Friday, February 7, 2014

The Anti-"Beer Review," Westbrook Gose: The Session #84

Photo by the author
"You're going to run lactobacillius through your brewery's canning line‽"*

"Ah, so you can make an obscure, German-style sour wheat ale? Of course that makes sense."

You might know this bacteria from yogurt, where it causes a sourness and tang that may cause your jawbone to tingle, not unlike some tannins in red wine. Briefly, here's what happens when lactobacillius gets introduced to beer: taste those aspects yogurt in your mind, and apply it to beer. Getting thirsty? Dooug, kumis, and kefir are drinks that use lactobacterial fermentation as well.

Lactobacillius belongs to a group of bacteria that is "regarded as most harmful for brewing industry and are the cause of most of bacterial spoilage incidents." (Sakamoto, 4). Indeed, one kind of lactobacillius, brevi, was, as of 2002, responsible for more than half of all bacterial beer spoilages. (5)
Most hazardous for the brewing industry are those belonging to the genera Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. In the period 1980-1990, 58-88% of the microbial beer-spoilage incidents in Germany were caused by lactobacilli and pediococci (Back et al., 1988; Back, 1994). Also in Czech all beer-spoilage bacteria detected in the breweries belonged to lactic acid bacteria (Hollerová and Kubizniaková, 2001). The situation in other countries seems to be similar although for commercial reasons little statistical information has been supplied. These lactic acid bacteria spoil beer by producing haze or rope and cause unpleasant flavor changes such as sourness and atypical odor. (Sakamoto, 4) 
Now picture a brewer introducing this bacteria on purpose, and then running it through a canning line, risking infection in other beers.

But, you say, aren't hops somewhat antiseptic and antibacterial? Don't they act as, in part, a mechanism against spoilage? You'd be right, except that lactobacillius brevi is particularly resistant to hops, and the style of beer being made at Westbrook, Gose (pronounced go-suh), isn't heavily hopped, registering just five International Bitterness Units (IBU).**

Westbrook goes (puns!) through all this trouble to make a beer that didn't exist for two periods of the last century. Between the end of World War II and 1949, nobody in the town of Goslar, from which the beer gets its name, or Leipzig, where the beer became locally popular, brewed Gose. It vanished again in 1966, only to come back in the mid-1980s, according to Wikipedia's admittedly problematic page. But thanks to a new generation of German brewers and Americans looking for the next "thing" in craft beer, Gose is back. How does the beer taste? Look at the description on the can.

What did you just read? Oliver J. Gray thought it would be a good idea for people to review a beer without actually reviewing the beer.
So for my turn hosting The Session, I ask all of you to review a beer. Any beer. Of your choosing even! There’s a catch though, just one eentsy, tiny rule that you have to adhere to: you cannot review the beer.
I know it sounds like the yeast finally got to my brain, but hear me out: I mean that you can’t write about SRM color, or mouthfeel, or head retention. Absolutely no discussion of malt backbones or hop profiles allowed. Lacing and aroma descriptions are right out. Don’t even think about rating the beer out of ten possible points.
Blame him. This has been

To prevent infection and contamination, brewers run boiling water through their lines, killing bacteria.

Sakamoto, K. (2002) Beer spoilage bacteria and hop resistance in Lactobacillius brevis. University of Groningen dissertation.

* Yes, of course that's an interrobang.
** The relationship between hops and bitterness is more complex than this, but it is now not uncommon to see double or imperial India Pale Ales that exceed 100 IBU. Apologies for the bad science all the same.

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