It’s a common misconception that ales are not brewed in Germany, the lager capital of the world. Not true! Weissbier, Altbier, Gose and Kolsch, fermented with ale yeast, have been brewed in Germany for centuries.
Kolsch is the traditional ale from Koln, or Cologne, as English speakers know the city. Kolsch has been brewed in the Koln region since the late 1800s as a reaction against pale lagers from southern Germany. Kolsch, like Champagne or Chianti, enjoys appellation protection by the EU, meaning the name is tied to the region of origination. If Belgians brewed perfect Kolsch, they could sell it, but the cannot call Kolsch. American craft brewers are under no such restrictions unless they try to sell their Kolsch in Europe.
Kolsch is a delicate beer, with flavors of bready malt, floral German hops and a hint of fruitiness from the ale yeast. While similar to pale German lager, the top-fermenting yeast give Kolsch a slightly fruity flavor common in ales. It is light bodied, with a hint of malt sweetness in the middle, then finishes dry and crisp with faint bitterness. Although an Ale, Kolsch is brewed with barley malt, hops, and water, just like a Pilsner, in accordance with Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Laws of 1516.
Kolsch pours beautifully clear, ranging from pale yellow to light gold, with a low SRM* of 3.5 to 5. Kolsch has light hop bitterness, with floral notes, measuring about 18-30 IBUs* and a low ABV of 4.4 to 5.2%, Kolsch is a great style to relax with on a warm day.
Reissdorf Kolsch may be the best know authentic Kolsch in the world. Heinrich Reissdorf brewery was founded in 1894 and brews more Kolsch than anyone. It pours brilliantly clean, with aromas of grainy malts and floral German hops. It’s light, refreshing and perfect on a summer day. It’s a fine German lawnmower beer… or would that be a rasenmäher bier?
Most American craft brewers avoid Kolsch, but there are good interpretations to be had. A local favorite is from our hometown brewer Blackstone, the Chaser Pale Kolsch. Other good versions are 3 Floyds Calumet Queen (yes, 3 Floyds brews a Kolsch!), Schlafly Kolsch, New Holland Full Circle and French Broad Gateway Kolsch.
A delicate beer like Kolsch pairs well with delicate foods like salads, light fish, lobster and shrimp. It is also a great brunch beer, especially with omelettes or smoked salmon. And Germans love pork, so grilled pork chops and Kolsch make a nice summer meal.
*Standard Reference Method (color)
*International Bitterness Units (hop alpha-acid utilization)
*Alcohol by Volume
All quantitative specifications are from the BJCP Style Guide, 2015