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  • Writer's pictureCalgary Brewery Tour Guy

Beer Judging Tutorial - Kolsch - YYCTOURS Calgary Brewery Tours.

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

In this How To Beer Judge series, YYCTOURS is breaking down the judging categories from Calgary’s winners at the 2023 Canadian Brewery Awards and Conference and letting you know a little about the beer style and what the judges are looking for when they pick a winner.

Koln Cathedral - Kolsch brewers must be able to see this in order to  be allowed to brew Kolsch

Kölsch is one of the most strictly defined beer styles in Germany, with only 11 breweries in the world actually allowed to brew true ‘Kölschbier’. It is a top-fermented local beer style from Köln (Cologne), Germany and as of 1998 Kölsch may be labeled with a European Union logo like a Bordeaux, Chianti or Champagne. It must be made within the city of Cologne (or within eyesight of the Koln Cathedral) and brewed according to several regulations of the Kölsch Konvention as defined by the members of the Cologne Brewery Association (Kölner Brauerei-Verband). According to the Konvention, it should be a pale, highly attenuated, hoppy, bright (i.e. filtered and not cloudy) top-fermenting beer, and must be brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot. Many brewers will define Kolsch as a hybrid ale that falls between Pilsner and Helles.

In the 18th century, Lagers (bottom fermented) from Bohemia (Czech Republic) were imported by local markets so the Cologne brewers decided to fight back with a pale beer of their own. They would make the beer golden and hoppy, but continue to use warm-fermenting ale yeast. Cologne brewers were competing against these bottom-fermented beers by using a hybridized brewing process, first brewing their beer using top-fermenting yeast but then aging the beer in cold cellars like bottom-fermented beer.

Kolsch served in a tall glass - Calgary Brewery Tour

When we see the judging category “German-Style Kölsch” this means the beer is still a Kölsch beer, but out of respect for the Konvention and Koln brewers, the word ‘Style” is added. In similar fashion, The Establishment also pays homage to this by naming their beer "My Best Friend's Girl" a “Kölsch-Style Ale”. It is still a Kolsch, it is just not really allowed to be called a Kölsch.

As a refresher, when judging any beer, beer judges are looking for: Overall Impressions (10pts), Aroma (12pts), Appearance (3pts), Flavour (20pts) and Mouthfeel (5pts).

Excellent ratings (38-44pts.) should be assigned to beers that are excellent representations of the style. Very Good ratings (30-37pts.) should be assigned to very good representations of the style that have only minor flaws. Good ratings (21-29pts.) should be assigned to good representations of the style that have significant flaws. Drinkable ratings (14-20pts.) should be assigned to beers that do not adequately represent the style because of serious flaws. A problem rating (13 pts. or lower) is typically assigned to beers that contain flaws that are so serious that the beer is rendered undrinkable.

2023 Canadian Brewery Awards

German Style Kolsch

Silver - The Establishment Brewing Co. Calgary, Alberta.

My Best Friend’s Girl (Kölsch-Style Ale)

The overall impression of a Kölsch when judging should include a subtle, brilliantly clear, pale beer with a delicate balance of malt, fruit, and hop character. It should have moderate bitterness, and a well-attenuated but soft finish. Freshness makes a huge difference with this beer, as the delicate character can fade quickly with age.

Its aroma should include a low to very low grainy-sweet malt aroma and sometimes may have a subtle fruit aroma (apple, pear, or sometimes cherry). A low floral, spicy, or herbal hop aroma is also optional. The intensity of aromatics is fairly subtle but should always be generally balanced, clean, fresh, and pleasant.

In appearance, Kölsch is a medium yellow to light gold with brilliant clarity. It has a delicate white head that may not persist.

A Kölsch’s flavor can balance between malt, fruitiness, bitterness, and hops, with a clean, well-attenuated finish. The medium to medium-low grainy maltiness may also have very light bready or honey notes. The fruitiness can have an almost imperceptible sweetness. Medium-low to medium bitterness. Low to moderately-high floral, spicy, or herbal hop flavor; most are medium-low to medium. It may have a neutral-grainy to light malty sweet impression at the start and a soft, rounded palate. Finish is soft, dry, and slightly crisp, not sharp or biting and should have no noticeable residual sweetness. While the balance between the flavor components can vary, none are ever strong.

Mouthfeel is a medium-light to medium body, most are medium-light with medium to medium-high carbonation. Kölsch is not heavy and never harsh.

Comments: A traditional top-fermented, lagered beer from Cologne, Germany (Köln). Köln breweries differentiate themselves through balance, so allow for a range of variation within the style when judging. Drier versions may seem hoppier or more bitter than the IBU levels might suggest. The delicate flavor profile does not age well, so be alert for oxidation defects. Served in Köln in a tall, narrow 20cl glass called a Stange.

History: Köln has a top-fermenting brewing tradition since the Middle Ages, but the beer now known as Kölsch was developed in the late 1800s as an alternative to pale lagers. Bottom fermentation was actually prohibited in Cologne.

Characteristic Ingredients: Traditional German hops. German Pils, Pale, or Vienna malt. Attenuative, clean German ale yeast. Occasional small use of wheat malt. Current commercial practice is to ferment around 15 °C, cold condition near freezing for up to a month, and serve fresh.

To learn more about Kölsch and other styles of beer that can be found in Calgary, be sure to sign up for a Calgary Brewery Tour with YYCTOURS.


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