Cologne is a bustling city on the Rhine river is known for its huge Gothic cathedral, Roman ruins, Carnival celebration (rivaling New Orleans' Mardi Gras), and most importantly, Kolsch. Kolsch is Cologne's own beer style and it is brewed by 21 different breweries. This makes Cologne the city with the most breweries in the world! (although Denver and Portland are catching up fast) What is unusual about this is that all of these breweries brew the same style of beer.
Kolsch is a pale colored ale of normal alcohol strength. It may contain some wheat, and has from 22 to 28 I.B.U.s of bitterness. German Tettnang or Spalt hops are typically used for aroma. It is made very much like a pilsner, except that it is fermented at warm temperatures with ale yeast. It is then lagered like a pilsner. It tastes very much like a pils, except for the subdued fruitiness of the ale yeast, the tang of the wheat (in some), and the lack of lager-like sulfur aromas.
It is customarily served in small (6.5 oz) tall cylindrical glasses. This makes it very easy to order another one, and hard to keep count. The waiter (known as a kurbis, and clad in traditional white shirt and blue apron) keeps count by marking your coaster for each one you drink. Traditional foods to have with a Kolsch are Kolsch caviar (a roll with butter), A halve hahn (a roll with cheese), sauerbraten, and potato pancakes with apple sauce (Wednesdays only).
Why should there be 21 Kolsch breweries? At first all the beers seem very similar. After spending some time in Cologne you start to pick up on big differences. Malzmuhle (my favorite) is the maltiest, Paffgen has a big hop nose. Fruh, by the Cathedral, is extremely delicate. Sion is soft and Sunner has a perfect hop balance.
So where can you taste a Kolsch? There are no Kolsches being imported into the United States. So you could fly to Cologne. A better idea is to come to Ballast Point Brewing Company and try our Yellowtail Pale Ale Kolsch. We make it with 5% Wheat, finish hop it with Liberty and Tettnanger hops, and ferment it with a yeast we borrowed from a brewery in Cologne. So come on in and enjoy a taste of the Rhineland!!