Apocryphally – or at least the way my old primary school Games teacher told it – rugby was invented when a pupil at the eponymous Rugby school decided, during a football match, to pick the ball up and run with it into the goal*. The pupil’s name was William Webb-Ellis and, to this day, the trophy awarded to the winner of the Rugby World Cup is named in his honour.
The sports-savvy among you will have noted that picking up the ball and running it into the goal is traditionally frowned upon in the game of football. Had one of the players in the recent European Cup Final deployed such a tactic the goal would have been disallowed, the player likely carded and probably, quite rightly, told that they were Breaking The Rules and Acting Outside The Spirit Of The Game.
But, whether Webb-Ellis’s goal stood or not, his deviation from the accepted norms and conventions of football was not a mistake, but a deliberate and calculated act. Not expected, but intended nonetheless.
We were recently contacted by the very nice people at Hogan’s Cider in Warwickshire. They had come up with a couple of new expressions, and would we be interested in reviewing them? In the event, three bottles ended up on my doorstep; their Vintage 2020 and low-alcohol High Sobriety (more on those if you scroll to the bottom) but the bottle that really caught my eye was the one named Gose Against The Grain.
“The Gose style accentuates our cider’s appleyness”, said Hogans’ Matt, in an email, whilst cautioning me that “whilst we’ve taken inspiration from Gose style beers it is definitely a cider.”
Inspiration from beer? My interest was piqued. Even more so when I looked at the label and discovered that this cider had been inoculated with Brettanomyces yeast, as was the only previous Hogans I’ve reviewed, their contribution to 2020’s One Juice project.
Gose? Brettanomyces? Compound Drinking (thanks Rachel) Radars going off all over the place. What are these things? And how do they relate to this cider?
Let’s deal with brettanomyces first. Brettanomyces (brett) is a species of yeast which got its name (meaning ‘British yeast’) when it was discovered during research into the spoilage of British ales. It is a so-called wild yeast, and though several breeds of brett have now been isolated, they have in common a voracious appetite for sugar and a habit of introducing to a drink flavours that range from, at the polite end, spices, cloves, leather, and at the less polite end anything from sweaty horse to dung.
No wonder then that brett is viewed with horror by many a drinks producer. Yet at the same time there are makers, indeed styles, of drinks across wine, beer and cider to whom and to which the influence of brettanomyces is fundamental.
So what we have here is something that many – possibly most – people would consider a fault, yet which has been deliberately inoculated into a drink. Returning to my opening analogy: can something truly be viewed as a fault when it has been done on purpose? Brettanomyces is, in any case, perhaps the most divisive in its status as a fault, with many not only arguing its merits, but championing it as essential. Oh look – we’ve wandered into matters of preference yet again.
So much for brettanomyces. But what about Gose? Honestly, I didn’t have a clue. Knew it was a beer, had seen it on taproom lists. Felt as though I’d often seen some sort of fruit associated with it. Couldn’t tell you anything more whatsoever. I was pretty sure it wasn’t related to geuze (I was right) but the names were far too similar to leap to any assumptions.
I thought I’d better find out before I jumped into tasting this most unusual cider, so to fill in the gaps in my beer knowledge I phoned a friend. (Or zoomed, this being 2022).
Most of you will already know exactly who Helen Anne Smith is. They have appeared here previously, when we existed as a column on Malt, interviewing the then-committee of Cider Women. They’ve worked extensively in both cider and beer, as a hospitality professional, a harvest hand, a brewer and collaborator, a Social Media Manager and many roles besides for such breweries and cideries as Cloudwater (where they were the second Wayfinder), Little Pomona, Wilderness and Welsh Mountain. They are also the founder of Burum Collective, a free drinks publication and platform for those working in hospitality and production across beer, cider and wine, whose work promoting education, support and inclusivity, especially at last year’s Common Ground Conference has won them Beer Blog of the Year as well as plaudits from just about everyone.
In short they are the wearer of many hats and the accomplisher of so many things that their intro paragraph is necessarily quite long. But most pertinently to this article, they are the friend I tend to call on when I have a question about beer. So that’s what I did, and our conversation is below. Hogan’s were even good enough to send Helen a bottle of Gose Against the Grain Cider so we could talk it through as part of our chat.
CR: What is a Gose – my pronunciation may be totally wrong! – and where and how is it made?
Helen: Well Gose is actually a historical style that sort of fell off the face a little bit, similar to witbiers – people stopped making them quite so much; they stopped being quite so popular. Historically it comes from the fact that in Goslar, in Germany, in the Middle Ages, people would brew with the salty water from the ‘Gose’ river. They didn’t have as much choice in water as we now have.
I think after World War Two people just stopped brewing the style, but they’ve always been a little bit sour, a little bit malty and then brewers would freshen it up a bit – try and balance out the salinity and sourness – with a little bit of coriander. So it’s actually kind of similar to a witbier in that way too, because they used to do the same thing for witbier, but just as a flavouring addition more than anything else. And it usually has a similar malt base as well – Pilsner and wheat. It should be quite pale straw in colour, you wouldn’t drink lots and lots – it’s not a pint kind of thing – but it’s almost like a sour, salty German version of a Belgian witbier.
So that’s what I know about them. They came back in fashion with craft beer, so either in the late nineties or early two-thousands they’ll have come back via the new breweries wanting to explore historical styles. The BJCP – the Beer Judge Certification Program – will write the style guidelines, and have done for a long time, and they have beers which sit in historical categories, so no longer relevant, but it’s a log to make sure they still exist. But Gose has been pulled back off the shelf because of how many breweries are producing them.
CR: What would be thought of as some classic examples? You mentioned Germany, is that where it all still happens?
Helen: No, that’s the thing. Right now they’re brewed by lots of people – it’s more that they’re brewed by craft breweries. There aren’t specific old commercial examples because of the fact that it’s been revived, but I am not a beer historian so I could be wrong. I do know that there are German breweries that produce it, and produce it to the exact specification of the 1800s recipe. Otherwise it’s a style made by everyone. One of the breweries that I work for, BeerRiff, do a Gose called No Way Gosé, which is a play on the fact that the flavour profile is quite similar to a margarita. They’ve been doing that for a few years – it was the first ever Gose I tried, about four years ago, and it was fantastic.
CR: This cider that we have in front of us has been inoculated with brettanomyces. So a couple of questions there – firstly, is brettanomyces a classic feature of Gose beer, and how does it influence flavour if so?
Helen: Not as far as I’m aware – they tended to be inoculated with bacteria – lactobaccilus – as opposed to a yeast like brettanomyces. But a similar style to the Gose is the Berliner Weisse, and that has traditionally been quite bretty. So I’m quite excited to find out what this cider tastes like because I don’t think I’ve had a Gose that had notable brett character before.
CR: You’ve partially answered this, but brettanomyces being a yeast, it pops up in wine and cider as well as beer. I’m really curious to know how and where it manifests in beer. You’ve mentioned Berliner Weisse but are there other styles in which brett is considered a real feature?
Helen: Yeah definitely. Especially the Belgian styles generally. It features in your lambics and your saisons. I think the biggest thing about brett is that because it can appear in certain sour beers people think of it as a souring agent, but it’s not – that’s often the combination of brett and then some sort of lactic acid. I think people hear brett and think “oh, it’s going to be sour”, but it’s not. Brett brings those sort of phenolic qualities to a beer, so it might be a bit horse-blankety, a bit spicy, a bit peppery. Kind of clovey. I know in cider it can be similar in that it brings phenolics, but more leather and medicinal qualities.
So I think it has a different effect depending on what the yeast is eating. The thing about brett is that quite a lot of brewers fear it, because you don’t have any control over brett. It will eat any sugar available to it; you can’t control it as much as you can saccharomyces because it just ploughs through anything, including lactose. So for a lot of the breweries making these thicker IPAs which have lactose in to improve mouthfeel and sweetness, if they were to get brett it would be really hard to get rid of it from the brewery. It’ll demolish anything, it’ll ferment everything fully dry. Which is great if that’s what you want, but it isn’t always! So people can be a bit panicky about it. Some breweries might have a mixed-ferm or wild-fermentation program – like DEYA; they’ve got their main brewery and taproom on one side of the industrial unit and then on the other side they have their mixed-ferm unit with all their barrels. Similarly when I was at Cloudwater, if you crossed into different spaces you would have to dunk your wellies into a special chemical so you’re not treading brett into the brewery.
We don’t do that at Wilderness because we’re quite small and we already produce a bretty pale ale, so if one of our pale ales that we didn’t want to be bretty did turn out to be bretty we’re just like “ok well I guess we’ve made a bretted pale ale this time!” Whereas obviously for people that might be contract brewing or doing collaborations, they want to control it; they don’t want to allow it to just run riot through their brew kit.
CR: Are there any countries or styles where brett is seen as a real no-no?
Helen: Most styles to be honest. The styles where you do want it are quite small comparatively – things like Belgian sour ales, aside from the fact that at the time when they were first being produced brett was just part of the parcel, but I also think brett adds a roundness when the lambic is quite tart. I think having a solid yeast profile to the beer gives it more body, makes it less one-note. Because you could just be getting complete vinegar. And those lambic breweries have hosted brett, and a strain of brett specific to them, for years and years. People won’t upscale their breweries; it doesn’t matter how big it gets. I guess similarly to if you upscaled the top barn at Ross Cider it would be very hard to continue those specific flavour profiles because that building and that place where it is, and even the people, they’re all contributing to the way the product tastes.
It’s not just Belgian sours though, in the US there’s a big mixed-fermentation movement happening, and it’s been happening for a long time. The same in the UK, but at the moment the big trend is making kettle sours, or triple fruited sours, or lactose sours, that type of thing. They won’t necessarily want to introduce brett into the brewery because it’s a risk. Whereas some people work with brett and they are only working on saisons and other things that you might describe as “bretty” but you don’t describe as “sour”. So there’s kind of a mixed usage happening with it at the moment.
CR: It’s really interesting how the same thing can be thought of as “oh no, terrifying, we don’t want this” and then by other people as “great, this is integral”. You find the same thing in wine; there’s a famous wine from the Lebanon, Château Musar, and the man who founded that was classically trained but then went back to make wine in the Bekaa Valley and his wines were famous for being totally off the rails, embracing brett, and some people absolutely aren’t interested, but for others it’s a big cult thing. Some Rhône and a few Bordeaux reds, too. And even in those regions some people say “no, can’t stand it, this is wrong” and others say “this is absolutely part of the profile”. It’s interesting how different flavours and aspects are thought of so differently across regions, styles, countries, people. And drinks!
Anyway – shall we try this Hogan’s?
*Interlude sounds of opening, pouring, tasting*
CR: What’s jumping out at you initially?
Helen: Funnily enough it smells like the seaside, doesn’t it?
CR: It really does. Is any influence of brett jumping out at you? It’s quite subtle I think, on the nose? Kind of more there in the palate – and like you were saying earlier, that roundedness is really there, and there’s that slightly spicy, animal thing.
Helen: Yeah it’s definitely not as aggressive as it could be in some of the bretted beers. And I think that’s quite nice because I think the acidity of the cider helps lift it, so it’s quite balanced. I guess you can’t make a direct comparison to the beer style, because it’s obviously a cider, so completely different. Which means obviously the cereal element isn’t there, and it’s quite acid-forward in its fruit, so you’re tasting the brett in a completely different way.
CR: That’s an interesting question – because obviously it’s a cider, not a beer, but it’s been given this name that shouts out to a beer style, and there’s such a big beer drinker-cider drinker crossover that you’d have thought it’s being presented to beer drinkers as maybe “there’s something for you here; there’s a gateway here”? So I was going to ask where you maybe thought the similarities to a Gose were here? And maybe where the brett presented the same way or differently.
Helen: It’s definitely not overly bretty. But then I think the cider isn’t overly acidic; it has acidity but it’s not too acidic. So I think that balance is correct, which is what you want. And especially if we were to look at the lambic style, it’s probably got a similar amount of balance – both the brett and the acid are much higher in lambic, but the balance is similar. And you can get fruited lambics so with the apple this is kind of like an apple fruited lambic dialled down! It’s not sharp, but the brett and the fruit complement each other quite well.
CR: My knowledge of beer is very scant – a lot of it is just stuff I’ve learned from you! – but my impression, certainly from wine, is that where brett does have fans and is seen by big numbers of people as beneficial, it tends to be in bigger, chunkier, full-bodied reds. Whereas in something like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Muscadet there would definitely be a sense of “what on earth is that doing here?”, a bit of a clash. And from what you’ve been saying, some of these Belgian beers tend to be quite full-bodied and intense in their flavour too. And this cider, though it has that element of acidity, as you say, is definitely on the medium+ to fuller end of the body spectrum. So maybe it can take that element of brett without losing the flavours of its fruit? Because it’s not a light, crisp thing that’s had this really intense yeast added.
Helen: Yeah I think it’s balanced quite well for sure. The salinity I think leans a little bit towards too much, but only a little bit. I think if it had more acid I probably wouldn’t feel that way.
CR: It’s definitely quite a bit of salt, isn’t it? I guess maybe the impact is bigger for salt being added, rather than part of the fermentation process like traditional Goses? How does it compare to the amount of salinity you’d expect from a Gose?
Helen: Well Goses have been made and remade so many different times now that it does tend to be that the salt is added. Because salt isn’t something that naturally finds its way into beer. It’s one of the few flavours that doesn’t just present itself. Whereas you can get white wines for instance that have some salinity to them. So it would be an addition anyway. I think here maybe the acidity needs to be a bit higher or the salt needs to come down. Just a little bit. But it’s really interesting. I’d like to know more about it. It’s very unique and I suppose I want to know why they chose a Gose, because it’s not a style that I would associate with brett – but that doesn’t mean you can’t do stuff like this. That’s the great thing – that people can do literally whatever they want now, and actually I do think it’s quite a cool way to do it, because it adds something else. I’ve been trying to picture this as a Gose and I think it’s something that would be interesting for beer drinkers to try, for sure.
Huge thanks, as ever, to Helen for a fascinating Gose/brett in beer 101 and their insights into this cider.
If you’re still with me you’ll have gleaned a few insights from that conversation as to my thoughts on Gose Against the Grain, but after zooming Helen I gave it a proper tasting note, so let’s dive right in. £30 gets you 12 500ml bottles from the Hogan’s website, which feels like pretty good value. And an extra shoutout to the Hogan’s team for offering full ingredient transparency on their labels.
Hogan’s Gose Against the Grain – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Rich, burnished gold. Totally clear. Light fizz.
On the nose: Certainly not a huge hit of brett – just a touch of leather and clove really, which with the apple character manifests almost as strudel. Some of the riper fruits stray in a tropical direction but mainly this is about ripe, juicy apple with a little warm barnyard and spice and a light saline air of the coast.
In the mouth: Medium sweetness and full juicy body. The brett character gets a little – just a tiny touch – farmier, but the clove and spice remains and again it’s a light touch that the fullness of body and ripeness of fruit are able to work with. There is a big hit of saltiness though. The apple manages to more or less wrestle with it, but it’ll be a touch too much for some.
In a nutshell: Ripe, juicy, appley, lightly farmy and distinctly salty. Full-on, deeply unusual riot of a cider not afraid to be different. Won’t be for everyone. Isn’t trying to be.
We’ve – I’ve – talked a lot about ‘faults’ on Cider Review and the Malt column that preceded it, but this was a useful lesson in open-mindedness over automatic dogmatism.
Some people, like me, simply don’t get on with acetic acid. Others are happy with a little, and still others actively seek it out, as I am occasionally reminded in the comments section. These varying responses aren’t tiered by experience, but are sprinkled across every level of drinks appreciation, from the newest converts to the most lauded makers.
The same is true of brett. Whilst it may not be to your taste, whilst it may not feel ‘right’ for certain styles, who am I to question something which makers of so many world class drinks hold as integral to their produce?
There are probably limits. It’s worth noting that brett just keeps eating and eating; that, unchecked, it will continue making inroads into a drink after bottling. This Hogan’s isn’t for ageing in my opinion; drink it up now. Nor is this conclusion intended as broad-strokes fault apologism. I am hugely impressed by Hogan’s disclosure of brett on their label – their realisation that it may not be for everyone, and use of transparency to ease the road for the drinker. I wish that was more commonplace. And I think there are faults which are more ‘straight red cards’ than those above – mouse, for instance, and probably TCA.
But for what it’s worth, I liked this Hogan’s, and would drink it again. It is well worth your time trying, though I agree with Helen that it would be even better if they eased the salt off just a bit.
In summary then: preference isn’t universal. One person’s fault can be another’s inspiration. And sometimes you just have to pick up the ball and run it into the goal. Even if it goes against the grain.
Bonus tasting notes alert!
As mentioned earlier up, the kind folk at Hogan’s also sent bottles of their new 2020 vintage and their High Sobriety. Gose Against the Grain offered a pretty compelling article in and of itself, but I didn’t want these other two sitting in a dusty box looking at me reproachfully until I could think of the right angle for them. (As has certainly happened before…)
Also, although free samples never guarantee a favourable review in these parts, I do think that when someone goes to the trouble of sending me something I ought to take the time to at least write my thoughts on it.
So, like those broadsheet restaurant reviews you read that have added extras at the bottom of the main piece, here goes. The Vintage 2020 is £31.50 for 12 from Hogan’s and the High Sobriety £27 the dozen.
Hogan’s Vintage 2020 – review
A fresh-pressed blend of Dabinett, Hastings, Gilly and other apples.
How I served: Chilled, per label’s direction.
Appearance: Cloudy apple juice
On the nose: You know what’s funny? I reckon most folk, randomly asked, would describe this as a stereotypical farmhouse cider aroma, yet it’s the first time in ages I’ve reviewed a nose like this. Farm, barn, hay, leather and old apples. Not specified as brett-inoculated, but has some snuck in? Or do I just have brett on the brain. Perhaps the latter, but there are definitely some animal vibes here. Also pineapple sours. Cidery floor at pressing time. A little volatile acidity just curling in there though, which is not my bag. This is the sort of nose that could be described as ‘funky’, if that wasn’t a banned word in these parts …
In the mouth: Less animal on the palate though there’s still some leather and spice. The fruit, again in a slightly pineapple/Lilt direction has some high-toned sharpness, though part of that is the volatility, which I must admit is too much for me personally. Chewy tannins, medium-body and well-judged fizz which lifts rather than intruding.
In a nutshell: Big, brash farmhouse cider for those less fussy about VA than I am.
Hogan’s High Sobriety – review
Low-alcohol cider at 1% ABV
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Mid-gold, clear, light sparkle.
On the nose: Very, very faint aromatics. Green apples. Green apple sweets. That slight plasticity that seems to be inevitable with dealcoholised (I assume?) and fairly processed ciders. Clean and fresh though.
In the mouth: Actually pretty tasty. Simple, as you’d expect – green apples, fizzy sweets, a little of that plasticity. But crisp, high-toned, fresh, refreshing and, most importantly, tastes like cider rather than just apple juice. ‘Medium dry’ might be pushing it, but my teeth aren’t hissing.
In a nutshell: Simple, sure, but crisp, fresh and tasty. No and low is a tough category, and this is a good option within it.
Many thanks to Hogan’s for passing on these samples and especially for sending a Gose against the Grain to Helen, which considerably enriched our discussion.
*This may not have been exactly how it happened, but it fit the point I was trying to make. Any complaints, take it up with Mr Phillips c.1997.