Special Ingredient: Tomato

Taking the idea of a bloody beer to new heights, some Eastern European brewers have embraced a gose-based style thickened with tomato, chiles, garlic, smoke, and more. (Just add hangover.)

Joe Stange Jan 11, 2024 - 7 min read

Special Ingredient: Tomato Primary Image

Photo: RESTOCK images/Shutterstock

When I was a kid, I liked tomatoes just fine—on burgers, BLTs, salads, whatever—but I couldn’t think of anything that grossed me out more than tomato juice. Tomatoes were supposed to be eaten, not processed into pulpy liquid and drunk from a glass. However, our tastes mature. Like a grown-up, I appreciate a great Bloody Mary, not to mention a nicely mixed bloody beer, michelada, or even an airplane-service can of spicy V-8. So, I must admit: However much it might gross out my inner child, brewing beer with tomato has a certain logic to it. There is precedent. There is potential.

A few American breweries, inevitably, have seen that potential and taken it for a test drive. They include WeldWerks in Greeley, Colorado, better known for its hazy IPAs and huge stouts than for its Taco Gose or Spaghetti Gose. Both feature fresh tomatoes that get pureed and cooked at the brewery before going into the fermentors. (Also watch out for those rare Taco Gose iterations aged in hot-sauce barrels that were previously Medianoche barrels that were previously bourbon barrels.)

From a sensory standpoint, gose is a style that makes tomato beer seem almost reasonable. A touch of salt and a controlled hit of acidity make sense as a platform for savory flavors, in the same way that a Mexican michelada makes sense, once you taste it.

And if tomato beers are rare in the United States, there is a part of the world where the style is apparently pretty trendy. And that region is … not Mexico, actually. It’s Eastern Europe—specifically Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. (Editor’s note: We originally published this article in April 2022, but it went to press in early February—a few weeks before Russia expanded its invasion of Ukraine.)


For reasons that we don’t quite understand, there are several breweries over there not only experimenting with, but in some cases specializing in, seemingly infinite riffs on savory tomato—sometimes smoked, sometimes with hot chiles, but virtually always using gose as the base. These brewers include Salden’s in Tula, Russia, and Coven in Moscow. Over there, apparently, it’s a whole trend.

These brewers also include Malanka of Minks, Belarus. Their range of Saĺsa beers—which I discovered via the ancient art of browsing Untappd—catches my eye for a couple of reasons: First, their tomato goses are smoked, and somehow that just makes sense; second, they are embracing a wide range of chiles and even different varieties of tomato in these beers. For example, Saĺsa Žoŭtaja features yellow tomatoes and yellow lantern chiles, while Kačchudžan features fermented Korean gochujang chile sauce.

“First of all, we should say that we are far from being unique,” says Andrey Vasin, who cofounded Malanka with fellow homebrewers Jury Plieskačeŭski and Viačaslaŭ Radzivonaŭ.

“Breweries in our region are making those types of goses in hundreds of varieties. Some breweries are focused solely on tomato goses and soup- and sauce-like beers. We ourselves are just trying to push it to the limits and make them as interesting as possible.”


The base gose, he says, is a straightforward kettle-soured beer. To the fermentor they add tomato paste, ketchup, chiles, and other flavorings that include garlic and black pepper. “Imagine a very thick, almost paste-like Bloody Mary cocktail loaded with smoke, garlic, and hot peppers—that’s what our Saĺsa gose is like,” Vasin says. “Sometimes we use super-hot peppers like Naga, Carolina Reaper, or bonnet. Other times we … make it mild and chilling with Sichuan pepper. There are no limits in choosing what to add.”

The Malanka brewers also love smoke, an important flavor in the region’s food. They’ve experimented with different ways to get the smoke character into their beers in a balanced way. They found that birch-smoked malts lead to a “boiled-sausage” smell, while peated malts can be overpowering even in small amounts. They recommend brewing a few small batches to find a balance that suits your tastes. “At our brewery, we like to use a lot of smoked malts to push the taste up to the limit,” Vasin says. But they take it further: “In our tomato goses, we are using smoked spices and natural liquid smoke as well.”

The tomato mix includes both puree and ketchup, and it goes into the tank post-fermentation. “We found that using tomato puree solely [gives] us too bitter and sour a taste,” Vasin says. “Adding ketchup to the mix [smooths] things out. We source it in bulk, so it’s easier to use with our volumes.”

As for how much, their advice is the same as with the smoke: follow your taste. At least 20 percent of the volume of a Malanka Salsa beer is their tomato mix. The goal, they say, is “to achieve enough thickness to balance out the spices, especially when using super-hot peppers.”


About those peppers: Vasin says they are mostly for flavor. The brewers “try to avoid making the beers super-hot because that would hide any other flavors and aromas and just bring customers in tears.” He says that fermented peppers bring a “bright and bursting bite.”

He adds: “[The United States] is a country of hot peppers. It’s you guys who should give advice!”

He’s not wrong. We also know a thing or two about great Bloody Marys. You hear that, American brewers? We have some catching up to do. Vasin actually uses the phrase “tomato-craze hype train” for what’s happening over there.

Here are two more reasons to consider embracing these beverages: “They are really good hangover beers,” Vasin says. “And with such a thick, sauce-like, high-calorie beer, you can skip breakfast, too.”