Kölsch – Extract Batch and a Brief History

My first batch of Kölsch was this extract . It made a light and enjoyable beer, but from my experience, didn’t really resemble a true Kölsch in any other way. You can find the recipe at that link, but I’ll list it at the end of the post, first, though, a little bit about Kölsch.

First of all, you can’t actually homebrew a Kölsch. In 1986, the Kölsch Konvention brought together all of the brewers in Cologne, Germany to sign a document defining Kölsch not only a style, but also stating that it must originate from the city. It is one of only a few appellations to protect a beer style. A similar appellation that is better known keeps sparkling wines from other regions from labeling themselves “Champagne.”

Cologne was heavily bombed in World War II and most of the city was destroyed. All but two of the cities more than twenty breweries were destroyed or otherwise out of commission after the war. As they began to regroup, the beer they brewed took on a lot of similarities. Even prior to the war, Cologne was one of the only German cities that stuck to it’s ale roots. Lagers took over as the dominant styles in Germany centuries before, but for reasons I haven’t been able to find, Cologne continued brewing ales and the brewers struggled to stay relevant.

From the late 1940’s until the Kölsch Konvention in 1986, they honed their beers and consolidated their lines down to what became known as Kölsch. There are twenty-three breweries that can currently call their beer Kölsch and they are all fairly similar.

The document has loose guidelines for what the beer should be, but they equate to little more than what is already defined in the Reinheitsgebot. Getting more specific, Kölsch is a very pale beer of just under 5% ABV with bitterness in the mid-to-high 20’s. It is an ale, but is usually cold conditioned, or lagered after primary fermentation. Kölsch is brewed with a grist of almost all German Pilsner malt and should use only Noble Hops.

Hopping rates are where Kölsch from various breweries differ slightly. They all have a decent early addition to give a firm bitterness. For some, that may be all, others add more later in the boil, but they are all restrained in their late hopping. Kölsch generally lies between to the two more popular German pale beers. It is more bitter than Helles, but doesn’t have nearly the hop flavor or aroma of Pils.

The BJCP says that Kölsch can be anywhere from 4.4 to 5.2% ABV, but every authentic version that I’ve found is 4.8%. I’m not sure if there is a reason for this, but I find it much more fascinating than it probably is.

Some Kölsch may be decoction mashed, but normal infusion mashing will work just as well, and may help to keep the beer paler, which is ideal. The beer should finish dry and the extra maltiness gained from decoction may be pleasant but doesn’t necessarily fit the style.

The grist may be all pilsner malt, but most contain a little bit of something else to help with head retention and give maybe give a little body since the beer is so dry. The two most common ways to go are to add either Carapils or Wheat malt at a rate of about 10% of the grist. I have always chosen to go with wheat, mainly to further differentiate between this beer and German Pils and Helles’ that I’ve made.

This is why brewing an extract based Kölsch can be tricky. You are probably better off using all extract, if you’re going to do it. The kit I used added small amounts of Light Munich and Crystal malt as steeping grains. They gave the beer too much body and sweetness to fit the style and I think were probably mostly included because all of the companies kits come with steeping grains. If I was going to make my own extract Kölsch recipe, I would skip the grains and just use the lightest Pilsner extract (of German origin, if possible) and add a small amount of wheat extract, about 20% (as wheat extract is usually only about half wheat, anyway) and get right to the boil.

The kit I used came with two ounce of hops, and again probably because they use the same instructions for every kit, said to add one ounce at the beginning of the boil and the other five minutes before the end. After doing some research, I decided to just skip the second addition all together. In other recipes, I’ve added my late hops with about fifteen minutes left.

With that in mind, I’ll post the recipe from the kit below, hopefully you’re reading this and knowing that I don’t actually recommend this recipe, though…
 photo BeerLabelKolsch.jpg
12 oz Munich 10L
4 oz Crystal 10L
6 lb Pilsen LME

1 oz Pearle @ 60 min

Munton’s Dry Yeast

Steep the grains for 30 minutes in two-three gallons of water at about 155º, discard and boil water. Once boiling, add Pearle hops and continue boiling for one hour. Chill, rack to fermentor and top off to five gallons, then add yeast. Ferment at room temperature until activity stops, rack to secondary and continue to conditioning for several weeks at cooler temperatures, then bottle.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my partial mash Kölsch recipe and some other Kölsch traditions.


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