Tastings School - Kolsch on the menu

Tastings School

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Kolsch on the menu

Our panel of experts look at Kolschbier from Cologne, and what best to eat with it to pick out those delicate flavours.

British beer writer and regular BOTW columnist Ben McFarland has written extensively about beer’s culinary kinship with food.

Cologne is not the best looking city. It’s fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. You wouldn’t want to kiss it, even if you were wearing beer goggles.

But its beer, Kölschbier, is beautiful. Brisk and convivial, it embodies the city’s terrific beerdrinking culture. Kölsch is more than just a beer style, it’s the local dialect and a philosophy – a relaxed way of being, a shoulder-shrugging acceptance that Hatte noch immer jot jejange, (it will be all right in the end).

Kölsch, conditioned like a lager but top-fermented with a yeast strain more readily associated with ale, is traditionally drunk in groups from a small 200ml glass called a Stange and, as such, calls for a similarly social gastronomic sidekick such as tapas-style finger food. Shimmering a brilliant gold and softer than a duvet full of marshmallows, Kölsch is a fantastic all-rounder capable of making magic with a mezze of flavours. It has the parch-slaying powers to fend off spice and herb yet the fruity roundedness and Hallertau hop-inspired dryness to keep any indulgent textures at bay.

Too much fire, however, will burn bridges with the beer.

At the uber-traditional Malzmuhle brewhouse in Cologne, the cooks serve Kölsch with hearty, heart-stopping meaty pork dishes with dumplings, red cabbage and suchlike. You’d expect the delicate, slightly sweet beer to be befuddled by the weights of the food but, in the case of most Kölsch, the small presence of wheat makes it a fuller-bodied foil to the clingy textures and it manages to hold its own better than a pilsner.

Kölsch’s citrus signature lends itself to light fish dishes too, such as Dover Sole with a drizzle of lemon or something meatier like monkfish.

Gaffel Kölsch, one of the most popular and easily sourced of the Kölsch beers, is weightier than most Other Kölsch companions include fried chicken, lightly spiced Jamaicanstyle, North African tagine dishes and herb-led salads. However, like a dry Fino sherry, Kölsch is an awesome aperitif beer that slips down superbly with a handful of nuts, cheese straws and charcuterie.

Lucy Saunders Lucy Saunders is the editor of beercook.com, based in Wisconsin and thinks of beer as food.

She is also the author of numerous beer and food books such as Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing and Cooking with Craft Beer and Grilling with Beer Kölsch is a beer style that’s perfect for summer quaffing, especially with barbecue and grilled foods. It hovers happily on the palate between medium hop bitterness and a hint of malt sweetness. Poured into a cylindrical glass, its spritzy bubbles, light gold hue and a brilliant blanche head of foam practically sparkle with the promise of refreshment.

In the USA, an adaptation of the Kölsch style is known to drinkers as “cream ales.” True Kölsch can be a little hard to find, or at least to identify, partly because many American brewers simply call it “summer beer” and brew it only seasonally. A few to seek out: Chicago’s Goose Island Summertime, Zommerfest made by August Schell Brewing of New Ulm, MN, as well as New Holland Brewing Co.’s Lucid, brewed in Holland, MI.

Why choose such a slight sipper when faced with racks of smoked ribs, giant grilled aubergines topped with crumbled Feta, toasted pinenuts and roasted garlic, or basic burgers?

Kölsch won’t knock your sunhat off, and instead, contrasts most refreshingly with the flavours of spice and smoke, thanks to its fruity fermentation esters. For dessert, grill skewers of pineapple and peach until caramelised, and serve with a short glass of Kölsch.

I also choose Kölsch for brunch, particularly to pair with a quiche golden with melted Emmenthaler, or buttered brioche with peach preserves, prosciutto-wrapped melon, and even sautéed mushroom-stuffed omelet. The sweet malt in the ale offers a delicate toasty counterpoint to the richness of eggs, butter, cheese. An easy way to add the flavour of the beer to menu – just whisk in a splash of Kölsch when preparing scrambled eggs, and add a bit of butter to bind as you stir the scrambled eggs in the pan.

Kölsch is also gorgeous with creamy cheesestuffed chiles rellenos popular in Texas. The crisp battered exterior is the perfect bridge between the mild malt flavours of the beer, and the gilded crust of chiles rellenos. How best to make the flavours of Kölsch pop on the palate? First, serve it in a traditional short glass, and only lightly chilled. The shorter glass will bring more of the aromatics to the fore and make the sipping easier, as it should be in summer.

Jeff Bell Jeffrey Bell is the landlord of The Gunmakers Arms in Clerkenwell, London. He is also a beer writer and author of Stonch’s Beer Blog (stonch.blogspot.com), a largely selfcongratulatory website that has documented his journey from miserable corporate lawyer to happy publican.

“Up-sell” is an ugly compound noun, but when you’re in the trade you can’t help but use it. Kölsch needs to be explained to punters. It’s German, but it’s not a lager (even though it looks like one). It’s like an ale, but not like a bitter. Those who haven’t had their beery horizons broadened might wave it away.

Fortunately, when you throw food into the mix and show that Cologne’s brew is wonderfully versatile, the task of selling the stuff becomes a lot easier. People who are very comfortable matching punchy wines with food may well balk at doing the same with a no-holds-barred beer.

Kölsch is an easy way in if you want to establish the beer and food nexus in your pub or restaurant, or at home with your friends. The style’s strength is in its subtlety – the bitterness and alcohol are restrained, the appearance is inoffensive – so no-one’s going to panic when you put a gentle but distinctive measure of Gaffel, Küppers or Früh alongside your chef’s finest.

I think a moderately spicy Arrabiata sauce with pasta is a perfect accompaniment. Smoked meats and cheeses will find a willing partner. As you’d expect, there are lots of possibilities, and you’re unlikely to go far wrong. As long as the food doesn’t wrestle the beer to the ground, you’re on to a winner.

You could, of course, look to the Rhineland for inspiration: fried black pudding, monster legs of pork and flat potato cakes have a certain appeal for most of us.

Don’t try to be to authentic, though: the waiters who serve beer in Cologne’s taverns (known as “Köbes”) are traditionally encouraged to use coarse local dialect and exchange crude banter with their customers. Your guests might take umbrage if you try and do the same...
  • By : Ben McFarland, Lucy Saunders, Jeff Bell
  • In : Beer and Food