A lot of beer enthusiasts can get hung up on the argument of ales vs. lagers – both have their strengths and advocates, and both have their flaws and detractors. One of the best ways to settle this argument, however, is with a beer that is a little bit of both; these are often referred to as hybrid beers. A German-style Kölsch is one of the most enjoyable and utterly drinkable hybrid beers around. The best Kölsches go down easy and leave you wanting more, and often have a subtle complexity that pairs well with different foods.
Although the term “Kölsch” is protected in Europe and can only refer to beers made in and near the city of Cologne, here in the US any beer that is made in this style can be called a Kölsch. This is the perfect beer for drinkers who find something like an India Pale Ale to be too bitter, but who also feel a typical lager is plain or too bland. As a hybrid, a good Kölsch is made using techniques and ingredients from both the ale and lager family, without leaning too far in one direction or the other.
While the Kölsch style of beer nearly died out in World War II, it thankfully reemerged and grew in popularity here in the US for decades. This is the perfect beer for a hot day, whether you simply need to get away from the heat to feel refreshed or you are joining friends for a good meal. Relatively low in alcohol content and bitterness, a good Kölsch is smooth and invigorating, without feeling heavy.
A Lager by Way of Ale
The defining characteristic for a lot of beers, which makes that type of beer distinct, is the type of yeast used and the fermentation process involved with it. In general, there are two distinct types of beer: lagers and ales. A lager is made using bottom-fermenting yeast and fermented in colder temperatures; this produces something like a pilsner.
On the other hand, ales like India Pale Ale are made using top-fermenting yeast in a warmer environment. Much of what makes any particular ale an ale and a lager a lager comes down to that type of yeast and the temperature. Hybrid beers like a Kölsch do not neatly fit into these basic categories by breaking that mold in some way. A Kölsch is made using ale yeast for fermentation but it is conditioned in a cooler environment; some are also finished using lager yeast to really mix things up.
Origins of the Kölsch
The lovely Kölsch draws its history back to Germany, as so many wonderful beers do, in the region known as Cologne. Brewers in Cologne used top-fermenting to create ales, but the rise in popularity of lagers, made using bottom-fermenting techniques, threatened their businesses. In order to try to stave off the incoming trade in lagers, the town council in Cologne made brewers in the region swear to only use top-fermentation. This effort failed repeatedly.
Finally, brewers in the area stopped resisting the influx of bottom-fermented lagers, and instead combined the finishing methods of popular lagers with their own top-fermented techniques. They brewed their beer with top-fermenting yeast and then aged the result in cold cellars like a lager. This produced a hybrid beer that was named after the region – in German, Cologne is called “Köln” and so the beer named after it is “Kölsch.”
Flavor and Aroma
In general, a good Kölsch typically has a pretty subtle overall flavor and aroma, especially compared to strong ales like an IPA. That does not mean it is boring by any measure, and still tends to be a bit more pronounced than a typical lager. In general, a Kölsch is light in color and can often have a somewhat fruity flavor to it, often referred to as a “vinous” flavor or notes.
A Kölsch usually has a dry, crisp finish to it that makes it notably easy to drink, especially for people who do not care for more bitter ales. It typically has a light aroma that comes through in subtle ways that play well with the overall flavor of the beer. If you enjoy lager and want to try something that is a bit more pronounced without moving to an ale or heavy stout, then a Kölsch is a perfect choice.
Kölsches are noted for not being particularly bitter, especially when compared to something like an India Pale Ale. While a standard IPA usually comes in at around 60 IBU for bitterness, a good Kölsch often falls between just 18 and 28 IBU. That makes it slightly more bitter than something like a simple lager or hefenweizen, but nowhere near as bitter as an IPA. A Kölsch is typically pretty comparable to something like an Irish red ale, with some bitterness but less overall complexity.
Alcohol by Volume
Beer enthusiasts often talk about how drinkable a beer is in terms of not only how easily it goes down and finishes, but also its alcohol content. A beer low in alcohol content is easier to enjoy a few rounds of than something much stronger that hits you over the head. Kölsches are quite popular because they finish well and are easy to drink and tend to have about 4.8 to 5.3% ABV. This keeps it from being too strong and makes a Kölsch a great option for someone new to drinking and enjoying craft beers.
Serving a Kölsch Beer
A delicious German-style Kölsch is typically served in a flute glass, which has a narrow bottom, tall sides, and a wider mouth. Such a glass makes for a good, rich head on top of the beer and lets you enjoy the aroma of the Kölsch with every sip. In Cologne and nearby regions, Kölsch is served in a similar glass called a “Stange,” which means “pole.” Empty glasses are replaced automatically by servers in Cologne until the coaster is placed on top to indicate a drinker is finished for the night.
Due to its light flavor and easy drinkability, a good Kölsch pairs well with a lot of foods, particularly meats and nutty cheeses. Enjoying a Kölsch with a meat pizza or a good bratwurst is a great way to spend the evening. The light fruitiness of a Kölsch also makes it a fine choice to drink with dessert, such as a piece of cheesecake.
Come Have a Drink with Clara
At Fort Brewery we believe that good food and drinks are missing only one thing: you. Our goal is to serve only the best craft beers and delicious dishes so that you, your friends, and your family can get together, have a good time, and walk away completely satisfied. We have a selection of craft beers designed for newcomers and experienced beer enthusiasts alike; with enough options to appeal to any kind of beer-drinker, but not so many that you can get lost or overwhelmed.
Our signature Kölsch is named after the first child born here in Forth Worth and is a light, refreshing choice perfect for a hot summer’s day. If you are new to craft beers and not sure what to try, then the Clara is a great choice that will have you smiling as you reach for another sip. Come and taste any of our beers and salads, pizzas, and sandwiches – all you need to bring is your appetite.