What Makes a Kolsch a Kolsch?

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by OldBrewer, May 20, 2016.

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  1. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    A Kolsch seems to be one of the most loosely defined styles of beer. I've seen all kinds of different ale yeasts used (not necessarily Kolsch yeasts), lots of different ingredients, many different fermentation temperatures, and suggestions that a Kolsch does not even need to be lagered!

    So what actually makes a Kolsch a "Kolsch"? What are the basic things common to ALL Kolsch's? What actually gives it that unique Kolsch, lager-like taste?
     
  2. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,692) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Society

    I am not the Kolsch beer authority but I will share how I brew my Kolsch beers.

    Fermentation/Yeast Strain

    I use a Kolsch ale yeast strain (Wyeast 2565) and I ferment cool (around 60 degrees F).

    Malt

    Most of my Kolsch beers have been brewed using 100% German Pilsner Malt but for one batch I used Kolsch Malt that is available from Northern Brewer.

    Hops

    I use Tettnang Tettnanger hops and I only add them for bittering (75 minutes of boiling time).

    Lagering

    I lager my Kolsch beers for a month. IMO this is a needed step when using Wyeast 2565.

    Clarifying Agents

    The only thing I use is rehydrated Irish Moss added to the kettle.

    Cheers!
     
  3. CarolusP

    CarolusP Initiate (108) Oct 22, 2015 Minnesota

    Well, strictly speaking, it must be brewed within 50km of Cologne, Germany. Anything outside of that is a "Kolsch-style beer", but not a true "Kolsch beer".
     
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  4. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    Thanks, Jack. That would certainly fit my views of a typical "Kolsch-like" style - the noble German hops, no focus on flavor or aroma hops, the pilsner malt with no other grains, the Kolsch yeast, the low fermentation temperature, and the lagering. But there are many other recipes which seem to fall far outside of this profile.
     
    #4 OldBrewer, May 20, 2016
    Last edited: May 20, 2016
  5. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    Absolutely true. I should emphasize "Kolsch-style" rather than a true "Kolsch".
     
  6. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,692) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Society

    The beauty of brewing (both homebrewing and commercial brewing) is that each brewer gets to decide how they want to make their beer.

    Cheers!
     
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  7. CarolusP

    CarolusP Initiate (108) Oct 22, 2015 Minnesota

    It seems that even the officials can't quite decide on the guidelines. The BJCP says that a Kolsch style beer can have up to 20% wheat malt, but the German Beer institute seems to imply that no wheat malt is used. ("In a country dominated by lagers of all strengths and colors, the modern Kölsch (the beer) is Germany's only true, all-barley, pale ale.")
     
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  8. scottakelly

    scottakelly Zealot (519) May 9, 2007 Ohio

    I love Kolsch, and ive brewed many over the years and have tried many at local breweries and other craft examples.

    Looking at commercial examples, most US brewed examples are lacking, IMO. At local breweries when I fish around for brewing details I usually discover a few issues that I think are problematic. The biggest is using the house yeast strain. The second is using NA 2 row and\or heavy character malt usage. Many also do not lager Hop usage is harder to pin down, though hoppy examples certainly stand out. SN Kolsch uses Simcoe hops and I love that beer.

    On the homebrew level, I think grain selection, yeast selection, and lagering is key. I use WY2565, and find WY 1007 too neutral and lacking the yeast character crucial to the style. I usually use 100% continental Pilsner malt, sometimes with a very minimal addition of melanoidin.
     
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  9. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    That's the most essential part of homebrewing! However, I'm still interested in the overall parameters and how far you can go and still call it "Kolsch-style".
     
  10. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,692) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Society

    I personally would not ascribe to this but it seems to me that the ‘answer’ for you is: “Kölsch is defined by an agreement between members of the Cologne Brewery Association known as the Kölsch Konvention.”

    Cheers!
     
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  11. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,127) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Brewery

    So a Koelsch is anything the brewer decides to call a "Koelsch"?
     
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  12. dmtaylor

    dmtaylor Aspirant (235) Dec 30, 2003 Wisconsin

    In my mind, bottom line, it's basically a pilsner fermented with a clean ale yeast so that it still tastes like a lager. Simple as that. Nothing else really matters, as long as it tastes pilsnery. Guess I'd have to travel to Cologne to know for sure. Never been to Europe but it's in my bucket.
     
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  13. ashellen

    ashellen Initiate (107) Mar 26, 2009 Virginia

    I think you have to be able to see this.

    [​IMG]

    Feel free to look at this post when your brewing.
     
  14. Theheroguy

    Theheroguy Disciple (326) Jun 29, 2012 Maryland

    pils malt, kolsch yeast, low fermentation temp, lagering, spalt hops can low to moderate aroma and flavor
     
  15. jbakajust1

    jbakajust1 Crusader (745) Aug 25, 2009 Oregon

  16. DunkelFester

    DunkelFester Initiate (194) Aug 24, 2004 Pennsylvania

    This is probably the best reply so so far. They are predominantly 'clean' and always refreshing, but differ from the typical Pilsner in that the yeast can sometimes impart slight, very subtle notes of fruit that come through most often in the finish. (white grape, pear, apple, etc - varies from brewery to brewery).

    Pils malt and noble hops is all you need. My favorite kölsch yeast is ECY21.
     
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  17. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Poo-Bah (1,832) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan
    Society

    Eric Warner wrote that Kölsch in Köln is brewed with a small % of wheat by some Breweries.
     
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  18. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    I'm probably more confused about this style now than ever. The only commonality appears to be that it tastes like a lager or more specifically, like a pilsner, but is brewed like an ale. I still don't know what what range of parameters ensures this. Apparently, it's not necessarily the type of malt, yeast, fermentation temperature or even lagering that defines it. What else is it then?
     
  19. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,127) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Brewery

    Follow the guidelines outlined in the Kölsch Konvention. There will be no confusion as to what a Kölsch is if you do that. Kinda nice, isn't it? Alternative is what I said above: a Kölsch is anything a brewer chooses to call a Kölsch (and that's a lotta things these days...with very few falling within parameters of the Kölsch Konvention).
     
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  20. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    I think those guidelines are not really followed too closely here in N. America. Kölsch-style is a very loose category, perhaps even worse than what constitutes a "Session" beer.
     
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  21. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,127) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Brewery

    Agree. The top-rated "Kölsch" on untappd are a "coffee Kölsch" and a 7.5% ABV "hoppy American Kölsch style."

    EDIT: looking further down the list, at least 3 of the top 10 contain coffee, with another containing lime and another being gin-barrel aged.
     
  22. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    Unbelievable! And here I thought one of the key attributes of a Kolsch was that it was not hop-heavy and had no additives. Soon they'll be adding all sorts of hops to the Kolsch and call it a "Kolsch IPA"! Marketing!!
     
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  23. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Poo-Bah (1,832) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan
    Society

    Kölsch is top fermented, and can contain wheat malt in Germany.
     
  24. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    Correct. But certainly not coffee, lime or Gin.
     
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  25. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Poo-Bah (1,832) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan
    Society

    Oh, I was thinking Geramany, you were thinking the US.

    They really should call those beers something different, as they are not a Kölsch.
     
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  26. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    I couldn't agree more. But others obviously would not. Jack said it well that the beauty of homebrewing is that we create all these different hybrids, but without proper categories, it would be hard to communicate a specific taste or style.
     
  27. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,127) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Brewery

    These days it's easier to determine the basic things common to all "best" U.S. beers (hop, fruit, coffee, and spirit-barrel flavors) than it is classic styles.
     
  28. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    "Classic styles" might soon be a thing of the past.
     
  29. pweis909

    pweis909 Poo-Bah (1,914) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin
    Society

    My opinion has been formed from no visits to Germany and no consumption of beer imported from Koln. Rather, it was formed by what I consider one of the best beers I ever brewed. So to me, it takes Wyeast 2565, all pils, and a German Hallertau mittlefruh / tradition hop blend. FWIW, that was Weyermann, floor malted, double decocted, if you think those things matter.
     
  30. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    In my opinion, decoction makes a big difference, although I'm not sure that is traditonlly used in Kolsch-style beers. I have become a huge fan of using decoction methods in pilsner-like beers. Adding a little melanoidin is not quite the same. Can you provide more information on your recipe? Especially mash (step mash?) temperature(s), fermentation temperature, lagering temperature and length of time, etc.
     
  31. pweis909

    pweis909 Poo-Bah (1,914) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin
    Society

    I decided to decoct just because I wanted to play with that process. I opted for Weyermann floor malted Bohemian pils ecause it is advertised as slighty undermodified. My decoction was not traditional. I targeted the beta amylase range for dough in, 145F, using 1.6 qt per lb. I allowed the main mash to dough in at this temp for 60 min. I pulled 3.5 q thick mash for first decoction about midway into this and gradually raised the temp to a boil over 20 min, and boiled for 10 minutes or so. I added this to the main mash at 60 minutes, raising the temp to an alpha rest temp of 156. I allowed this to rest for 20 minutes and then pulled 4.5 qt thin decoction for mashout. I fermented in the lower half of the yeasts recommended range for 3 weeks, and kegged. I brewed at the end of winter and didn't tap into the beer until the late spring or early summer, so you could say it lagered 2-3 months, in the mid 30s
     
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  32. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,692) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Society

    Each brewery whether they be homebrewers or commercial brewers can use unique names for their beers. For example some breweries will just label their beers as something like Blonde Ales.

    Trying to obtain universal agreement among all people about a given beer and an associated beer style will never, ever happen.

    Cheers!
     
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  33. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    That's a lot of work for a Kolsch, but I'm sure the results must be worth it! I might try something similar.
     
  34. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    I agree that universal agreement will never happen . But there does seem to be general agreement amongst many beer styles. There are just these few (Kolsch, Session, etc.) that still seem to be out in the far fringes in terms of some type of general agreement.
     
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  35. dmtaylor

    dmtaylor Aspirant (235) Dec 30, 2003 Wisconsin

    Essential ingredients to any traditional Kolsch-style ale: pilsner malt and noble hops. Nothing else matters.
     
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  36. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    I'm beginning to agree that these are perhaps the only two essentials left. Generally lower fermentation temperatures and/or lagering might also be a close third, in order to simulate the lager/pilsner taste more closely, although they don't seem to be absolutely essential.
     
  37. inchrisin

    inchrisin Zealot (583) Sep 25, 2008 Indiana

    Mr. Saison is flying pretty fast and loose with his rules too. :grinning:

    Kolsch=Moderately Hopped German Blonde Bier
     
  38. scottakelly

    scottakelly Zealot (519) May 9, 2007 Ohio

    I'm not a style Nazi but do have something against brewers calling a beer one style, Kolsch in this example, when it has few if any similarities to the style. Educated beer drinkers have an expectation when they see a beer called a "Kolsch". Just call it something else.

    I'm surprised so many here are downplaying the role played by yeast for brewing a Kolsch style beer. If you made a beer with 100% Pilsner malt, noble hops, and California ale yeast it would not taste like a Kolsch, IMO. The notes from the yeast are crucial to the style.
     
  39. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (296) Jan 13, 2016 Canada

    I would have thought so too, but I have tasted some Kolsch's made with other yeasts like S-05 and even Nottingham that still have that "Kolsch-like" pilsnerish flavor. These both used Pilsner malt, used German noble hops, were fermented at relatively low temperatures, and were lagered.
     
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