Beer is usually grouped into different groups by the type of yeast used. The two primary groups are ale and lager. A third group is a bit of a catch all for beers brewed using other yeast, often described as ‘wild yeast’, responsible for sour beers. But back to ale and lager; ale is made with ‘top fermenting’ yeast at warm temperatures while lagers are made with ‘bottom fermenting’ yeast at cooler temperatures. But of course things are never that simple, enter ‘hybrid beers’. Beers that don’t comfortably sit in either camp. One such outlier is Kölsch.
Kölsch is a style that takes a little of both, being brewed with top fermenting ale yeast but then conditioned at colder temperature like a lager. The cold conditioning gives the beer a dry and crisp finish that one would expect from a lager while the ale yeast delivers subtle fruity aromas normally associated with ale. The style is all about subtlety and balance with light fruit tones sometimes described as vinous (grapey) in character, light sweet malt and decidedly dry finish. Smooth yet crisp and very easy drinking.
Unusually for a beer style, since 1997 Kölsch has enjoyed protected status under European law, similar to Champagne or more recently Waterford blaas. Only beers brewed in the Cologne area can be label as Kölsch . Outside of this area, and indeed in Ireland, beers of this style are often labelled ‘Kolsch-style’. In Cologne Kölsch is served in traditional Brauhaus in a 0.2 litre glass, a tall, narrow, cylindrical glass called a stange. Here the servers, called a Kobes, continue to swap out empty glasses with fresh beer unless told otherwise by placing a beer mat over your glass.
If you would like to try out this style at home, without the Kobes serve, then pick up the traditionalFrüh Kölsch. Or you can pick up some great Irish ‘Kolsch style’ brews like 9 White Deer Stag Saor Kolsch, Wicklow Wolf Arcadia Kolsch and 12 Acres Single Malt Lager.