Baltimore “gypsy brewer” Stillwater Artisanal built its reputation on a nothing’s sacred approach to brewing, and its line of Chinese takeout-inspired beers is definite evidence of that. General Gose, the collection’s centerpiece sour wheat ale, wields orange peel, Thai chili powder, sea salt, and MSG seasoning for what is probably the first time in brewing history.
General Gose’s sibling beers—a double IPA with apricot, plum, pineapple, ginger, and candi syrup called Duck Sauce and an imperial stout with chili powder, ginger powder, sichuan pepper powder, sea salt, and peanut extract called Kung Pao—are both genuinely surprising drinks, tiptoeing deftly on the right side of absurd. But General Gose is by far the most daring of the bunch, and dares don’t always pay off.
It is remarkable how close the color of General Gose is to orange chicken. Its hue is somewhere between sesame oil and orange marmalade. There’s virtually no head at all. It’s not quite dark enough and not nearly thick enough to pass for the sticky signature chicken dish, but the rest of the beer makes up for that.
It takes guts to push beer into uncomfortable new territory.”
General Gose has that same deep, resinous smell that you get in hoisin. It’s a preternatural combination of bitter orange bitterness, chili spice, and tomato paste umami. An utterly surreal bouquet for a beer, especially when you mix in the lemon from the lactobacillus used to tart the beer.
MSG is one of those flavors that you’re exposed to all the time but can’t name until someone points it out to you. It tastes like someone dropped a cube of beef stock into a blood orange kettle sour. Then comes the spice. The chili powder stampedes into the swallow, leaving you with an overseasoned throat burn.
Stillwater should be applauded for their adventurous spirit. It takes guts to push beer into uncomfortable new territory. But save your applause for another beer. By deconstructing General Tso’s into a sour ale, Stillwater is not breaking fresh ground for beer. It’s corrupting something familiar. The payoff for such a transgression could’ve been something remarkable. Here it amounts to little more than a good pun.