Style Guide: What is a Kölsch?

Kölsch is a style of beer originating from Cologne, Germany. Kölsch is warm fermented with top-fermenting yeast, then conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager; it is often referred to as a hybrid of ale and lager.

What does Kölsch taste like?

Typically, Kölsch is an uncomplicated beer with delicate hop and delicate malt flavours, leaving plenty of room for a crisp, dry, super-refreshing finish. Not a million miles away from a pilsner, Kölsch is a little smoother, subtler and, one could argue, even more sessionable.

A brief history of Kölsch…

Bottom-fermented beer started to appear in the Cologne region in the early 17th century and its popularity threatened the business interest of the brewers of Cologne, who at the time only produced top-fermented beers. In response, the town council of Cologne in 1603 forced young brewers to swear an oath: “that you prepare your beer, as of old, from good malt, good cereals, and good hops, well-boiled, and that you pitch it with top-yeast, and by no means with bottom yeast.”

In 1676 and again in 1698, the council went so far as to try to legislate against bottom-fermented beer by forbidding its sale within the city walls. However, by 1750, Cologne brewers were competing against bottom-fermented beers by using a hybridized brewing process, first brewing their beer using top-fermenting yeast but then ageing the beer in cold cellars like bottom-fermented beer.

This type of beer was first referred to as Kölsch in 1918.

When is a Kölsch not a Kölsch?

Since 1997, the term “Kölsch” has had a protected geographical indication (PGI) within the European Union; only beer that is made within 50 km/30 miles of the city of Cologne and brewed according to the Kölsch Konvention may be called a Kölsch.

That is why any similar beers brewed outside this geographical region may only be branded as Kölsch-style beers (such as Don’t Call Me Brölsch by 71 Brewing) or, if the brewery is feeling cheeky, Kolsch (without the umlaut).

Kölsch is one of the most strictly defined beer styles in the World; according to the Konvention, it is a pale, highly attenuated, hoppy, bright (i.e. filtered and not cloudy) top-fermenting beer, and must be brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law).

How is a Kölsch served?

In Cologne, Kölsch is traditionally served in a tall, thin, cylindrical 20-cL glass called a Stange (“spike” or “rod”). The server, called a Köbes, carries twelve Stangen in a Kranz, a circular tray resembling a crown or wreath.

Instead of waiting for the drinker to order a refill, the Köbes immediately replaces an empty Stange with a full one, marking a tick on the coaster under the Stange. If the drinker does not want another refill, he or she places the coaster on top of the empty Stange and pays for the number of beers marked on the coaster.

Sounds much simpler than our kitty or rounds systems, doesn’t it?

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