New Year, Lighter Beer?
Have the holidays have left you lamenting over a new belt notch? Are New Year’s resolutions changing your outlook on beer? I don’t know about you, but after a couple long weeks of indulgent meals and big, heavy brews I’m about ready for something lighter.
When it comes to lighter beers, I have a soft spot for Kölsch. On a trip to Cologne when I was sixteen, I got to know this unique style of beer intimately and have been infatuated with it ever since. In fact, were it not for Kölsch, I may have never found my way to craft beer.
Similarly to Hefeweizen in Bavaria, the old beer, or ale, brewing tradition also survived the rise of lager in the Rhineland. Top-fermenting Altbiers (old beer) would continue to be the drink of choice in that part of Germany, though with an apparent influence from lager. Over time the name “Altbier” was given solely to the style of amber ale produced, mainly, in and around Düsseldorf, while due south, in Cologne, another style of old beer grew in popularity.
Kölsch, like Alt, is a lagered ale. That is to say that it undergoes a period of cold-conditioning, or lagering after fermentation. This creates a clean and crisp flavour profile you wouldn’t expect from your typical Pale Ale. Kölsch is usually brewed entirely using Pilsner malt, giving the beer a light hue and contributing to its well-rounded flavour, or in some cases with a small amount of wheat malt, which helps with head retention. Its unique yeast strains produce a subtle fruitiness; apple, pear and even cherry. All of these elements come together to help make Kölsch one of the world’s most drinkable styles of beer.
By now, a great many Ontario beer drinkers have tried Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale; the beer that inadvertently got me interested in craft while trying to track down Kölsch in Ottawa almost a decade ago. Brewed as a tribute to Cologne’s famous beer, Lug Tread is a clean, light-bodied ale with a nice grain backbone and characteristically fruity yeast notes. It’s a tasty, versatile beer that fits right in at almost any occasion. Better yet, it’s a beer that won’t leave you sitting too heavy that’s widely accessible across the province (not to mention in New York State and soon to be in Quebec). But Lug Tread isn’t the only option out there.
Kölsch is regionally protected in Germany, much like wine in France, meaning the name is reserved solely for beers produced in the vicinity of Cologne. Until fairly recently, “real” Kölsch wasn’t sold in Ontario liquor stores, but nowadays you can find Gaffel, one of Cologne’s most famous brands, with ease. Though not my preferred German example of the style (if you ever get a chance, try Früh), it is a surprisingly flavourful brew that drinks even lighter than Lug Tread.
Another great Kölsch tribute produced in Ontario is Sawdust City’s Gateway Kölsch. It’s a very sessionable beer that is nicely balanced and full of flavour. Brewed using Canadian 2-row barley in place of Pilsner malt, there is a stronger cereal flavour to it, which is quite enjoyable. The fruity yeast notes are there, albeit the by-product of a California Ale strain as opposed to a Kölsch strain. This yeast also helps to showcase the delicious, and very German, herbal, spicy and citrus hop notes. As a lighter beer that doesn’t skimp on flavour, I highly recommend giving it a try. It can be regularly found on tap at bars and restaurants across Ontario, or in cans at their brewery in Gravenhurst.