You Don’t Have To Be German To Appreciate A Tasty Kölsch

Kölsch is only brewed in Germany in Cologne, the city where the beer style was born and the home of world-renowned brewers Gaffel and Reissdorf. U.S. craft brewers took note and are increasingly releasing award-winning kölsch beers — many that taste quite different from their European counterparts.

Colorado’s Joyride Brewing won the kölsch gold medal at this year’s World Beer Cup and the silver medal at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival, the Oscars of the U.S. craft brewing industry.

“We start with all German ingredients as we try to adhere to the Reinheitsgebot for this beer as much as we can,” says Dave Bergen, Joyride’s co-founder, about the brewery’s award-winning Ice Cutter Kölsch. The Reinheitsgebot is the centuries-old German Beer Purity Law — former regulations stipulating a beer’s ingredients.

Ice Cutter’s malt bill — the malts and adjuncts used in a beer’s recipe — is fairly simple, Bergen says.

It’s “mostly pilsner malt with additions of wheat for body and head retention and Vienna malt for a small splash of color and to simulate some of the flavors you might get from a decoction mash (a malt mashing process),” Bergen explains. “We only use Noble hops and add them an hour before whirlpool. We stay toward the cooler end of our yeast’s temperature range and leave it there for about three days before bumping up about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. It’ll stay in the tank for another 3 ½ weeks with a gradual stepping down of the temperature.”

Ice Cutter won its prestigious World Beer Cup gold medal in a competition against 158 other kölsches.

The beer has a bit more alcohol than Reissdorf Kölsch — 5.2% ABV vs. 4.8%. Bergen says it’s difficult to compare Ice Cutter with the German counterpart, because he hasn’t tasted Reissdorf Kölsch on tap in Cologne.

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From tasting the beer in a can, though, “their beer is a tad darker — more gold in color — and finishes with a honey-like sweetness,” Bergen says. “We prefer ours to be more crisp and lean more toward cracker and bread. Ours has a more pronounced herbal and lemon hop character, as well as more bitterness.”

At Oregon’s pFriem Family Brewers, the highly rated Kölsch has “a little more malt complexity and is slightly more fruity than Reissdorf’s beer,” says Josh Pfriem, the brewery’s cofounder and brewmaster.

Kölsch beers brewed in Cologne and at U.S. breweries are “bright, effervescent, light, delicate, dry and slightly fruity,” Pfriem says. “This combination creates a lovely beverage that is very quaffable and interesting to drink.”

It’s “a special experience” to drink a kölsch in Cologne, Pfriem says. Breweries there only serve kölsch, he says, and use a gravity keg to pour the beer into .2-liter glasses on special trays that hold many glasses.

“While you are drinking your kölsch and close to the bottom of the glass, your server will drop another wonderfully poured kölsch next to the one you are drinking,” Pfriem explains. “They will continue to do this until you put your coaster over your glass, signaling that you are finished. With the smaller glasses, the beer stays cooler, creating a lively, super-fun and wonderful drinking experience.”

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