What’s in a Style: Kölsch

You may have had a Kölsch, but do you know where and how it got its start? In the early 1600’s in the Cologne region of Germany, all beer that was produced were top-fermented ales. However, outside beers started making their way into the local market and giving the brewers of Cologne a run for their money. These beers were lagers; bottom-fermented and aged in cold cellars. The town of Cologne did everything they could to hold on to their roots, including forcing all local brewers to swear the following oath:

“that you prepare your beer, as of old, from good malt, good cereals, and good hops, well-boiled, and that you pitch it with top-yeast, and by no means with bottom yeast.”

15th Century Cologne, Germany

15th Century Cologne, Germany

A beer battle that continued for almost 150 years, until an alternate method was discovered. Make the beer with top-fermenting yeast and then cold cellar it like its bottom-fermented counterparts. This produced a top-fermented beer that had many of the same qualities of the lager beers, including the 3C’s: Clear, Clean and Crisp.

In terms of what a Kölsch is, you’ll find it’s not much different from a German Pilsner lager. An ABV of 4.4% – 5.2% and IBU rating of between 20-30. Pale in color and brilliantly clear. Predominantly consisting of pilsner malt and traditional German hops. The key to this beer is the yeast. Top-fermenting, capable of operating at temps slightly below standard ale yeasts, with medium to high flocculation. Accentuates hop flavor and bitterness, while providing clean, crisp lager like qualities.

Some people like to ferment their Kölsch around 60°F, however I personally like to keep mine between 62-64°F. I also find, just like lagers, it’s important to give this type of beer a diacetyl rest, by increasing the temp 4-5°F a day until you’ve reached around 70°F. Hold it here for at least 3 days, I like to give mine about 5. This process will not only help the yeast finish up and ensure you’re at final gravity, but it also helps to expel any diacetyl compounds that may still be present in your beer.

After this, I like to begin the cold crashing and lagering process just as if this was a bottom-fermenting beer. Just like we did for the diacetyl rest, lower the temperature of your beer by 4-5°F per day until you’ve reached the mid 30°’s.

I know not everyone has temperature control, so a good method here would be to let your beer ferment at the proper temperature (using a swamp cooler or possibly even by fermenting on a concrete slab in your basement). Then move the fermentation vessel to a warmer area, such as your living room or bedroom closet to complete a diacetyl rest. Once this is done, package your beer as you normally would and give it some time in the cold. If you keg, you can go straight into your keezer and force carbonate while aging. If you bottle, you can feel free to bottle condition for carbonation first, then move to the fridge for aging. Cold conditioning is really going to make the difference with this beer.

This easy drinking beer is great year-round and can be highly sessionable.

The following recipe is currently on the Jay’s Brewing board and available in store.

Jay’s Kölsch

OG: 1.045
FG: 1.009
ABV: 4.7%
IBU: 28
SRM: 4.6
Batch Size: 5.5 Gallons
*Numbers adjusted for Beersmith calculations

Mash:
Single Temp. Infusion – 150°F for 60 min.

Grain Bill
6.5 lb. – German Pilsner (72%)
1.5 lb. – Munich Malt (17%)
1 lb. – Vienna Malt (11%)

Hops
1.00 oz – Tradition (6% AA) @ 60 min.
1.00 oz – Hallertauer Mittelfrueh (4.0% AA) @ 0 min.

Yeast
German Ale/Kölsch WLP029 (Fermented @ 62°F)

 Until next time, happy brewing!

Stephen Boyajian - Avid homebrewer and all around nice guyStephen Boyajian has been an avid homebrewer for 4 years. A fan of many styles, with a particular love for IPA’s and Stouts. He lives in Gainesville, VA with his wife, 3 kids and dog. When not brewing, he enjoys playing golf or playing guitar.

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