Kölsch: The Freshdrinker

A beverage to go with your brat.

Maybe I've been grilling too much sausage this summer, maybe I'm just dehydrated, but I've got German beer on the brain. It's just not brats without beer, specifically a beer with an umlaut or two, and it's just not summer without a little yellow beer named kölsch. The kölsch style is beloved in its hometown of Köln, Germany, a city better known abroad as Cologne. German beer enthusiasts will insist there's no kölsch quite like the kölsch that comes out of this dear old fairytale town perched near the Belgian border. When in Köln, you not only drink kölsch, you drink it a certain way. Waiters dole out the beer by the tray, in cute little glass chimneys, and mark each round on your coaster or check. It must be a breeze bartending in Köln, and locals are perfectly proud to drink their hometown brew. The kölsch style of beer has been around since the A.D. years were still in three digits, and in the 1980s, the kölsch brewers' guild, seeing their beloved style threatened by pretenders, had the style protected by law, similar to the brand-protection efforts Champagne and Parmigiano-Reggiano producers have made. Kölsch generally looks like light pilsner. Many even mistake it for a pilsner. However, the pilsner style, which came along about 1,000 years after kölsch, is a cold-fermented lager. Kölsch is a warm-fermented ale, brewed with pale malts and fewer hops than pilsner. So when you smell kölsch you get a sweet aroma, like shortbread, along with a subtle, fruity perfume. Kölsch tastes refreshing, as a lighter beer should, but its mouthfeel is much softer, and therefore a little fuller. The finish is clean and crisp with very low bitterness, and that's what makes it the perfect summer ale. As an ale in lager clothing, and without the sharpness of many a light beer, kölsch can hang with the most mustardy potato salads, puckering relishes, or spicy brats. Köln may ban the rest of Europe from producing this al fresco wonder, but that doesn't stop our craft brewers from tinkering with the style. Rock Bottom Brewery (1333 Fifth Ave., 623-3070, rockbottom.com) just debuted its latest seasonal beer, a kölsch that originated as a homebrew and has been scaled up for commercial production. The recipe comes from the Puget Sound Pro-Am Competition, a contest that allows home brewers to tap their stuff for judging in hopes of having a commercial brewery pick it up for larger production. Mark Emiley, who is responsible for the kölsch recipe, is a carboy-carrying member of the Boeing Employees Wine and Beer Makers Club, a group that usually gets the most press for the winemakers it has spawned. Kölsch is one of those beers that make the case for beer straight from the tap. If you want to experience the benefits of beer freshness, do it with this style at Hale's Ales (4301 Leary Way N.W., 706-1544, www.halesales.com). The Fremont brewery has provided an amazingly consistent kölsch every summer for years. As a bonus for fans of the style, Hale's has decided to start making its kölsch year round. Drink it down now, at the perfect time, with your version of the perfect barbecue, but know that a pint of craft-beer sunshine awaits you any day of the year. mdutton@seattleweekly.com

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