In my house, the late days of summer are a study in contrast. We're trying to squeeze in one more cookout and one more trip to the shore while also revving up for baseball playoffs and the beginning of football season. Luckily, I've got a beer that bridges the gap from the backyard to the beach to the tailgate cooler: kölsch.
What's a Kölsch?
Kölsch comes from the German city of Cologne, or Köln, as it's known locally (see what they did there?). Though technically the beer should be brewed within city limits — and sipped from its designated 0.2 liter cylindrical glass — to be a true kölsch, American craft brewers have had no problem appropriating and playing with the style over the years.
Though it's an ale, kölsch is aged at cold temperatures like a lager. It drinks like a good German pilsner, with the golden hoppiness you'd expect from the genre, but lets a little more body come to the forefront. When drinking American versions, you might get a pop of wheatiness on your palate when taking a sip—that's often my prominent takeaway, though you'll often taste a whisper of fruit or sweetness too.
Kölsch is light, dry, and crisply bitter, but not overpowering like today's hop monsters. If you're looking for a beer with a pleasant throwback taste to classic German-style lagers but with a little something extra to keep you interested, kölsch should be your modern go-to brew.
5 Kölsch Beers to Try
Here are 5 kölsch beers to try before the cold weather hits:
- Reissdorf: In craft beer bars or German-style beer gardens throughout the U.S., this is the true German kölsch you'll find most frequently on menus. It's a wonderful example of the classic style: a smooth but just slightly bitter golden ale with just a little fruitiness to keep things interesting.
- Short's Kölsch 45: I'm not saying Michigan makes people bitter, but this beer from the Mitten (on the 45th parallel, get it?) does bump the hops level up a notch or two from the traditional German kölsch. This one's for the pale ale fans that want something they can drink all day without palate fatigue.
- Sand Island Light House: Bitterness and sweetness live in happy balance in this kölsch from Alabama's Straight to Ale. It's got all the hallmarks of the style with a touch of malt flavor and a lovely whiff of fruity hops, both of which come through even when glugged straight from the ice-cold can.
- Santo: Though Saint Arnold makes a traditional, tasty, and award-winning kölsch called Fancy Lawnmower, the Texas brewery gets a little inventive with this black kölsch. It's got a whiff of roasted flavor from the additional of black malt, making it a lovely afternoon BBQ beer that won't weigh you down.
- Sunbru: When you're a brewery that makes your home under the sweltering Arizona sun, it stands to reason you'll want something this light to drink when your workday is done. As I've found, this kölsch from Phoenix' Four Peaks also goes down easy while waiting for your pie to come out of the oven at Pizzeria Bianco.