Thursday, 9 May 2019

Something lacking

Well for Dave’s benefit, here is my summary, and my thoughts, on  the five bottles of Kölsch I brought back from Cologne the other month. Before launching into the full-blown descriptive narrative, it’s worth noting that all five bottles were brands of  Kölsch I’d not come across before and, as you may recall, I picked them all up at a supermarket close to our hotel.

So, without further ado, here are the five beers listed in the order I drank them in.
Reissdorf Kölsch 4.8%. Packaged in a 500ml bottle - sufficient for two and a half Stangen (Kölsch glasses), and adorned with an attractive label. This Kölsch is quite a soft, gentle and pleasant beer, with notes of malt on the nose. It is quite sweet in taste, with a slight hint of fruit.

According to the label Reissdorf is a Privat-Brauerei, so I presume it is family-owned. Like most of the other beers below, this is one which I haven’t come across before on visits to Cologne.

Richmodis Kölsch 4.8%. At first I thought that this is another independently owned Kölsch brewer, but it turns out that Richmodis was bought out by Gaffel who are one of the larger independent brewers in Cologne, in 1998. The brand is now produced exclusively for the REWE supermarket chain which, surprise-surprise, is where I bought this bottle.

The beer comes in a 330ml bottle, is extremely pale in colour and is rather sweet in taste. It is still quite quaffable though, and reminds me quite a lot of Gaffel.

Sester Kölsch 4.8%. Another Kölsch packaged in a 500ml bottle. Less sweet than the other bottles sampled so far, but equally less hoppy.

The beer has a deep golden colour, with a sweet malty nose and pours with a light, fluffy head. A pleasant and easy drinking  Kölsch, but nothing to get overly excited about.

Gilden Kölsch 4.8%. “Traditionally brewed, with a fine hop aroma”, if I have correctly translated the text on the back of the bottle.

This Kölsch is a bit more like it, being hoppier and less sweet, than some of the others. Pale golden and pours with a rather thin head, which soon dissipates in the glass. Nice and refreshing. A “big brand” Kölsch, brewed by the Kölner Verbund Brauereien.

Schreckenskammer Kölsch 5.0 %.  I’m mightily relieved that the last of the five  has turned out to be the best and most enjoyable, as I was starting to get more than a little fed-up with the style.

Schreckenskammer has a deep golden colour and has quite a bit more body than the other Kölsches sampled. It’s also marginally stronger at 5.0%, although I don’t think that an extra 0.25% alcohol is going to make much difference.

Situated opposite the church of St. Ursula, and first documented in 1442, Schreckenskammer was the oldest brewery in Cologne, until it was destroyed by a bombing raid in 1943. Production didn’t re-start until 1960 at the modern-looking,  Zur Schreckenskammer brew-pub.

What I find surprising is that I have not only missed this particular brew-house, but have been completely unaware of its existence, despite all the times I’ve been going to Cologne. What is even more annoying is it is situated just the other side of the rail tracks, virtually opposite the hotel we normally stay at, whilst attending the biennial dental exhibition which takes place in the city.

Back to the main point of the exercise which was a comparison between drinking Kölsch at home and enjoying a few in one of Cologne’s atmospheric beer halls.

Unsurprisingly the two don’t compare favourably, which is no reflection on the beers themselves, but more a case of missing the fast-drinking and social interaction associated with enjoying Kölsch on its home turf.

As stated before, Kölsch is a beer designed to be drunk fresh. Leaving a newly poured glass standing for any length of time allows the beer’s condition to dissipate, and is not conducive to enjoying it at its best. This is why it is usually served in small, plain cylindrical glasses known as Stangen, which typically hold just 20 cl of beer.

This isn’t very practical at home – I don’t have any Stangen for a start, and neither do I have a waiter bringing me a fresh glass of beer for as long as I wish to continue drinking. So, for the ultimate Kölsch experience, it really is necessary to take a trip to the Rhineland, and to Köln itself.


Dave said...

I was very curious on this one. I have only had Sion in the bottle in the US. Frankly, it was not very impressive, and I have often wished to try these in Cologne. Thanks for the review!

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Dave, I didn't realise you lived in North America. Cologne of course, id nowhere near as close for you than it is for us, here in the UK.

I think there are other beers, apart from Kölsch, which don't perform as well in bottled form, as they do in the pub; draught cask-conditioned beer being one of them.

Dave said...

I have always preferred my local breweries "kolsch" to any bottled variants I can get. I've never been certain how bottled kolsch stood up to the fresh version in Cologne. Interesting to me to see someone write up a fairly side by side comparison. One of these days we will make it to Cologne and Dusseldorf. Those two are the last beer places I haven't visited that I feel a need to visit.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Dave, Kölsch does seem to have become quite a popular style, worldwide, and it’s good to know some good examples are being brewed locally to you.

Cologne and Düsseldorf are both well worth a visit, although it’s strange to see such strikingly different “ales” being brewed in two cities which are so geographically close to each other.

If you’re travelling all the way from North America, it definitely makes sense to visit both cities. They are only around 40 minutes distance from each other, when travelling by train, and there are some classic pubs in both cities.

Robert said...

Kölsch does not travel well, I'm afraid. By the time it reaches the US, being exposed to heat and long travel, it will not be in top shape. Same goes for English Bitters, I guess. So no real suprise that the local versions compare better. It tends to be the perfect lawnmower beer, i think.

No shame in missing Schreckenskammer, Paul. It is well hidden and more of a locals place compared to Päffgen, Früh and the like. They only started bottling recently, so quite a good catch. Reissdorf is one of the three most common bottled Kölschs in the region,with Gaffel and Früh. They do not have that many brewhouses, though, and these tend to be not very central.
Sester and Gilden come from the same brewhouse (together with Sion, Peters and some others), so no wonder that there were similarities.
Mühlen would have been another rather malty Kölsch.
And then there are the outsiders like Braustelle or Hellers...
But than again, I can fully understand anybody from the UK or the US - where there is a far wider variety in beer styles - to wonderwhat the fuss is about after trying half a dozen rather similar Kölsch.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for enlightening me about Schreckenskammer, Robert, and for the information regarding the other Kölschs. As you rightly point out, they don't travel well. My little taste-comparison "experiment" was just a bit of fun really,and at around one Euro a bottle, I couldn't really go wrong.

After seven visits (mainly for the trade-show), Cologne is no longer on my list of places to visit - certainly under my own steam. No offence to the place as I've always had a good time there, it's just there are plenty of other cities, and indeed countries I want to visit instead.

If the firm want me to go to the Dental Show in two years time, then I will of course do so, and will make a point of visiting Schreckenskammer. There is also that really famous old Cologne tavern, on the opposite bank of the Rhine, you told me about - Gaststätte Lommerzheim or Lommi. That definitely sounds worthy of a visit.

Robert said...

Totally agree, Paul - if business takes you there, Lommi, Schreckenskammer and a few places further out would be worthwhile, and I'd be happy to buy the first round. But there are far more interesting beery places elseway. I wish Franconia was better connected to the Rhineland by train - that would be some epic weekend trips right there...