Salt in the malt

If you’re of the right age you may remember your grandfather (or grandmother) putting salt in his or her beer.

Salting beer wasn’t an uncommon practice in the early part of last century – between the wars.

There’s no definitive reason why people added salt to their beer but there are theories.

The most popular is that salt crystals act as a nucleation site for carbon dioxide. The dissolved CO2 hits the salt and is released as foam. This takes the CO2 out of solution and you don’t get bloated and gassy. (As an aside, if you do get bloated when drinking, pour the beer into a glass with a vigorous action to get the CO2 out … drinking from the bottle will quickly fill you with gas).

Other theories for salting beer include reducing bitterness, adding mouthfeel and enhancing flavour – possibly the beers of 100 years needed this.

Others think the practice can be related to hard manual work and the idea salt prevents cramping if you sweat a lot (sodium, along with potassium, does play a key role in muscle contractions).

There’s also the cultural practice in Mexico where lime and salt were traditionally added to the rim of a beer glass – which is probably where the lime in the neck of a Corona comes from.

Finally, perhaps people acquired a taste for salty beers because breweries or publicans would add salt to beer to make people thirsty so they’d drink more. When the practice was outlawed drinkers had acquired a taste for a salty beer.

There’s one place where adding salt to beer is celebrated – Leipzig, Germany. The beer is known as gose (pronounced go-zah). It originated in the town of Goslar, beside the Gose river, more than 1000 years ago but became huge in neighbouring Leipzig in the late 1700s.

Production of gose almost stopped during World War Two and the cleaving of Germany into east and west was almost the death knell for the style as Leipzig was in the east and the beer didn’t go far from the one brewery which kept alive the style from 1949 thanks to a family recipe. The fall of the Berlin wall and the curiosity of modern brewers brought gose back to life.

The beer, brewed with salt, coriander and lactic acid on a wheat base, is being reinvented across the world, with some stunning outcomes. Here’s three Kiwi versions to get you started:

North End Become The Ocean: True to style and incredibly moreish – and not just because salt makes you thirsty. Bracing, like foamy wave in the face. Spice and acidity interact perfectly to create the perfect food accompaniment.

 

Bonehead The Juice: A dry-hopped version of gose. Aroma of hops on the nose, salt comes through on the palate. Intertwining of citrusy hops and tartness creates a lingering, refreshing sour lemon finish.

 

McLeod’s Oyster Gose: Brewed with oysters and dry-hopped with Japan’s lemony Sorachi Ace hops, then funked up with Brettanomyces yeast for a bright, lean, super-dry cleansing beer.