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CBN Kölsch-Style Ale Blind Tasting

CBN Blind Tasting Panel
• Jay R. Brooks, Tasting Panel Director, Cranky Oldster, CBN
• Tom Dalldorf, Editor/Publisher, CBN
• Vic Kralj, Owner, The Bistro, Hayward, Calif.
• Special thanks to Mike Long, BTP Tasting coordinator/head steward

This issue’s tasting was one of the smallest we’ve ever done. That’s because of one common thread running through each of the three styles we chose to highlight this issue. Kölsch, Vienna lager and California common are all very uncommon styles in this country, especially in commercially available forms. They also deserve to be better known. While big, hoppy beers hold court with beer aficionados, and pale and amber ales with the majority of craft-beer drinkers, more delicate styles like kölsch and Vienna lager are often underappreciated and hard to find at your local store or watering hole. In our opinion, that should change, and we encourage you to seek out these styles and give them a taste. California common, perhaps encumbered by its trademark-circumventing moniker, is also underappreciated and seldom made.

Kölsch is named for the city of Cologne (Köln), Germany, where the style originated. The name is scrupulously protected and by law may be used only by a brewery either from Cologne or one nearby that was already producing a kölsch in 1985, when the definition, glass type and other technical specifications were agreed upon between the German government and the Cologne Association of Brewers. Occasionally it is spelled in English as koelsch. The ale’s main features are its delicacy of flavors and light color, and it is speculated that it was originally created to combat the growing popularity of pilsners in the mid-19th century. Today, as then, kölsch-style beers are made in few places outside of Germany, although, happily, that has begun to change. Most producers outside of Germany refer to their beer as kölsch-style ale. Because this is a relatively unknown style, many do not even use the name kölsch on the label at all.

A kölsch should be pale straw–colored with a light, fruity aroma, mild alcohol content (usually around 5% abv) and low bittering (18–25 IBUs). A small percentage of wheat (usually no more than 15%) is sometimes used, primarily to realize a lighter color. Kölsch is a top-fermented beer that is aged cold, like a lager. It should be served in a tall, straight-sided, narrow glass.

Other available examples of this style, though not available for this panel tasting, include Alaskan Summer Ale, BJ’s Brewhouse Gold, Capitol Kölsch, Deschutes Bendsch Kölsch, Gordon Biersch Kölsch, Hale’s Genuine Kölsch, Hollywood Blonde, Magnolia Kalifornia Kölsch, Mammoth Gold, Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower Beer, Three Floyds Calumet Queen and Victory Kölsch Ale.

Big Sky Crystal Ale
Big Sky Brewing Co., Montana

Light malt nose with clean hop presence. Golden color. Soft, rich, clean flavors with nice complexity. Very refreshing.

Curve Ball Kölsch Style Ale
Pyramid Brewing Co., California & Washington

Bright lager nose with subdued herbal aromas and pale straw color. Great balance, with restrained hops, slight sweetness and a clean finish.

Island Blonde Kölsch-Style Ale
Island Brewing Co., California

Belgian nose of grapefruit and bacterial activity, which is likely not by design. Bright golden color and a huge, thick, white head. Creamy, but otherwise off-flavors, which although likely defective, reminded us that this may be what a Belgian kölsch might taste like.


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