The Kolsch beer style, which originated in Cologne, Germany and is a EU-protected “geographical indication”, is brewed by about a dozen breweries and brew taverns in Cologne.
It is the one well-known German beer style I probably have least familiarity with. To my best knowledge, I have only drunk two German Kolsch beers: Gaffel’s and Kuppers. Maybe Reissdorf’s too, long ago.
While good, these never stood out in the German, or other beer pantheon, in my opinion.
Draft Kolsch consumed in situ is said to be best, so I must await that experience. Meanwhile, I try craft versions when I see them, and decided to buy Creemore’s version again.
By again, I mean, when it first came out in 2016, I thought it bland, almost tasteless. I had, um, high hopes since it was the first non-bottom-fermented beer to be brewed by Creemore. (There is Boundless IPA as well now).
I didn’t try it again for a few years, but on a whim bought a can the other day. Today, it seems much better with a good malty-hoppy taste. It is German in character certainly, yet different subtly from the typical Helles or pilsener palate.
Hence it departs from the Creemore house style, exemplified by Creemore Lager, a pioneering craft beer in Ontario first released in 1987.
To me the lager always had a sulphur note, as similarly for Creemore Lot 9 Pilsner and other extensions, the Urbock too when available. An alternate Creemore label, Mad & Noisy (named after local rivers in fact), has issued a India Pale Lager (2012) and lagered ale (2017) over the years, and subsequently an Orange Pale Ale and Coconut Porter.
The India Pale Lager had the Creemore yeast stamp, hence the house flavour, even though hopped like a UK ale.
That house taste seems more pronounced at some times than others, but I never really cottoned to it. For this reason the Kolsch, which uses a different yeast, appeals more, especially the current brewing.
Much has been written on Kolsch history. For a recent survey, I like Jack Horzempa’s piece in July 2021 in BrewBuilt. It covers useful points on history and palate description, but is enhanced by the home-brew discussion, e.g. on yeast types.
Clearly, Michael Jackson’s Kolsch chapter in the landmark The World Guide to Beer (1977) launched international interest in the beer.
Here is the first line in that discussion, which shows you at a stroke why Michael Jackson became and remains a superstar of beer writing:
The drunken god Dionysos probably feels quite happy embedded in the mosaic floor of Cologne’s Roman museum.
Jackson’s consecration of Kolsch as a style probably encouraged brewers in Cologne to protect and nurture it, resulting in the 1980s accord that tightened control on the appellation and make-up of Kolsch.
From much reading over the years, my conclusions are, Kolsch emerged at the end of the 19th century as a top-fermented version of lager, partly to rival lager’s growth, partly to increase its keeping quality (which may be saying the same thing, however).
As a number of people have written, the term Kolsch apparently is first used to describe the municipal beer in 1918. But clearly something similar was brewed earlier.
In 1899, published minutes of governmental hearings in Britain on brewing materials included reference to a letter from the “High Fermentation Lager Beer Brewery at Cologne”.
The brewery was Apostelnbrau, established in 1895 by the founder (1904) of better-known P.J. Fruh Brewery in the city, which continues to this day.
Apostelnbrau argued that its top-fermentation lager improved storage time, and further that no substitutes were needed to brew the beer: it was all-malt, a hallmark of course of Bavarian lager.
The Kolner-Brauerie Verband E.V. site shows atmospheric images of these breweries in early days. The scale and design show, if nothing else will, how strong are the craft roots of institutions such as Kolsch Bier.
Jackson, both in the The World Guide to Beer and his 1982 The Pocket Beer Guide, insisted on a slightly lactic character in Kolsch, including in the nose. I must say I never get this, whether in Creemore’s version or the others I’ve tried.
I wonder if it is being rubbed out in the modern brewing. I do not get, either, much of the fruity character said to characterize the style. Some people say it is a “white wine” taste, and other metaphors are used.
Of course the producers’ beers in Cologne do vary, hence in this aspect as well, presumably. And again, only a comprehensive tasting on site can likely really tell. The draft beers are said to have a low carbonation, which would assist to reveal subtleties in palate.
In an odd way, Creemore Kolsch really brings us back to an earlier day of Canadian beer, when all-malt ales were made yet cold-aged, or lagered, as Kolsch is.
Both these styles start to appear around 1900, and certainly after World War I the Canadian “sparkling” or “export” style – filtered, light-coloured, aged cold, yet an ale – grows in appeal.**
Creemore Kolsch, sub-titled “ale style”, actually reminded me of some North American ales of 40 years ago: Labatt India Pale Ale, Lord Chesterfield Ale (Yuengling), Black Horse Ale (Trenton, NJ), and that style of beer.
Molson Stock Ale, brewed in Ontario into the 2000s but no longer at this time, shared the character. Its dryish, lemony note was kind of lactic as well, come to think of it.
So Creemore, quite unintentionally I’m sure, has created a link to this past.
Part II follows.
*As many have observed, this can be a characteristic of lager beers internationally, especially blonde ones, and of course is liked by large numbers.
**Open-fermented, too, in wood, in that period, as presumably early Kolsch was.