There was a story last week that touched a nerve with me. “Craft Beer is dead. Gose killed it.” (how’s that for a clickbait headline?) is about as short sighted an argument I’ve read in a long time.
With craft beer production up 18% in 2014 (source) and with no end in sight, the argument that craft beer is dead seems ludicrous. Keohane’s argument, though, is not dollars and cents. It’s one of novelty. “But when obsession enters its late stage and novelty comes to edge out all other criteria for approval and enjoyment, the whole thing is rendered completely senseless,” he states. The problem, of course, is this is exactly where the economics and novelty converge.
Using gose, an unfiltered wheat beer with a sour, dry, and salty flavor profile, as his whipping boy, Keohane stakes the claim that gose is like drinking sweat. Further, that fact that people are lining up to drink this sweat is proof that craft beer is dead. Of course, the opposite is true. Brewers are trying to create new, exciting beers. Gose, which originated in Goslar in the 16th century, is anything but new historically, but its revitalization doesn’t signify an end.
In fact it speaks towards the wide array of craft beer consumers out there looking for something unique. Let’s not conflate unique with rare either. Like most styles, not all goses are rare. None that I know of have anywhere near the fanfare of KBS, Hopslam, or Bourbon County and they probably won’t ever.
Gose is a niche. Sour beer is a niche. Craft beer is still a niche.
Craft beer will continue to grow. Styles will continue to evolve. Brewers aren’t brewing beer for their own consumption only. At the end of the day, consumers play a huge role in what’s brewed. Test batches only go so far.
In arguing the “fanboy ethos that dominates the world of beer geeks” dictates “weirder, more challenging, more distasteful fare,” economics is left out. Each batch of beer costs time and money. A brewer cannot know how well a beer will sell without first taking a risk. Once the beer hits the shelves, consumers take over.
To assume that “fanboys” are somehow being duped by brewers seems outside of the realm of good customer service and economics. I should mention that I’m not a brewer, but I do help run a bakery. We test out recipes all the time amongst ourselves, but never would we release something to the public we didn’t think was great. It’s using this logic that I have to believe brewers believe gose is great. The fanboys who agree tend to have the loudest voices – the reviewers on Beer Advocate, RateBeer, Untappd, and elsewhere all push certain beers based on their likes. There are other factors at play, too, but at the foundation is always supply and demand. Brewers supply the beer, customers demand it.
It’s fascinating to me how much shaming goes on in the craft beer world. At the end of the day, does it really matter who drinks what? The goal is education and not being an insufferable jerk. If you like gose, great – talk about it, but don’t expect everyone around you to embrace it. If you don’t like gose, great – talk about it, but don’t expect everyone around you to share your opinion. Sour beers, over the top hoppy punch you in the face beers, boozy imperial stouts, and regular old macro beers aren’t going anywhere. Instead of calling people out on their preferences, let’s try to learn about each other. Buy the guy next you at the bar his favorite beer and talk to him about why he loves it. Fanboy beer hoarder or brand new novice beer drinker, one of the best parts of drinking beer is talking about it.
It is quite possible to have civilized discourse about beer, even if you dislike certain styles. Sadly, the knee jerk reaction tends to be one that marginalizes whatever is outside of our experience. Gose, for example, isn’t for everybody. It’s tart, funky, dry, and salty, but that flavor profile is appealing to some. A similar comparison could be made with cheese: take chèvre and Humboldt Fog. Both are goat cheeses. Yet, the flavor profile of Humboldt Fog could be totally off-putting to someone who enjoys chèvre. This is exactly why statements like, “if you love cheese, then you’ll love Humboldt Fog,” or “if you love craft beer, then you’ll love gose,” don’t work. Styles and variations exist to make people comfortable not to exclude them. There’s no expectation that if you drink craft beer, you drink gose.
Beers all around! (but you don’t have to order gose)