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German-Style Kölsch Defined

German-Style Kölsch Defined

Though Cologne, Germany has been top-fermenting beers since the Middle Ages, the style known as Kölsch emerged during the late 1800s to combat the spate of bottom-fermented lagers being produced in the region. These clean, crisp and delicate beers are renowned for their subtlety. Despite technically being lagers, Kölsch beers are rather unusual among the lager family for being top-fermented rather than bottom-fermented. Top fermentation is usually reserved for ales, but this spritzy and delightful style bucks that trend in a major way.

Top fermentation occurs at a very high temperature, and the yeast drifts to the top of the fermentation tank during this process. In contrast, bottom fermentation uses far lower temperatures and the yeast remains at the bottom of the tank during brewing.

Kölsch Beer Characteristics

Pouring a crystal clear white or pale gold with a fleeting, delicate white head, these beers glitter beautifully in their glasses. Subtlety is the name of the game in this style, as its aroma can feature ultra-light malt notes, gentle whispers of fruit (apple, cherry or pear) and low levels of spicy hops.

In flavor, Kölsch beers are exemplars of balance. Soft, grainy-sweet malt leads the way followed by an often imperceptible sweetness and ending with a gently drying subtle crispness that leads connoisseurs to want to imbibe more and more of this style.

Kölsch or Köelsch Nomenclature: What's In A Name?

Technically, the name "Kölsch" only refers to beers produced in Cologne, Germany, but many other breweries in the U.S. and worldwide have embraced this intriguing style, which is known for its quenching qualities and tremendous quaffability. The Americanized spelling of "Koelsch" phonetically spells out the umlaut "o" in the original German.

Bridging the gap between ales and lagers means there's a lot for discerning drinkers to enjoy. However, this beer's similar body and flavor profile to far more commonplace styles such as Pilsners and Cream Ales means that even beer neophytes can enjoy this delightful style.

German Kölsch Style Attributes

German Kölsch Style Attributes

SRM (?) : 3 – 5
IBUs (?): 8 – 15
ABV (?): 4.4% – 5.2%

Color: Pale gold to light gold
Clarity: Crystal clear
Carbonation: Delicate white head that may dissipate quickly

Alcohol: Mild
Hops: Hallertau, Tettnang, Spalt, Hersbrucker
Malts: Pilsner, Pale

How to Serve Kölsch

Proper Glass (?): Stange, Kölsch Kranz (Tray)
Serving Temperature: 40-45 °F

Gaffel Kolsch Kranz serving Kolsch

This style of beer is best when poured into stange glasses, which are small, straight-sided glasses with heavy bottoms. These glasses are usually meant to be shared among a large bottle in kranz (trays featuring multiple stange glasses), meaning that multiple large bombers of this beer are meant to imbibed among friends and fellow beer fans.

However, stange glasses can be hard to track down, so a tall pilsner glass also works well for those that lack those. This balanced and subtle style tastes best after being slow-poured into its container. Be sure to rinse the glass and wipe clean before pouring. Follow these tips for a perfect pour of Kölsch:

1. A slow pour begins by vigorously pouring the beer into its glass, with the aim of creating as much foam as possible all the way to the top of the glass.

2. After the head subsides slightly (roughly 3 fingers below the top), vigorously top off the beer, creating plenty of head atop it.

3. Approximately 5-7 minutes later, top off the pour (more gently) for the final time.

4. Sit back and enjoy!

Kölsch Food Pairings

Kölsch is an extremely delicate, subtle and balanced beer style. As such, it goes wonderfully with a wide array of different dishes, but these few examples truly make the style "pop."

Off the bat, for the health-conscious beer connoisseurs among us, this style goes well with most salads. Its crisp, neutral flavor profile serves as a wonderful complement to many different types of greens.

For heartier fare, the richness of fried calamari, buttery bratwurst or any fried meat contrast beautifully with the crisp fruitiness found within this style.

Another wonderful combination is Kölsch and a mature white cheddar cheese. The myriad flavors found with a well-made and well-aged cheddar erupt onto the palate when placed aside the gentle mouthfeel and delicate fruity flavors of this style.

Früh Kölsch Food Pairing

Kölsch Best Brands

These well-known and widely available brands are the highest-rated Kölsch beers that have been evaluated in The Beer Connoisseur's Official Review.

We recommend seeking out these exemplars of the style.

Sünner Kolsch by Sünner Brauerei

Sünner Kolsch
Sünner Brauerei
Rated 96 (World Class)

Sion Kölsch by Radeberger

Sion Kölsch
Rated 95 (Exceptional)

Reissdorf Kölsch by Privatbrauerei Heinrich Reissdorf

Reissdorf Kölsch
Privatbrauerei Heinrich Reissdorf
Rated 94 (Exceptional)

Judging Criteria for Kölsch

The Beer Connoisseur’s Official Review is conducted in a single-blind format that adheres to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

The BJCP criteria for reviewing Kölsch is as follows.

Style Family - Pale Bitter European Beer, Category 5

  • Category 5A. German Leichtbier
  • Category 5B. Kölsch
  • Category 5C. German Helles Exportbier
  • Category 5D. German Pils

Download the BJCP 2015 Style Guidelines (PDF) for a full description of this style.

Popular Kölsch Brands

There are numerous brewers across the globe that produce this style, therefore it should not be difficult to find this beer style at your local retail store or on tap at your favorite brewery.

Here are a few examples of popular Kölsch brands:

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