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Going for Gose

Reporting live from Leipzig, on a major new brewpub reviving a classic style

A further big step forward for the revived German beer-style Gose, once the local brew of Leipzig. A new brewery and pub specialising in this salty, coriander-spiced, acidic, wheat beer is the centrepiece in the restoration of a city landmark: the former starting point and terminal for one of Germany's most important north-south routes, the Saxony-to-Bavaria Railroad (Saechs-Bayersche Staats Eisenbahn, in the old spellings on the front of the building).

Train Station
Leipzig's 'Bavaria Station'
Coincidentally, this station was built in 1842, a landmark year in brewing. In that year, unbeknown to brewers in Leipzig, a new style of beer was being born farther south, in Pilsen, Bohemia. Local specialities like Gose, in Leipzig and elsewhere in Saxony, would soon be under threat from the spread of Pilsener beers in Continental Europe and eventually worldwide.

This was a great time for architecture, whether in the building of the earliest railroad termini or breweries. Leipzig's "Bavaria Station" (Bayerisch er Bahnhof, in the more modern rendition) has an entrance arch reminiscent of that at the Pilsen brewery, which until recently accommodated its own rail spur.

The Leipzig arch is Italianate, the Pilsen one more Napoleonic, but both speak of pride in the industrial revolution in Continental Europe during the early 1800s.

Leipzig's yet-grander main station had over the years taken inter-city trains away from the Bayerischer Bahnhof, which now serves suburbs and dormitory towns. Until recently the railroad's former head offices, elegant ticket hall and waiting rooms (three classes) were boarded up and defaced with graffiti. Now, they have been beautifully restored, in a venture supported by Germany's national railroad company, local investors and a pioneering small brewer, Thomas Schneider. As a small boy, Schneider loved trains. When I visited the brewery, he led me to a train in the station. "Trains and beer! What more can you ask?" he exclaimed.

A would-be passenger arriving with suitcases recently had to be helped some distance round the corner to the automat that dispenses tickets. Over the next six years, a link will be built from the main station to the Bayerischer Bahnhof, and the airport, and the platforms will be moved underground. The whole of the former departure area of the station, comprising 3,500 square metres, is now occupied by a brewery, pub and restaurant. Ask a cab-driver for the Bayerischer Bahnhof, and you should finish up with a beer in your hand. If you want to be absolutely sure, add the words "Gasthaus und Gosebrauerei". If you prefer cheaper transport, take tram number 16, in the direction of Lössnig, and get off at Bayerischen Platz.

Thomas Schneider
Thomas Schneider in the brewhouse

Schneider & Gianfelice

Schneider and Sylvia Gianfelice chat over Gose

The beer garden, is shaded by trees which this development saved from the chop at the eleventh hour. An arcaded area leads into the main pub. There, separated from the customers by only a small open railing, is the copper-clad, two-vessel, 15-hectolitre brewhouse. This arrangement is in the typical style of the newer German house-breweries. The main pub is surprisingly cosy in style and scale, despite industrial-chic design flourishes such as pylons modelled on those that carry the overhead power lines for the railroad. The bar counter is designed to look as though it were built from sleepers. The bar-rail is a piece of track. The pub's gift-shop is in a converted caboose.

It is not immediately evident that there are a wide variety of adjoining areas in which it is possible to have a drink or meal. Some are variously named for their original uses: Schalterhalle (ticket office), etc. A large bar decorated with framed photographs or old locomotives is modelled on the student bars, serving Gose, that were once typical in Leipzig. This is simply called the Gosestubl. There are also a room for private parties (a wedding reception was taking place when I visited); a banqueting hall; and rooms where lectures or conferences can be held. In this respect, the Bayerischer Bahnhof has some similarities with Munich's Hofbrauhaus, or U Fleku, in Prague.

Leipzig, something of a crossroads between Western and Eastern Europe (as well as North and South) is historically a centre for trade and for exhibitions and fairs. Since the reunification of Germany, it has revived this tradition very successfully, but it does not have the volume of tourists attracted by Munich or Prague. Can a station-turned-brewpub achieve the celebrity and popularity of places like the Hofbrauhaus and U Fleku, which have been in business for centuries? Its principal beer-style is even less familiar to the visiting consumer than the famous Doppelbock of the Hofbrauhaus or the dark lager of U Fleku. To fill all its rooms, it needs between 1,000 and 1,500 customers, which is a lot, albeit substantially fewer than its counterparts in Munich and Prague.

I was in Leipzig on a Wednesday evening, not typically the best for the pub and restaurant business anywhere, and the Bayrischer Bahnhof was packed. By far the most popular beer was the Gose. This is made principally from grains grown locally and malted in nearby Krostitz. The grist comprises between 50 and 60 per cent malted wheat. The other malts are a Pilsener and a small proportion of Munich. The hops are Northern Brewer (for bitterness) and Perle, from the nearby Elbe-Saale growing area. Like most wheat beers, Gose has a low hop bitterness. In this particular style, the balancing dryness is provided by the ground coriander seeds and salt, which are added in the whirlpool.

When I tasted a prototype Gose, four years ago, I felt that its refreshing acidity was too overtly citric, and that a lactobacillus should be used. This was a passing comment - I am not a technical consultant - and I was gratified to be told by proprietor Schneider that he had taken up my suggestion. The main fermentation is with a Weihenstephan wheat beer yeast, but both this and the secondary are in cylindro-conical tanks. These are used as unitanks, with a cold lagering.

Again, the wheat should provide crispness but the typically estery flavours from the yeast must not overpower the spicing. The beer has a starting gravity of 11.0-11.25 (1044-45), and emerges with an alcohol content of 4.6 per cent by volume (3.7w).

All the beers at Bayrischer Bahnhof are unfiltered. The Gose has a full haze; a yellowish color; a fine, sustained, bead; a hint of apple-skin aroma on the nose; a light but smooth, textured, body; restrained ripe-plum fruitiness in the palate; and a dry, herbal, coriander finish. The tangy, refreshing, sharpness of the salt is quite subtle. The use of coriander and salt in this beer is contrary to the the German Beer Purity Law, the Reinheitsgebot, and this posed a difficulty when the style was revived. Now that the beer is on a firm footing, the state of Saxony has been persuaded to grant an exemption. After all, Gose existed before Northern Germany had accepted the Beer Purity Law, which was originally a Bavarian measure.

Fruit versions
Gose laced with various syrups
Like the lactic wheat beers of Berlin, this traditional Leipzig speciality is offered plain (the most popular version), or with a lacing of raspberry syrup or green essence of woodruff (Waldmeister). These summery quenchers are known as "sunshade" (Sonnenschirm) drinks. A version with an alcoholic cherry liqueur is much more rounded, with a more genuinely fruity flavor. I could enjoy it as an after-dinner beer, but it is identified on the menu as being more suitable for women (Frauenfreundliche). Such a proclamation might be deemed a trifle sexist in London or New York. I particularly like the combination of Gose with Allasch, the local, sweet, almond-flavoured version of the caraway liqueur Kümmel. More than one might be sickly, but the combination of the sour-ish, salty, beer with a spicy, sweet, liqueur is very lively. This is seen as a more wintry drink, and called an umbrella (Regenschirm).

The Gose is also available to go, in the traditional "brandy flask". In this instance longneck means a good eight inches. The brewery had some difficulty in finding a company to make these bottles. They are being made by a company in the glass-producing area near Venice, and they have been rigorously tested at the brewing faculties in both Berlin and Weihenstephan (near Munich) to ensure that the long neck and shoulder can stand the pressure of carbonation.

The Bayrischer Bahnhof bottles are fitted with a swing-top, but the original Gose vessels had no stopper. The idea was that the yeasty head formed a natural bung in the long neck, just as it seems to have done in the terra-cotta amphorae of ancient times. Thus the beer would carbonate naturally.

The brewery also produces a wheat beer, using the same yeast but in the type of open fermenter typically used for that style: with a lip for the excess foam. This brew is called Kuppler Weissbier, the first word referring to the man who couples the carriages on a train. It has a full amber to tan color, reminiscent of the famous Weissbier made in Bavaria by the Schneider brewery. (There is no connection between that brewery and Thomas Schneider of the Bayrischer Bahnhof. Schneider is a very common name in Germany).

Brewmaster Bertram Rostock enjoys the beer garden
Kuppler has a good, toffeeish, malt character and an aniseedy spiciness, but I could have taken more clovey, fruity, notes. Although Thomas Schneider is a brewer himself, he has employed Bertram Rostock to man the kettles. Bertram, who studied in Berlin, is a young veteran of a start-up brewery in nearby Landsberg. He told me that he was not yet satisfied with Kuppler. He felt it needed more throughput before the yeast habituated itself. There is also a Schwarz ("black") lager. Black suggested coal, in the railroad context, so this is called Heizer (stoker, or fireman). This beer has a lightish, but very smooth, body; a full mouth-feel; and very good chocolate-toffee flavors.

A Pils called Schaffner (conductor) is perfumy and very dry, though I felt slightly yeasty. Brewer Bertram told me that he was working to reduce the yeast in suspension without losing it altogether.

The pub also offers spirits, wines, cocktails, simple pastas and typical German dishes, though nothing very specific to Leipzig.

The Bayrischer Bahnhof is also supplying its Gose to half a dozen local pubs, notably including Ohne Bedenken, which pioneered the revival of the style. This is a less elaborate, more basic, pub, offering the Gose variations with hearty snacks of bread and cheese (typically a local counterpart to Camembert, made into fritters).

Thomas Schneider had previously used another brewery to produce a Gose for a Ohne Bedenken. It was the beer that gave the pub its name. When Gose was first reintroduced there, a customer, shocked by the taste, asked proprietor Hartmut Hennebach: "Is this stuff drinkable?" To which Dr Hennebach replied: Ohne Bedenken ("Without doubt").

Dr Hennebach had originally worked in the pub as a bartender after being fired from his job as micro-biologist for political dissent during the Communist period in East Germany. The pub had been a Communist political club in those days, but a "Gose House" until perhaps the 1930s. Around 1900s, Leipzig is said to have boasted 80 Gose houses, many of them student cafes offering inexpensive beer and food.

Gose is said to have been consumed in Leipzig since the 1700s, but to have taken its name from the smaller town of Goslar, its original home. The whole story sounds remarkably similar to that of Gueuze-Lambic, once typically served with bread and cheese in scrubbed-table bars in Brussels, but perhaps taking its name from the smaller town of Lembeek.

Both are wheat beers, distinctly acidic, and traditionally gaining their carbonation by bottle-conditioning. By European standards, Leipzig and Brussels are quite distant from one another, and culturally quite different, but far longer connections have been established in the world of food and drink.

Published: AUG 31, 2000
In: Beer Hunter Online

Brew Travel - Brewery Review - Beer Styles - Historical

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