Sunday 22 August 2010

Kölsch in context

Kölsch kitsch
When I told a friend I'd be in Cologne this weekend, sampling that city's favourite tipple, Kölsch, he recoiled in horror, declaring it, "probably the most disgusting beer in Europe". I feel I have to stand up in defence of the beverage.

Critics can say that Kölsch is not very complex in taste. It's like a very mild lager -- though it is, unusually for such a beer, top-fermented -- and it doesn't even have much bitterness at all to challenge your palate. In terms of pure culinary interest, it's not going to leave a lasting impression.

However, the beauty of Kölsch is not in the flavour so much as the culture of its presentation and consumption in a traditional brew-pub in Cologne, like Brauhaus Früh am Dom, where we were. It is served in tall 0.2 litre glasses, pulled from a hanging wreath (Kranz) of such test tubes by a hustling waiter, who leaves only a pencil mark on your beer mat as evidence of your replenishment. Each 0.2 l goes down quickly, and the replacements come automatically, guaranteeing you never have warm beer in your glass.

If you buy a bottle of Kölsch, you miss this whole culture, of course, and you only get the decontextualised liquid. Then I guess it would be rather bland and uninspiring. But this is a beer of location and context; it cannot be drunk outside its natural habitat. I don't know if I'll convince my friend with any of this, but I still say, on tap, in a lively atmosphere, Kölsch is cool, refreshing and enjoyable. Absolutely nothing unpleasant about it.

The beer is also not very filling or overpowering, leaving you plenty of energy to climb up the 500+ steps of the Kölner Dom (Cologne cathedral).

From the top of what was once the tallest building in the world


  1. I might be the person mentioned :-) I have to admit that as a Dusseldorf guy, the genetic determination does not allow Kölsch in the blood-I always get a headache after 3 glasses.
    But the beer is also not tasty, even when you try different kölsch brands.Boring one indeed.

  2. But one even more frustrating fact: why didn't family Stroehlein call me for meeting them in Cologne? Therefore, I even would have drank some boring beer!

  3. Cenker Degirmenci24 August 2010 at 01:31

    I think it's not that bad at all. to me it still an acceptable middle quality lager.

    I strongly recommend you "Augustiner Helles", Andrew.. I regret to say, you missed the greatest tasting lager of Germany, yet..

    P.S.: Nice blog.)


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