Kölsch beer is a top-fermenting lager from the area surrounding Cologne, Germany. It is made with barley malt, hops, water and (ale) yeast and brewed at 14 - 15°C (58 - 60°F), cooler than other top fermenters which are brewed at 20°C (68°F). The name "Kölsch" is a European Union protected geographical indication. Within the EU, only certain areas may label their beer with this name. Outside of the EU, however, the name is used to indicate the certain style.
After initial mash and fermentation of about three days, it is aged or ripened at a cooler temperature. This slows the growth of yeast and steers their metabolites. Two to three weeks at 0 - 1°C (32 to 34°F) creates slightly sweet or fruity notes, considered integral to the style.
Kölsch beer is a bit bitter and hoppy with a fruity, balanced taste. Pale or straw colored and with a light, white head and light effervescence, it is traditionally served in a 0.2 liter glass called a "Stange" (a stick). The small glass is part of the beer's quality, its size keeps the beer cool and fresh while being drunk.
Kölsch, along with Bavarian Weissbier or Weizen, may be considered the pale ale of Germany.
The ingredients for Kölsch follow the German Beer Purity Law which allows only malted grain, yeast, hops and water as ingredients. The water in Cologne is soft and low in minerals. The hops used come from around Lake Constance in the south and are most often Hallertau and Tettnanger. Barley malt is used exclusively in most Kölsches, although a few recipes call for a bit of wheat malt to ensure the light color and persistent head (foam). An ale yeast is selected which tolerates cooler temperatures and attenuates a higher percentage of sugar than average.
Sitten - Etiquette
In a pub ("die Kneipe") in Cologne a waiter ( "der Köbes," short for Jakob, a common boys' name) comes around with a "Kranz," or wreath-shaped tray, of the "Stange" glasses. Typically, he sets one down for each customer, without waiting for an order. He sets it down and marks the "Bierdeckel" or paper coaster with a line. The number of lines you have on your coaster tells him how many beers to charge you for when you ask to pay. It is a way for the customer to have control and knowledge of what the waiter is charging and is seen as more binding than a computer receipt.
The waiter will continue to deposit fresh beer in front of you as long as you are sitting. If you wish to abstain from more beer, you must place your coaster on top of your empty glass as a signal.
The "Köbesse," plural for "Köbes," are a traditionally surly lot. This comes from an earlier time, when they were brewery apprentices, brewing by day and serving at night, complete with yawns and sharp tongues. To this day, waiters in the traditional Kölsch pubs wear long, blue linen aprons, a blue waiter's jacket and a leather money bag belted around their waists. Most of them are male. You can find them in the following pubs: Früh, Gaffel, Päffgen, Reissdorf and others in Cologne as well as in pubs in Bonn, Düsseldorf and Krefeld.
These "Kneipen," or pubs, serve traditional "Hausmanskost," hearty home cooking. Bratwurst, Bratkartoffeln, Hämmchen, Kotelett and Kaviar mit Musik (grilled blood sausage with onion garnish). It can be difficult to order in the busier pubs, they are more about beer - drinking than eating dinner.
History of Kölsch
Although there is evidence of brewing and beer drinking in Cologne since the Roman times, the modern Kölsch style is just a hundred years old. It is an outgrowth of the darker Altbier style also brewed along the Rhine. From 1603 to the occupation of Napolean Bonaparte (1794), only top - fermented beers were allowed to be brewed in Cologne, the opposite of Bavaria where only lagers or bottom fermented beer were allowed. One of these top - fermenters was "Keutebier," produced through to the 1800s. It was a mostly wheat beer, similar to a Belgian witbeer but without the spices. Over time, barley was substituted for the wheat, becoming what is now Kölsch.
Additionally, modern malting techniques introduced in the 19th century, made pale ales first possible. The Pilsner malt came from these new drying techniques and was preferred by the brewers in the area. (Source)
Styles of Beer from Cologne
Wieß - This is unfiltered Kölsch. A Wieß or Wieße is cloudy and the name comes from the Cologne dialect word for "white." It is drunk out of regular glasses and is offered by some breweries.
Grutbier (Gelbbier) - Gruit (also grut) is an herb mixture (various) which was used for flavoring beer, before hops became widespread. It was the main beer style in Cologne until the 15th century. The trade in grut was controlled by specific families who were given the rights to trade and sell grut and they fought off the sale of hops as long as they could but the trade in hops was controlled by the Hanseatic League and furthermore, hops offered better quality control than grut. Beer made with hops could travel without going bad and had a pleasant taste. It was also cheaper to make, since hops was less expensive than grut.
Keutebier - a wheat beer made with hops. It was light in color and eventually became Kölsch with a switch to barley malt.
Rotbier - Beer made with hops and barley malt in the 15th century was red in color due to the color of the malt. At the time, it was less expensive than the "Keutebier," brewed with wheat and hops. Red beer today is colored in various ways, including cask aging, addition of fruit juices and different malting processes (see "Rauchbier"). (Source)