Hopefully, you’ve heeded my advice and stocked your fridge with crisp pilsners for the hottest portion of the summer. But what’s a person to turn to when they’re thirsty for the easy-drinking aspect of a pilsner but with just a—press your pointer finger to thumb now—a smidgen softer character? Kölsch. Kölsch is the answer.
I’ve been drinking plenty of kölsch this summer, as my nearest local brewery put one on tap a month ago. It’s a solid beer: clean, refreshing, refined. But like listening to a cover of a song can make you want to revisit the original, that kölsch made me want to return to one of the style’s venerated examples: Früh kölsch. (Editor’s note: I’ve never used this many umlauts in a story, ever.)
Früh is brewed in Cologne, Germany, the birthplace of the kölsch style. Kölsch is a top-fermented beer (see my article on ales vs. lagers for an explanation) but then lagered for a period of time, leading some people to call kölsch a hybrid ale-lager. Whatever you call it—and beer pedants love to argue this—I just call it delicious, hands-down one of my favorite styles.
How do I love kölsch? Let me count the ways. In the Früh version especially, subtly sweet biscuitlike malts provide most of the flavor, quietly accented by a floral, honeysuckle or lilylike floral hop character. There’s nothing extraneous in this beer: no spicy yeast, no citrusy hops, no rich body. It shoots straight down the middle of the palate, finishing just one toe into “sweet” territory. It’s elegant but not stuffy. Quenching is probably the right word. I would forgive you for mistaking it for a cream ale, or a less-dry German pilsner.
If I’m beginning to bushwhack through the beer-geek weeds, let me pull back, because there’s nothing unapproachable or esoteric about kölsch (unless you’re talking to someone from Germany). It’s a crowd-pleaser, less popular than pilsner only because Americans aren’t as familiar with it. Luckily, there’s a world-class version called Früh that’s hopefully sitting in your liquor store’s refrigerated case right this very moment.
Früh kölsch is widely distributed throughout the U.S. and is available at major retailers like Total Wine & More.
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