Style explorer: Kolsch
And why a Stange is a wonderful thing
Today we bring you the latest in our monthly series in which we explore a beer style, and for this style explorer, we take a look at a style that fits any occasion, the ale that gets the lager treatment: Kölsch.
We hope you enjoy it!
— Joseph Lavoie
What to expect
This style has a bit of a split personality. It's crisp and refreshing like a lager with a slightly fruity and hoppy character you might expect from an ale. That's because this beer style is fermented like an ale (warmer fermentation temperatures) before it's given an extended period at cold temperatures to clean out, like a lager.
The result can be a thing of beauty: a delicately balanced beer with brilliant clarity that's best enjoyed fresh.
The sensory experience
Appearance: Kölsch has a pale gold to light gold colour you might be used to seeing in some lagers. It should be brilliantly clear and pour with a delicate head that may not always hold up too long. And that's fine, this style is not known to have a persistent long-lasting head.
Aroma: The aromas won't burst out of the glass like you'd get from an IPA. Instead you'll experience low to very low malt aromas that may take on a grainy-sweet character. After that, what you pick up could vary by brewery. Some versions may lean into a floral hop aroma profile; others may showcase the subtle fruit aroma from fermentation. Regardless of the profile, the end result is generally balanced, clean, and fresh.
Flavour: What makes a Kölsch so enjoyable is its rounded flavour profile that strikes a balance between soft malt flavours and a slightly fruity sweetness that won't be so obvious. The malt flavours tend to skew towards a light grainy sweetness with a touch of bread. The hop flavours vary by beer, but most have a low to medium hop intensity. Some may have spice, floral or herbal qualities. It finishes clean with no residual sweetness.
Mouthfeel: Smooth, crisp, and clear, this style has a medium-light mouthfeel.
⚖️ How does this compare to Pilsner? Seen side-by-side, these two beer styles might look similar, but they have different flavours and aromas. The obvious difference between them is that Kölsch is an ale, not a lager. That means it uses a "top fermenting" yeast like other ales instead of "bottom-fermenting" yeasts. Ales are fermented at warmer temperatures than lagers, and the result has a big impact on aroma and flavour, bringing out fermentation-derived fruity flavours you won't get from a Pilsner (apple, pear, cherry). By contrast, a Pilsner is cleaner and bitter and should have no fruity notes.
🌟Meet the style's icon
We've made it this far without talking about appellation—a big consideration when exploring Kölsch. The style has its roots in Cologne (Köln) Germany, which has a long history of top-fermenting (ale) brewing since the Middle Ages. Kölsch itself can be traced to the late 1800s as a response to the growth of lager beers. Lagers were the trendy new thing, and Kölsch was developed to keep ale relevant.
Kölsch is now an appellation restricted to the approximately 20 breweries in and around Cologne. In Germany, only these breweries are legally entitled to market their beers as Kölsch. Many breweries outside of Germany play the honour system and will label their versions as "lagered ale" or "Kölsch-style."
The style's gold standard is Reissdorf, the largest and most famous Kölsch brewery in the world. It sports a clean malt profile with bright hoppiness in a highly carbonated version that lends a fluffy egg-white head. The Noble hops balance the light fruity yeast character. Many consider it to be the textbook version of the style with its super crisp profile that brings the maltinees, hops, and subtly fruity flavours together into one beautiful package.
🍻A note on glassware. Every beer lover should include a stop to Cologne on their bucket list. There's nothing like enjoying this style on location, with its distinct serving style and approach. I've been lucky enough to check off this bucket-list item and I can't wait to make a return visit.
One of the things that makes it so distinct is the Stange, the small cylindrical glass that serves as the vessel for showcasing this beer's beautiful colour and clarity. It only holds 200 millilitres, so you can easily drink several. That's why they are often served out of a kranz—a tray like the one below.
Why this glass? As you can see in the photo, Kölsch is lightly carbonated and the head does not often persist. A thinner glass helps with head retention. The smaller size means you enjoy the full glass more quickly, which prevents it from getting too warm. The warmer the beer, the faster it loses its carbonation. If you don't have a Stange in your cabinet, don't stress, you can use a pilsner glass or any other slender glassware you have on hand.
With its delicate flavour profile I love having a Kölsch as an aperitif, either on its own, or as you chip away at a charcuterie board with nutty cheeses. That said, in Germany it is often paired with hearty and meaty pork dishes, bratwurst and red cabbage.
🪝🍤 Beyond traditional German fare, this style lends itself well to delicate dishes. Light fish and seafood fit the bill. A sole with a drizzle of lemon. Monkfish wrapped in bacon. Even fried chicken can work well with Kölsch. Serve these dishes with a herb-led salad and you have yourself the perfect meal.
BC-made Kölsch worth enjoying
You won't find Kölsch on every brewery's tap list. Very few breweries make it a flagship beer, so you'll need to be on watch for it. Below, we include some of our favourite versions that have been released in the last six months, some of which make regular appearances in liquor stores or in the taproom.
1. Hoyne Brewing Bier Garten Kölsch
Hoyne puts in all the hard work to make this version as true-to-style as possible, using imported Pilsner malt from Durst Malts in the Hallertau region. The yeast strain actually ferments cool like a lager even though it is a top-fermenting ale yeast. The beer is then aged for a prolonged period of time, true to style. We find this beer to be spot on in every way. The colour, the appearance, the nose, the flavours, and the aftertaste are everything we want in a Kölsch. Treat this one as BC's gold standard for the style.
2. Brassneck Brewery Klutz!
Brassneck also makes a beautiful Kölsch. This one has a grainy sweet character in the aroma, with light apple fermentation notes. The palate is wonderfully soft, giving way to a crisp beer with a very clean aftertaste. We love the light bready notes and restrained hoppiness in this version.
3. Phillips Brewing Cold Snap
Phillips' version of the style has a head that dissipates quickly, very true to style. The nose is sweet and grainy with subtle fruit aromas that open up as the beer warms slightly. We picked up some honey in a palate that is otherwise sweet-malt forward. The finish is soft and clean. A strong version of the style, earning a 2022 World Beer Award.
4. Yellow-Dog Starborn Kölsch-Style
This one was not nearly as clear as the others, but it sported a strong head. The lack of clarity was made up for with a flavourful flavour profile. Rich cereal and light malt notes dominate the flavours. Assertive old-world hops add a spicy nose and bitter finish for a balanced treatment that leans into the hops more than the others on this list.
Explore this style further
The Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guide for Kölsch
This New York Times piece from 2011 highlights the joy of Kölsch, but also how far things have come this then. In 2011 this style was considered "fairly obscure." Not so much today. Worth the read.
Portland-based beer write Jeff Alworth does a deep dive on the style that's worth your time. A great read for you history buffs.
A variety of new beers came out last week
A biere de garde and blueberry piña coladas made the list.
🍽️ Dine Out Vancouver kicks off January 20 and many local breweries are participating.
🏃Steel & Oak hosts a run club every Wednesday night. Run 3km or 5km to earn that beer!
🎤 Comedy night at Container Brewing returns January 24, February 7, and February 21. Tickets here.
♟️ Container Brewing is hosting a regular games night, with the next sessions taking place on January 17 and then the first and third Tuesday of every month. Seating is limited, so you'll need to get a ticket.
🧠 How about some music trivia at Ace Brewing on January 18?
🎴 Small Gods also hosts games night every week, with the next one taking place January 19.
🎶 Rusted Rake Brewing is hosting a night of music on January 21 from 530-730pm.
🎶 Patina Brewing has your music needs covered on January 18 and 25.
🧠 Monkey9 has movie trivia on January 18 with Cineplex prize packs.
✨ Dragged Out Sunday makes its return to Farm Country on January 29.
🏴 Kilt Night Caskets makes a return to Smuggler's Trail on January 29.
🧘 Patina Brewing is hosting a mindful beer tasting yoga class monthly on Saturdays. The next sessions are on January 28, February 18, and March 11.
🧘Container Brewing is also offering a Beer Yoga session on February 25.
⚽ Cumberland Brewing Co. has Foosball Tuesdays for the entire month of January and February, starting at 3pm. Bring a partner or come solo.
🧺 Have you been tasked with organizing your next corporate event? The folks at Barnside have an idea for you: dinner in Between the Hop Bines in August.
Want to have your brewery event featured? Reply to this email with details.
Local news you'll actually enjoy reading
Let's face it, following local news can be a drag. Clickbait headlines, a million ads, it's downright bad.
Our friends at Vancity Lookout are trying to fix that. It's a free, 5-minute daily newsletter breaking down the best news in the city, the funniest events and restaurants to try.
Plus it's got a breakdown of Vancouver's food and restaurant scene from an industry insider. Subscribe today for free
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Beer Loops you may have missed
What did you think of today's newsletter?