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Kolsch: A Hidden Summer Gem

Summer is in full swing, if you couldn't tell. It’s a time to hang outside by the pool, by the grill, or doing something outdoorsy. Either way, you want to stay cool with some beverages, hopefully beer. You see plenty of commercials to get together with your "buds" or a train that explodes in to cool off wherever you may be. They are usually inexpensive, but what does that do to the taste? Do they, and can they, live up to their marketing claims? I certainly do not think so, and I assume you don't as well-which is why you're reading this. So let me provide you with some information on another option, especially for those of you who think that craft and "different" import beers are too outlandish in their flavors.

In this burgeoning world of craft beer and migration of imports are a myriad of options, from breweries flagship beers to their seasonal releases to the then limited release beers that pop up. But thankfully summer reins them in, and we get a narrower variety of beer styles for the seasonal option. You predominantly have wheat ales (witbiers, hefeweizens, and shandy's), blondes, hoppy session pale ales, and now saisons.  Those are all well and good, I love variety!  However, every now and then you just want something that you can fall back on a hot summer day. Well, I think I’ve found an answer in a niche German style that does not get enough attention.

The Germans know how to brew beer; no one will ever question that. During the summer months we gravitate ourselves to their wheat ales, whether it's the classic hefeweizen, a cleaner kristal wizen, or tart Berliner-weisse.  They are simply deliciously refreshing beers that round out on the palate nicely and pair well with our traditional summer activities and foods. But there is ale out there that only a few German and American craft breweries produce that is actually just as light and refreshing? There are plenty of German lager styles you could imbibe, yet what about something different? Something very mellow, lightly fruity, crisp, and biscuity. I give you the Kölsch. A beer that has a rich and turbulent history as it was transformed from a wheat ale to the product we have today. As to why this beer makes for a better substitute to all the other summer beers is its character. It's not bold with flavors such as the yeasty hefe, or a spicy witbier, or hoppy like a pale ale. Nor is it like its cousin, the Helles lager, which give great maltiness on the palate but is a little heavier. The Kölsch is something that really doesn't want to be noticed or make a splash.

Kölsch beers are named for their city of origin Cologne (Köln), Germany. This city was so dedicated in preserving the German heritage of producing ales during the 16th-17th centuries when the crazy lager trend hit German brewers, that they made it law that in their fair city that they would only brew ales.  Then 335 years later in 1948, the breweries of Cologne and its surrounding area came together and formed the Kölsch Konvention. This association stated that only 20 breweries in the city and city proper had the ability to brew and call their beer a Kölsch. [This is why you see on every other-particularly American-Kölsch beer that it is a Kölsch-style beer. The copyright laws for using its in the name of the beer are another long and boring discussion, so I’ll spare you that…for now]  If you haven't notice by now, the Germans take theirs beers very seriously; and that is fantastic. Why? Because it shows in the beer.

So what is this "Kölsch" beer? It's, just very nice. And don't let this light compliment or its fair straw-like color fool you. Lightly toasted (not roasted!) malt flavors play softly on your palate usually providing a nice biscuity flavor. The hops are scarcely present, if only in conjunction with the yeast during fermentation to provide very delicate fruit notes on the nose and the palate. The only way to describe the body and finish of this beer is light, slightly dry and crisp. And that last part, crisp, you can attribute to the crazy way Germans think. To achieve this crispness, they cold lager (condition) the beer for 2-4 weeks; which is different from a majority of ales that are warm conditioned.

Everything about this beer makes it great for the summer. Hot and humid out? Served cold it is thirst-quenching and different from a standard macro-brew choice. Having something off the grill? Pair it with a Kölsch so you can fully enjoy your bar-be-cue, but get that toasty maltiness and crispness that compliments your meal. Just hanging out all day or working on a project? These brews range from 4.4-5.2% ABV, so you can fully enjoy it well into the night, and without getting tired of the flavor. It may not be big and flavorful, yet that is where the satisfaction of this beer comes from. Not its boldness, but it quiet beauty. It's a better choice than some 'light' beer, not as filling as a hefeweizen, and palate numbing as something with a loud hop presence.

Now what are your options? Sadly they are few and far between for a good one.  I have been fortunate to find three Kölsch's from German brewers: Reissdorf, Gaffel, and Sünner. American craft brewers do make them. Stoudt's in Adamstown, PA has its Karnival Kölsch which is their spring seasonal. Summer seasonal Kölsch's include Goose Island's Summertime, Saranac's Kölsch and Lancaster's Kölsch. The three year-old brewing company Free Will out of Perkasie, PA has also started brewing a Kölsch. A quick search on BeerAdvocate and ratebeer yield a large list of results, but many of them have now since been retired, and the rest are few and far between located all across the States, and that is disappointing. If you see a Kölsch on tap at a bar, especially a brewpub, or at your local bottle shop, pick it up and give it a whirl! If it's a good one, like Reissdorf's or Stoudt's offerings, you'll get hooked. So go out and try something unique this summer. Prost!

Cologne, Germany as seen in American public House Review

Jonathan De Menno of De Menno's Diary of Beer as seen in American Public House Review

Jonathan has a deep seated love of all things beer . . . and everything relating to human complexity and carrying on from the first hunter gathers through World War II.  His love of history has been going on for quite a while, It was his collegiate course of study and he went on to teach it there. With that interest for anthropomorphic arts, crafts and indeed repasts throughout time, he sensed something was missing in his youthful enjoyment of the hops and barley. A friend introduced him to the world of fine brewing and the imported libations of the old masters. Jonathan was hooked. He burned with a passion to find out everything he could about beer. He imbibed the lore of the styles, the process of their creation and the unique characteristics of each and every brew. He delved into the mysteries of fermentation himself, brewed, drank and read his way to knowing, understanding, and loving everything there is about beer. Jonathan has had the pleasure to turn his fanaticism into a profession surrounded by the tawny, earthy elixir and its purveyors every day. And we are indeed privileged to benefit from his tutoring, insight and recommendations.

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