Bayerischer Bahnhof, beer, Chablis, coriander, Evan Rail, Gosenschenke, Halle, Holocaust, Iron Curtain, Kristallnacht, Leipzig, malt, melody, Ohne Bedenken, Parthe, Pilsener, Pleiße, Radeberger, Riesling, Ritterguts, Second World War, St. Thomas Church, synagogue, The New York Times, Weiße Elster, zander
I was in Leipzig, standing in St. Thomas Church, where Johann Sebastian Bach worked as cantor and director of music from 1723 to 1750. During Bach’s tenure, Leipzig started to become famous for something other than great melodies: Gose, a deep orange brew flavored with salt and coriander. This gave rise to the Gosenschenke, a type of Gose specialty bar that was once found throughout the city. Not long after World War II, however, with Leipzig on the other side of the Iron Curtain, Gose production wavered, then stopped entirely.
But then a Gosenschenke called Ohne Bedenken reopened in 1986, serving the city’s first real Gose in almost twenty years, followed by a new Gose brewpub, Bayerischer Bahnhof, which opened in a magnificent former train station just around the turn of the millennium. Another Gose, Ritterguts, is now being made just outside of town. And Gose partisans have even organized a Gose-wanderweg trail for hiking from one Gosenschenke to the next, leading from Leipzig to the town of Halle along the Pleiße, Weiße Elster and Parthe Rivers.
In the theater district just steps from the site of the great Leipzig synagogue that was destroyed on Kristallnacht, now the site of a chilling Holocaust memorial, I found Sinfonie, a dark cafe-restaurant with Ritterguts and “things to go with Gose” on the menu. I decided on a half-liter of Gose with a pairing of pan-fried zander and salmon accompanied by lemon sauce and a warm cucumber salad.
The Gose was amazing, with a mild taste of salt immediately noticeable in its thick, mousse-like head. Its body was light and slightly spicy followed by a remarkably bright finish – more crisp than the most crisp Riesling, sharper than the sharpest Chablis, and a better match for tricky citrus and vinaigrette than any wine I’d ever encountered.
The next day, at Ohne Bedenken, I tried both Ritterguts and Bayerischer Bahnhof beers with roast pork and sauerkraut, another notorious trap for wine. Both complemented the meal marvelously. In comparison, the Bahnhof had a bit more malt in the body, was lighter in color and was substantially less aggressive. The darker Ritterguts tasted much more sour, saltier and had more spicy coriander notes.
If I had to pick one, the Ritterguts would probably be the winner, simply for its brawn. But compared to Radeberger, the dishwater Pilsener from the region, both versions had character to spare. Like difficult but dear old friends, these were challenging beers, but rewarding ones.