Brewer to brewer, Kolsch is indistinguishable

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beers 5123 º places 323 º 07:14 Sun 5/5/2013

Yesterday I returned from fifteen days in Germany, including four days in the Cologne area. I was excited to go to the well known brewers to try the fresh kolsch, a style we hear cannot be truly experienced without going to Cologne. We see this style in the states from time to time, either from brewpubs or occasionally bottled.

I went to Paffgen, Sion Brauhaus, Muhlen, and other restaurants where I tried gravity pours from the barrel. The Sion presentation was impressive, with the fresh barrels brought to the bar by overhead track and lowered with a crane into position for pouring.

I had high hopes for the experience of drinking these beers at their origin, both for the atmosphere of brewpubs as well as the quality of the beers.

I was left with a few impressions:

Kolsch is unreasonably expensive at 1.6-1.8 Euro for .2L, making it the most expensive beer I found in Germany.

At the breweries, one fresh Kolsch is virtually indistinguishable from another. I could perceive little house character or differences between Paffgen, Muhlen, Sion, or Gaffel.

Fresh Kolsch is substantially similar to well made but under-flavored yellow lager. There is a lack of complexity and variety to the style.

I did perceive greater difference between bottled versions of the beer, Fruh and Sion were substantially better than bottled Gaffel.

I have the same comments for Altbier in Dusseldorf, where I went to to Schlussel; Uerige; Fuchschen; Kurzer; and Schumacher. However, the atmosphere of these breweries, where you can smell the beer being brewed as you walk through the streets, and can stop on pleasant tree lined streets to drink in the shade as a very nice experience.

In any event, my Kolsch experience was disappointing.

Bill Becker
beers 582 º places 2 º 07:25 Sun 5/5/2013

I see it as brewing to style so big differences in taste would not be to my liking. I love me a cool, crisp and clean Kölsch.

beers 2959 º places 122 º 07:28 Sun 5/5/2013

That’s interesting. I looked at my small number of Kolsch ratings and of the 15, 14 were American breweries while the other was Japan. With one exception they were pretty pedestrian experiences. I would have hoped for better too, had I been in your shoes. But then again, maybe that’s what should be expected if the style is so narrow.

beers 3907 º places 1 º 07:46 Sun 5/5/2013

No impression on how they compared to well made Kolsch from the states?

beers 5123 º places 323 º 07:47 Sun 5/5/2013

Originally posted by Bill Becker
I see it as brewing to style so big differences in taste would not be to my liking. I love me a cool, crisp and clean Kölsch.

Sure any style has certain parameters that you need to stay within before the beer turns into a different style, but I was disappointed that to my perception they were virtually identical.

Actually Gaffel was a little different, I perceived a light mushroom, earthy aroma in that one.

beers 5123 º places 323 º 07:49 Sun 5/5/2013

Originally posted by drewbeerme
No impression on how they compared to well made Kolsch from the states?

Hard to say, I was drinking them fresh. Based on my ratings I would say they were better, but that might be due to the prime condition of the beer over there.

beers 10210 º places 261 º 07:56 Sun 5/5/2013

Yes, it looks like the style guidelines for Kolsch are so narrow that to brew a true Kolsch, the breweries in Cologne have no choice but to brew very similar products. Yellow and fizzy with moderate bitterness and big-time flavor from Spalt, Tettnang or Hallertau hops?

Only so much variance can occur and that which does is probably lost during the lagering process.

Still, I bet it was a fun trip.

beers 9410 º places 662 º 08:00 Sun 5/5/2013

Shaun Hill said he’d never brew a kolsch, now we know why

beers 1629 º places 63 º 08:05 Sun 5/5/2013

Yeah, I don’t get the fuss about the style.

beers 8701 º places 1458 º 08:41 Sun 5/5/2013

Good summary, I agree with a lot of it. A lot of them are same-y, the only one I found to be significantly different and better in quality was the Schreckenskammer. I do remember subtle but noticeable variation on the standard apple / pear esters across the others.

I think there’s an echo across the beer community of "if you want to try Kolsch proper you have to drink it in Koln", which is true, but not the same as calling it one of the top beer destinations in Europe. it was a good experience to have once but Kolsch does not call me back.

beers 13757 º places 1137 º 08:43 Sun 5/5/2013

I tried 11 of the different kolsch breweries in Cologne and while they were quite similar, having them all in such a short period of time, I did recognize some differences, but you are correct that in large part they were pretty comparable. I had them all on draft and found Dom and Fruh to be my least favorite, while I enjoyed Gaffel and Reissdorf the most (though I’d previously had those and really liked them, so maybe that influenced me).

In any case, I do agree that it’s not the most exciting style, but I do enjoy kolsch for the simple fact that it is light and refreshing and easy to drink.

Hope the rest of the trip was enjoyable, even if you didn’t care much for the kolsch.