With another week’s worth of 90+ degree heat lined up to finish off our sweltering Summer, we’re not quite ready to rush into any Fall beers just yet – rather we’re going with a great one that keeps you cool, and refreshes plenty. Zee Kölsch ale!
This beer style should pour with a clean white head over a clear, straw-colored body. It should cruise softly across your palate, with a slightly sweet flavor and very subtle fruit quality, and will typically finish clean, crisp, and dry. Unless you have a big fat nose, the hops will likely escape your waft, and will barely be discernable in the flavor – usually a bit less than what you’d expect from its sister, the German Pilsener. And for your all-afternoon Labor Day picnic, this style is low in alcohol (rarely above 5%) to keep you from being this chick.
The Kölsch is almost a hybrid of sorts, in that it uses a base of pilsener (lager) malt, wheat is added to assist with head retention, and it is brewed with a special style of ale yeast – but it officially sits on the Ale side of the “Ale vs. Lager” equation. It usually has German Tettnanger or Hallertau hops… in case you’re into that sort of thing.
Your History Lesson
The Kölsch has recently become the hot new chick sitting in the front row of your neighborhood beer geek’s summer fridge – although she’s actually considered a bit of a cougar in Germany. The term Kölsch was officially used for the first time in 1918 to describe the type of beer that had been brewed by the Sünner brewery since 1906 – and then replicated by about 40 others in that area… However, WWII wiped most of them out. In late 40’s, some started rising from the ashes, but it wasn’t until the mid-60’s that it started gaining in popularity again. Now you’re seeing several American breweries churning out this very sessionable ale, although technically over here it should be labeled as “Kolsch-style”, per the mandate of the Kolsch Konvention of 1986, since there is “no guarantee that they’re using the same ingredients and brewing processes” as those brewing in Cologne, Germany. What-EH-ver.
If you want to get the deep-dive low-down on the Kölsch style, check out the 215 page Book by Eric Warner for ~$15 at beertown.com
Here’s a nice formal write up of the style from the Brewers Association:
“Kölsch is warm fermented and aged at cold temperatures (German ale or alt-style beer). Kölsch is characterized by a golden to straw color and a slightly dry, subtly sweet softness on the palate, yet crisp. Good, dense head retention is desirable. A light fruitiness may be apparent, but is not necessary for this style. Caramel character should not be evident. The body is light to medium-light. This beer has low hop flavor and aroma with medium bitterness. Wheat can be used in brewing this beer. Ale yeast is used for fermentation, though lager yeast is sometimes used in the bottle or final cold conditioning process. Fruity esters should be minimally perceived, if at all. Chill haze should be absent.”
A Kölsch makes a particularly fine starter for a meal, especially as an accompanyment to an appetizer and/or salad. It goes really well with fruits such as apples, kiwi, and avacados (yes, it’s a fruit – you didn’t know?), and will play well in most salads, especially a spinach salad. For appetizers and/or entrees, think calamari, clams, and oysters – whether they be alone, or part of a chowder. Breakfast Beer Alert: eggs will also pair up nicely.
Serving & Glassware
Kölsch ales should be served at cellar temperature (about 50°F). They’re usually served in long, thin, cylindrical 0.2L glasses. This glass is known as a Stange (pole), but is sometimes called a Reagenzglas (test tube), or Fingerhut (thimble). And many people claim that it’s a style best served fresh on draught – although I got it in the can the other day, and it was awesome.
What to Buy
There are about 22 varieties of Kölsch ales that you can find here in Southeastern PA, with the following three varieties being both well-rated, and pretty readily available across your better bottle shops and distributors in the area:
– Reissdorf Kölsch, 4.8% ABV (Köln, Germany)
– Gaffel Kölsch, 4.8% ABV (Köln, Germany)
– Lancaster Kölsch, 4.8% ABV (Lancaster, PA)