Matt’s Myriad of Beer Styles #8 – Kolsch

It’s time to go overseas again and back to those purveyors of fine European-style beers – Germany! However, as we saw in edition #5 – Oktoberfest, it’s not all lager and wheat beers in Germany. The country contains some very strong regional identities, which extend as far as their beers, and one of these historic regional styles is Kölsch – the beer of Cologne (Köln in German), the capital of Rhineland.

Ask for a “beer” in this part of Germany and this is what you’ll get! Kölsch is pale, but bright, top and warm fermented (unlike most German beers), and contains obvious hop presence. These general characteristics are set out in the 1986 Kölsch Konvention which was drawn up to protect the style and which is no doubt closely monitored by the 620 year old Guild of Brewers.

The beer is also usually cold conditioned, which makes it a sort of ale/lager hybrid. There are around 13 breweries producing Kölsch, including Früh, Gaffel, Reissdorf and Kölner Verbund. The beers are often described as having a soft, fruity or floral flavour from the hops and a fresh crispness. They usually have an ABV of around 4.8%.

Kölsch is made from pilsner malt, traditional German hops like Hersbrucker, Hallertauer and Tettnanger and is fermented with ale yeast, however only beers brewed in the Cologne area are permitted to use the name. The style obtained EU Protected Geographical Status in 1997, so you should at least be assured of your beer’s provenance.

I experienced proof of this on a recent visit to Edinburgh where I came across a call beer called Spinnaker by Jaw Brew of Glasgow, which was described as a “Kolsch type lager beer”, rather than purporting to be Kölsch.

Other UK brewed examples you may come across are Tzara by Thornbridge in Derbyshire (a 4.8% “Köln style beer”) and Herzog by North Brewing Co in Leeds (a 5% “Kölsch style”). Locally, the style is also sometimes referred to as “wiess” (“weiss” in other regions). This is the German word for “white” and is both a reference to its pale colour and white foam head of the beer and to an older variant of the style, which was cloudy and unfiltered.

Kölsch is served in its own type of vessel – a small, 20cl cylindrical glass called Stange, which means bar or rod. Apparently, this is because Kölsch goes flat quickly and loses its head. If you happen to be drinking in Cologne, make sure you put a coaster on your empty glass to let the Köbes (waiter) know when you’re finished, otherwise they’ll keep continually plonking down a fresh beer for you and you could be there a long time!

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