Thursday, April 24, 2014

Beer Education: Kölsch - The Pale Ale of Germany

(Picture source below)

It is no secret that the Germans love their lager beers. Be it a crisp and clean Pilsener, a balanced Helles, a semi-sweet Dunkel, or even a malty and bready Doppelbock, lagers are Germany’s call to fame. But, Lagers weren’t always the norm as it is now in most of the country; ales used to be the standard in beer production. Let’s take a look at Kölsch as it is one of the lesser known surviving examples.

This beer style gets its name from the city it originated from: Köln (Cologne). As a style, Kölsch was not always as we know it today. Before modern refrigeration, northern Germany brewed dark ales that we now refer to as “Alt” (“Old” in German). This is designated to beers produced in the old way or traditional way. In other words, beers fermented using ale yeast (top-fermenting yeast). In the early 1600’s, an ordinance was placed to outlaw bottom-fermenting yeast from being used in Köln and thus ensuring the Alt style would remain intact. In contrast, the state of Bavaria had outlawed summer brewing about 50 years earlier, laying down the groundwork for lager brewing eventually taking over.

In the late 18th century, Napoleon took over the Rheineland for 20 years. During the durration of his occupation, the French tried to bring lager brewing to the land. Thankfully for us, the climate was not suitable for bottom-fermenting yeast (lager yeast) and the beers never gained any traction. The “old” ale survived!

Fast forward to modern times (late 19th century/early 20th century) and we see technological advancements in yeast cultivation, sanitation, and malt production. While the brewers in Düsseldorf decided to perfect the Munich Malt based dark ale we now know as Altbier, Köln implemented the use of newer, paler malts such as Pils. Basically following the same path the British Bitters (Pale Ales to us Americans) took when they evolve from the use of pale malts in various Brown Ales. Although both Altbier and Kölsch are brewed with top-fermenting ale yeast (each style now having its own distinct strain!), both beers are lagered after fermentation to ensure a clean tasting beer.

These beers are served in specific glassware called “Stange” (Stick in German). These Stange only hold about 6oz of the stuff to ensure you finish your beer before it gets to warm. This must keep the bartenders busy in the beer halls.

A Kölsch is brilliantly clear, clean, and pale gold in color resembling the likes of a Munich Helles. High carbonation shows off a frothy, white head. Subtle Pils malt and some fruit character derived from the yeast are usually found, but not overpowering. Light hop character on the nose. The flavor is soft, delicate, and subtle in dryness, flavor and bitterness with an underlying vinous trait. Pair with light salads or soft shellfish for a unique meal. An outstanding and pleasant beer!

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Till next time. 


-Gilbert "Charlie" Perez, Certified Cicerone®

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