Nick Carr on February 14, 2015 3 Comments History of Kölsch The city of Cologne is situated along the Rhine in Western Germany. It is an old city. Founded in the first century A.D., it has seen and played its part in much of history. Not the least of which is Colognes contributions to Germany’s beer history. Cologne’s brewing past stretches back at least a thousand years. In 1603, Cologne decided to forgo the lager brewing methods that were all the rage in the country at the time, instead they passed a law stating that only top fermented (ales) were to be brewed. li Why did they preserve this style of “old” brewing? Nobody is exactly sure. It could have been that without refrigeration the city did not have the right climate to fine-tune fermentation temperature well enough to brew lagers. Maybe it was simply a need to be different. Whatever the reason, it allowed a few styles of German ales to survive into modern times. Kölsch finds its ancestors in these beers. Surprisingly, Kölsch, at least as we know it, is a rather new style. Its history spans less the hundred years. The name was first used by the Sünner Brewery, one of over forty breweries in Cologne before World War II. After the wars destruction few remained, and it wouldn’t be until late in the 1940’s that many of these breweries found their legs again. In 1986 twenty-four Cologne breweries came together to guarantee Kölsch strictly remain a beer of Cologne. This association, called the Kölsch Konvention, ensured the name Kölsch could only be used to describe a beer brewed in Cologne. Other standards agreed upon stated a Kölsch would always be: pale in color, filtered, top fermented, brewed between 11 and 14 degrees Plato, hop accentuated, and served in a stange glass. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Kölsch beer style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Kölsch should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 3.5 – 5 SRM Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.050 OG Final Gravity: 1.007 – 1.011 FG IBU Range: 18 – 30 ABV Range: 3.5 – 5.0% Appearance: Light gold. High clarity with white head. Aroma: Delicate fruit. Low pilsner malts and noble hops. Flavor: Balanced circle of malts. Low fermentation sweetness with notes of bitterness. Low hoppiness. Mouthfeel: Smooth, crisp body. Medium-light mouthfeel with good carbonation Suggested Glass: Stange Glass Food Pairings: German Sausages, Bacon & Eggs, Salads, Grilled Chicken & Fish, Shellfish, Jack Cheese. The BJCP classifies the Kolsch style as a “Pale Bitter European Beer.” It can be found in their guidelines as category 5B. Other beer styles in this category include: German Leichtbier (5A), German Helles Exportbier (5C), and German Pils (5D). Appearance: Traditionally served in a straight-sided glass called a stange, this beer should appear light gold, verging on a sun-bleached straw color. It should have very high clarity, with a low to medium white head; head may not stick around very long. Aroma: The nose will be of delicate fruit, a product of fermentation, more than malt. The Pilsner malt aroma, if any, should be quiet low. A low noble hop character is acceptable, though rarely found in those brewed in Cologne. Along with apple, cherry, or pear, the yeast can also impart a low winy or sulfury note to the beer, and as long as it is only slight this note is considered acceptable. Mouthfeel: A good Kölsch will be medium-light bodied with good carbonation. Generally, attenuation is good, meaning that the beer should have little residual sweetness, creating a smooth crisp mouthfeel across the palate. Taste: Flavor should be a balanced circle of soft, highly attenuated malts, low fermentation sweetness, and notes of bitterness. A drying finish with a subtle pucker is common, but this should not run into any overly harsh aftertastes. Possible mineral or sulfur characters, from either the water or yeast used, can compound the dryness. Hop flavors are usually medium-low to medium. A very clean drinking beer; the unfamiliar may be inclined to pass it off as a light lager or other lighter style. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Examples Of The Style German Imports: Graffel Kölsch (In der Gaffel, Germany) — First brewed in 1908. It is brewed on Eigelstein street where a brewery of some sort has stood since 1302. Available year around. Reissdorf Kölsch (Privatbrauerei Heinrich Reissdorf, Germany) — First brewed in 1905. Available year round. Sünner Kölsch (Sünner Brewing, Germany) — First brewed in 1900, it was the first brewed in the modern Kölsch style. The brewery has been owned by members of The Sünner family since 1830. “It takes beer to make a thirst worthwhile.” —German saying Non-German Winning Examples: Canoe Paddler (Leinenkugel Brewing Co., WI) — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2013 and 2014. Available January – July. Laimas Kölsch (FATE Brewing Co., CO) — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2014. Taps throughout much of Colorado. I Would Like To Buy The World A Kölsch (Old Town Brewing, OR) — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2014. World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2014. No Info on availability. Tailgater Kölsch (Flat Tail Brewing Co., OR) — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2013. On tap at Flat Tail. White Street Kölsch -Style Ale (White Street Brewing Co., NC) — World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014. On tap throughout North Carolina. Endless River (Mother Earth Brewing, NC) — World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. Bottles available year round. *Note: There may have been other winners in these years but if the website did not show them available I did not include them. 15 Things to Know When Brewing a Kölsch Recipe If you’re interested in brewing your own Kölsch at home, here are fifteen factors you should consider going into it. A Kölsch recipe is very simple, however getting the beer right can be very hard. There is nowhere to hide flaws. Sanitation, fermentation temperature, yeast health, and how the process is treated will all greatly affect the final product. Most authentic modern examples have a single pale malt making up all or the bulk of the grain bill, German pilsner malt comes to mind, but any clean pale malt should work. Vienna or Munich malt may be used to “up” the malt flavor, but keep it below 5% of your grain bill and realize its use is not truly authentic to the Kölsch style. Wheat has also been used to increase head retention and add a bread-like note, but again this is rarely done if going for the genuine artifact. If extract brewing, look for a highly attenuating Pilsner or Pilsner-like extract. Hops should be of the noble German variety (Hallertau, Tettnang, Spalt); though some like Willamette, Liberty, and Fuggles would also probably work well. Stay away from the citrusy American hops. One addition of hops is standard. Mash in at around 149°F for 90 minutes (to ensure full malt conversion). Vigorous boil time should be around 90 minutes to help reduce DMS levels as much as possible. Add the hops at the 60-minute mark. The yeast should be one specifically for this type of beer. It needs to be high attenuating so that when fermented at the right temp it leaves behind minimal esters and sulfur. Specific examples are White Labs WLP029 German Ale/ Kölsch Yeast and Wyeast 2565 Kölsch. Watch the fermentation temperature closely. You want to keep it between 58° and 62° through the entire fermentation. Consider lagering the beer for as much as 4 weeks at just above freezing to help clarification. Carbonate to 2.4–2.7 volumes. This is not a beer for saving once it’s ready to be served. Its delicate profile will degrade relatively quickly. Serve in a straight sided stange glass at 50°F. Cheers!