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Beers of the world

Calling a beer style “old beer” (literal translation of “Altbier”) may create some confusion. The words “old” and “beer” aren’t typically a good combination, however “old” does not refer to the age of the beer but rather the traditional brewing methods used for this style.

The final installment in this series continues with a look at modern methods for brewing gose. Two delectable modern interpretations of gose brewed in Saxony are described below as well.

I dislike the term “Ordinary” or “Standard” as it denotes a mediocrity that is undeserved by the best examples of the style, so I will refer to it simply as English Bitter in this article. Like with most beer styles, there is very little consensus about what makes an English Bitter but much more agreement about what it isn’t. As is usual, English Bitter is a fluid style (pun intended) and the definition will depend on whether we want to talk about what an English Bitter used to be or what it is now. English Bitter finds its home as a cask ale, there are many examples in other formats but cask is where it lives and breathes (more puns).

Farmhouse Ales is the term that has come to define modern interpretations of two distinct beer styles, Saison and Bière de Garde. The term “Farmhouse Ale” is not without controversy. Contemporary breweries located in both rural and urban environments produce and market credible “Farmhouse Ales”. The term may be disputable but it has become firmly entrenched in the modern brewer’s lexicon.

So, dear reader, you may already be asking yourself the following: Is it Scottish ale or Scotch ale? What’s the difference? Good question …

Kölsch (literally meaning “from Cologne”) is one of the few beer styles in the world that is legally defined. The Cologne brewers association outlines in the “Kölsch-Konvention” that Kölsch is a pale, highly attenuated, hop forward, bright ale that is brewed according to the German purity law within the city limits of Cologne. On top of that, Kölsch is recognized by the European Union as a regional specialty with a protected geographic origin. So, no European breweries outside of the Cologne area can market their beer as “Kölsch”.

The world has rarely seen artists, poets and thinkers (and in some cases drinkers) of the caliber of Goethe, Schiller, Bach and Luther, all of whom at one time lived and worked in and around the German state of Saxony. It must have something to do with the local water – or perhaps the beer. The enigmatic beer style known as gose (pronounced “goes-uh”) is associated with Leipzig, though it did not originate there, and has experienced a relatively sudden spate of popularity in the craft beer world, but imitations pale in comparison to the beguiling brew found in Saxony. Oddly, gose is more famous abroad than at home.

One of the quintessential group of beer styles hailing from Germany, Bock Beers are the higher gravity versions of the Bavarian Helles and Munich Dunkel styles. The name – which in German means (male) goat – is most likely derived from the city of Einbeck and not from the fact that one feels like being hit by a goat after consuming one too many bock beers.

One of the more obscure styles in existence, Piwo Grodziskie (the Polish name) or Grätzer (the name in German) disappeared from the brewing landscape in the early 1990s and only recently has received some attention from craft brewers that revived the style. It earns its obscurity not only through its the very limited availability, but also through the use of rare oak-smoked wheat malt that is the exclusive malt used to brew the beer. Despite this unusual ingredient, the beer is a great, refreshing beverage that deserves more attention.

Well-versed brewers know the main ingredients of beer – water, malt, hops. And a bit of yeast, that’s actually all that a beer needs. But is it really all? When having a look at Belgian beers, it’s difficult to avoid beers brewed with other ingredients, such as fruit. But why are they contained in beer? Let’s browse history a bit. Tradition has it that the ancient Egyptians added fruit to beer. One can only speculate about the reason. Some say simply for improving taste; others say that addition of fruit introduced more fermentable sugar, raised the alcohol content and made the beers “more intoxicating”. In the records of later centuries, recipes are found again and again describing addition of fruit to beer, but none of these beers established themselves. But wait – some will say –, what about e.g. Belgian Kriek? However, this Belgian speciality including sour cherries isn’t as old as many would like to think. Kriek was brewed, in significant quantities, and sold as of the 1930s. Beers such as Framboise Lambic made their appearance quite late, brewing of these beers started only in the 1950’s.

Gose is an enigmatic sour, salty wheat beer and has been brewed with a variety of herbs over much of its history. It originated in Goslar, Germany, at some point migrated to Leipzig and is now being brewed the world over; however, it has lost none of its mystery. This beer style was popular for a long time in the German states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia; but unfortunately like so many old European beer styles, during the calamitous 20th century, it faded slowly away. It was officially pronounced dead in 1966. Against all odds, however, the beer experienced a revival behind the Iron Curtain in 1986, in large part thanks to the efforts of a single publican in Leipzig. Gose has been said to divide beer drinkers into two camps: those who appreciate its tart, salty, citrusy flavor mingled with coriander (and perhaps other spices) and those who simply do not. For those who appreciate it, read on...