One of the things I love best about beer, and the reason I find it more exciting than wine, is that brewers have the freedom to go beserk with their recipes. You want to throw some juniper berries and nettles into that brew? Sounds great. Turn the alcohol up to 55%? Fine with me. Use a stuffed, dead squirrel as packaging? That's pretty weird actually, but don't let me stop you...
While the beer I refer to above (Brew Dog’s End Of History, and yes, they really did bottle it inside roadkill) is probably a 10 out of 10 on the Extreme Beer Scale, the point is that brewers are crazy. And while that might seem like a fairly recent development, brewers have actually been putting strange things in their beers – coriander, peated malt, chicken(!) – for centuries.
Which brings us to our Beer of the Week: Karengose from Kereru Brewing Company in Upper Hutt. This is a Kiwi twist on a centuries-old beer style called gose (pronounced gose-uh), which originated in Goslar, Germany in the 16th century. Gose is brewed with both wheat and barley, yeast and lactic bacteria, coriander, hops and - here's the really good bit - salted water. Yes, you read that right my friends. Gose is a salty beer.
For the record: I like salt a lot. I add it to everything from hot chocolate to fresh fruit, and often carry little packets in my handbag should an emergency undersalted situation arise. So, ever since hearing about this mythical salted beer style a few years ago, I have been lying awake at night, dreaming of trying one for myself.
And then, like magic, this version by Kereru landed on my desk. Finally, I had in my posession a bottle of gose! Except of course, this one is even weirder than the traditonal versions, as it's brewed with Karengo, an edible purple seaweed from the West Coat. (Like I said: brewers = crazy.)
Karengose poured a cloudy yellow (I confess I'd hoped it would be purple) and smelled of lemon sherbert, green apples and just a little dusty, barnyard funk. Was there a little hint of seawater? Maybe, if I tried really hard. On the tongue it was fizzy, tangy and dry in a way that meant I had to drink the whole thing - which I didn't hesitate to do, because it was only 4%! I didn't pick up on much salt but, then, in a perfectly seasoned dish you don't. Rather, I'd say the brine helps to bring out the fruit flavours and to give it some structure, rendering it much less flabby than your average wheat beer.
So, Karengose was not quite as weird or as salty as I had dreamed it would be, but it was impressed at how crisp and refreshing it was. And did I pull out my little emergency packet of salt, just to see what it would be like? That, I'll never tell...
Kereru Karengose is available at selected liquor outlets. For more visit www.kererubrewing.co.nz. The Speigelau IPA Glass (pictured) is available from The Beer Cellar.