Friday, May 21, 2010

Know Your Beer, Volume Three: What the hell is Kölsch?

Beer: Lug Tread
Brewery: Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. (Vankleek Hill, Ontario)
Type: Kölsch (lagered ale)
ABV: 5.2%

Part of the fun in reviewing beers comes from investigating the history and unique characteristics of particular brewing styles because - lets face it - there's a lot of them. Some are a bit more straight-forward (English pale ale = an ale, pale in colour, brewed in the English style), while others aren't quite so obvious, kölsch being one of them. Truth be told, I didn't really know much about this unique German brew before I received a sample of an Ontario craft brewer's attempt at the style, so I was naturally very eager to figure things out.

Here's what I've got so far:

Kölsch is a unique style of beer that was developed in the Cologne (Köln), a city which so happens to boast the largest number of breweries in the Germany. Germans like to brew - a lot - so this is really saying something. Like cheddar cheese and champagne, kölsch is part of the EU's Protected Geographic Origin club, which means that unless you happen to be brewing within twenty clicks of Cologne proper, you can't call your brew kölsch. It's not legally binding in North America, but Canada at least has made arrangements with the EU not to be dicks about the whole thing, so most Canadian brewers tend to use names that either refer to the region (Champagne-style) or they come up with a new, less-sexy name (i.e. sparkling wine). For Lug Tread, Beau's doesn't call their beer kölsch, but trust me: it's a kölsch.

As per the style itself: basically, most of the world's beers can be organized into two camps: ales and lagers, ales being the (considerably) older of the two. Ales utilize top fermenting yeast strains (meaning they do most of their munching near the top of the vat), and are brewed at higher temperatures, which releases a wide spectrum of flavours. Lagers, meanwhile, are brewed and stored at cooler temperatures (lager means 'to store' in German), with yeasts that do their business near the bottom of the vat. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, lagers were stored in caves or incredibly cool cellars; modern brewing processes can do the job relatively cave-free. Generally, lagers are cleaner, crisper, and in my opinion, a little more boring (except for bocks and dunkels), but are certainly excellent thirst quenchers, especially the pale lager and pilsner styles. Kölsch is just a happy marriage of the two brewing styles; first, the beer is brewed in the ale tradition at warmer temperatures with top-fermenting yeast, then then it's cooled (lagered) for a while to produce a clean, pilsner-like product. Hence, many North American brewers, like Beau's, call their kölsch "lagered ale" - which keeps the Europeans happy while confusing the rest of us.

Kölsch's are very similar to pilsners; they have a generous hop content, and are clear, light golden in colour. However, the ale brewing process gives the brew a bit more of a fruity, bready taste, cutting down on the bitterness considerably. It's a fine little brew for sitting outside on the patio, which makes it immensely popular in the city of its founding as a thirst quenching social brew.

Let's try one!

Lug Tread is a fairly good example of the kölsch style, and a real pleasure to drink. Even though it's technically an ale, I poured this one into a tall lager glass in keeping with the traditional serving methods for kölsch. The back of the bottle declares that this batch was brewed on May 10th - not bad at all. Beau's is Certified Organic, which is also big plus.

A nice, medium golden brew, about a 1/2 inch of foamy head that receded into a ring. Not much lacing or retention, but I've also had this on tap, and I know it does the job much better in that form.

The nose is similar to a pilsner with its strong hop character, but I also detect bread/biscuits, dry white wine , apple, and pale malts.

The taste is ridiculously smooth - very easy to drink. It's a bit on the dry side, and generates a long, bitter finish. Bready and malty up front, with just a touch of apple, grassy hops and pepper. A real earthy character to it. Medium-bodied, and with a decent level of spritzy carbonation.

Beau's has done an admirable job in replicating this style, making this a tasty summer beer, albeit with a somewhat less-than-appetizing name. Lug Tread was very smooth and easy to drink, while being distinguishable from the pale lager and pilsner bunch. Beau's is a new brewer on the Ontario scene, but so far, I like what I've seen. I strongly urge everyone to give it a try - not only would you be supporting a new, local, environmentally responsible brewer, you'd also have yourself a tasty brew. Can't beat that. (Grade: B+)

No comments:

Post a Comment