Fearful Symmetries

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19 April, 2016

Mama's little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb: Geisterzug Rhubarb Gose by Freigeist Bierkultur



This year marks the 500th anniversary of the German Reinheitsgebot - the beer purity laws. There have been many articles written on the subject (mostly auf Deutsch, admittedly) including one published today at The Guardian called "Medieval beer purity law has Germany's craft brewers over a barrel" which caught my attention.

Now, I am certainly no expert on German bier and brewing laws, Reinheitsgebot and otherwise. And I have to admit that, the more I read about this topic, the more confused I become. The laws are like a mystery wrapped in riddle inside an enigma. If German brewers can't use anything but barley then how come there are weissbiers brewed with wheat? Roggerbiers brewed with rye? And how do brewers get away with adding salt and coriander to goses? Read the article above and try to guess what German law says can and cannot be labeled "bier". How does Germany's membership in the EU affect their bier/brewing laws? Why can't a German brewery brew a milk stout and call it "bier"? Do brewers in Bavaria operate under different laws than say their counterparts in Berlin?

One thing I found rather annoying about The Guardian article is that it gives the impression that German brewers have been adhering to Reinheitsgebot for the past 500 years when, in fact, many German brewers gladly ignored Reinheitsgebot or weren't affected by it because it was not the law of their land. They both adhered to tradition and innovated by using adjunct grains along with herbs, spices, fruits, et al for quite some time. Don't forget that there was no country called Germany until 1871 and the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot at issue here (there was more than one) didn't, if memory serves, have the force of law for the entire country until the early 20th century. And so there were all sorts of bier styles in Germanic lands for hundreds of years before the force of law turned the Bavarian way of doing things the German way of doing things. Check out the extinct and near-extinct German bier styles unearthed by Ron Pattinson and Andreas Krennmair.

And this leads me to today's bier, a Rhubarb gose from Freigeist Bierkultur, a German brewery that gleefully gives the Stinkefinger to the Reinheitsgebot. I've reviewed a handful of their biers previously and cannot recommend them enough. Geisterzug means "ghost train" and is the name given to their line of gose biers. Adorning the label is a photo of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal or Monument to the Battle of the Nations which commemorates Napoleon’s defeat in 1813 at the Battle of Leipzig. And Leipzig is the city most closely associated with the gose even though the style originated in Goslar. While this bier was brewed with rhubarb, the vegetable was added to Freigeist's base bier which is a spruce gose.

The bier pours a lovely gold and was quite turbid. My pour produced a small white head that was very loose and went away rather quickly. This stands in stark contrast to the non-rhubarb Geisterzug which had a big, firm, and lasting head. However, there was a goodly number of bubbles inside this bier.

Tartness reigned over the aroma. I could smell both the mellower rhubarb as well as the more sprightly citrusy sour from the lactic acid bacteria.

I noticed the carbonation on first taste before a wonderful, bitter rhubarb flavor kicked in. It was joined by some of that citrus lactic sour that veered towards lemon. This was not a sour overload and instead the sourness was on par with the other flavors. The spruce was prominent here and it often times threatened to overshadow the rhubarb and the lactic sour but, fortunately, it never carried through on it. Overall it had a really pleasant acidulousness to it – just a little lactic bite – and I suppose a touch from the carbonation as well. Unlike its un-vegetabled cousin, I didn't get much in the way of grain here. A hint of cracker but that was about it. Perhaps this was due to the age of either bier but I cannot say for certain. Salinity was moderate – I could just barely discern the salt.

On the finish that spruce flavor lingered well after any tartness had faded and the salinity stayed behind too. No Schaumhaftvermoegen was to be had.

This was a delightfully light, bitter, and tart concoction. A perfect drink for the warm weather we're having. At 5.2% A.B.V. it's not the lightest of brews around, but its bitterness, tartness, and resiny pine flavors all work well in warm weather. The Dulcinea didn't care for it very much, however. I think it was the spruce that turned her off and that she was expecting the rhubarb to be more prominent. I can respect that. Personally I enjoyed the piney flavor but wouldn't mind having it dialed back to allow the vegetable to take center stage. I mean, how often do you find rhubarb in beer? New Glarus' Strawberry Rhubarb is the only other one that comes to mind. (Hopefully Madison will have a rhubarb saison soon, though.)

Junk food pairing: What to pair with spruce? If it were simply rhubarb I'd suggest some kind of strawberry something but the spruce makes it more difficult. If there were such thing as reindeer flavored potato chips, I'd go with that. Since that's not available, try some Cape Cod Feta & Rosemary chips or Kettle Sea Salt, Rosemary, and Garlic chips. The rosemary will complement the spruce well while the fattiness will be pleasantly cut by the slight acidity of the bier.

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|| Palmer, 10:06 AM

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