that; gose instead arrives with a mix of salty sourness and the odd astringency of coriander. It’s a whole different way of doing beer, in my book! As you might guess, the alcohol content stays relatively low, around 5% (about like Budweiser); salt and sourness don’t make good backdrops for converting malt sugars to ethanol.

I’ve read that sour beers have become something of a fad over the last few years (I’ve tried one or two examples, including Yards “Pynk”; I wasn’t all that impressed, but neither was I overwhelmed by it, it was still readily drinkable). I gather that Long Trail intended to get on board with that trend via their Cranberry Gose. Personally, I don’t get much satisfaction from sour stuff, and I can’t help but wonder if the current popularity of sour beers is just an example of “connoisseur hipness”, the situation where an expanding group of people pretend to like something that’s different so as to impress others, although they really don’t like it as much as they want to like it. The need to seem avante garde runs deep in the psyche. Is that what Cranberry Gose is all about?

A blog run by a fellow named Joe Keohane suggests that the new-found popularity of Gose means that “the craft beer revolution has run out of ideas”. Like me, Joe has really enjoyed the craft beer revival that started in the late 1980s. But he too seems to wonder if something is now “going sour” in the whole beer scene. As to why it took over 25 years for the new generation of micro-brewers to bring back gose, Joe says:

. . . the reason we’re getting to it now has to do with the fanboy ethos that dominates the world of beer geeks. Like any area of obsessive enthusiasm, novelty becomes more and more tightly equated with value, prized above nearly everything else. The more mainstream types begin to take an interest in craft beer, the more the cognoscenti are forced to seek out weirder, more challenging, more distasteful fare to retain their credentials and slake their curiosity.

Yea, I couldn’t have said it better myself. He nails the point home:

Bad flavor is the new good flavor, because all the good flavors are taken. Gose is upon us. We are all sweat drinkers now.

So, we have gone from “sweet” to “sweat” . . . nonetheless, I decided to open another gose a few days later. And to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as the first. I still have four bottles to go, so I will try to drink a gose once a week over the next month. I don’t want to be closed-minded, I want to give this sour-beer thing a chance. I know about “acquired tastes”; I mean, beer itself is pretty awful the first time you try it.

But right now, I still expect that my initial impression, and Joe’s too, will remain valid after I finish the 6-pack. I suspect that I will be able to drink the stuff, but that I’ll still prefer to get back to something more mainstream, something either hoppy and entertainingly bitter, or malty and a bit sweet (or even far out on the sweet side, like Sweet Baby Jesus!).

One final thought — why did Long Trail even herald this as a “cranberry” brew? Actually, the tart flavor of straight-up cranberries would really improve the enjoyability of a gose. It’s too bad that Long Trail didn’t amp up the fresh cranberry flavor instead of souring it, since that may have made the whole gose experience more passable. It’s like Long Trail had a good idea, but just didn’t follow thru on it. But perhaps if the sour beer fad eventually fades and the fan-boys get on to something else, a REAL cranberry gose will someday “take flight” (sorry, I had to try to redeem my failing old brain and it’s “goose” fixation!).

Bottom line: Long Trail Cranberry Gose is a sour Blue Moon, without the orange, and with hardly any cranberry either.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:25 am      

  1. Jim, I am completely out of words on this post. I have had ONE beer in my entire life, don’t even remember the kind it was. I drank it, realized I got extremely angry with beer in me, and decided that was never going to happen again; and it didn’t. (I also realized that the same release of inhibition of anger in a person could well be responsible for a lot of the brawls taverns seem to be known for. Might I be right?)

    So, while I’m sure treating beer like a fine wine is another aspect of life I’ll never understand or appreciate, I will just have to live with it, I guess. At my age now, 83, I doubt I’ll change any more.

    In fact, I’ve seldom had a “taste” that was that of a connoisseur for much of any food or drink. I tend to eat whatever or what I have a taste for as I think when I actually have a “taste” for something it is my body’s way of telling me what it needs. Thus, I really am clueless as to how to respond to your excellent post on various tastes of beer.

    I might add that I did learn something from your post: That “Gose” is from the German for “beer”. I wonder if it is a dialect of some kind as my German dictionary gives me “bier” as the German for the English, “beer”. It may be a dialect or even another word meaning the same thing, much as English often has several words for the same thing, but they would not necessarily be in a small German dictionary.

    I have also learned in my life that it is very likely you could eventually prefer the taste of “Cranberry Gose”; I’ve learned that if one drinks/eats enough of anything, the taste can become an enjoyable one. One just has to become used to the taste.

    Well, while your post is full of the fine points of the various tastes of various beers, I have not one thing to add to this post, except to say that you certainly have become a connoisseur of beer, an accomplishment I am sure is worth the effort. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — June 20, 2017 @ 1:38 pm

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