Kölsch (beer)

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Zunft-Kölsch Glas.JPG
Kölsch served in the traditional 200-millilitre (6.8 US fl oz) Stange glass
Country of originCologne, Germany
Yeast typeTop-fermenting
Alcohol by volume4.4%–5.2%
Bitterness (IBU)20–30
Original gravity1.044–1.050
Final gravity1.007–1.011
Malt percentageusually 100%

Kölsch (German pronunciation: [kœlʃ]) is a style of beer originating in Cologne, Germany. It has an original gravity between 11 and 14 degrees Plato (specific gravity of 1.044 to 1.056). In appearance, it is bright and clear with a straw-yellow hue.

Since 1997, the term "Kölsch" has had a protected geographical indication (PGI) within the European Union, indicating a beer that is made within 50 kilometres (30 mi) of the city of Cologne and brewed according to the Kölsch Konvention as defined by the members of the Cologne Brewery Association (Kölner Brauerei-Verband). Kölsch is one of the most strictly defined beer styles in Germany: according to the Konvention, it is a pale, highly attenuated, hoppy, bright (i.e. filtered and not cloudy) top-fermenting beer, and must be brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot.[1]

Kölsch is warm fermented with top-fermenting yeast, then conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager.[2] This brewing process is similar to that used for Düsseldorf's altbier.


Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch
10-liter barrels of Kölsch, called "Pittermännchen"

Bottom-fermented beer started to appear in the Cologne region in the early 17th century and its popularity threatened the business interest of the brewers of Cologne, who only produced top-fermented beers. In response, the town council of Cologne in 1603 forced young brewers to swear an oath "that you prepare your beer, as of old, from good malt, good cereals, and good hops, well-boiled, and that you pitch it with top-yeast, and by no means with bottom yeast."[3]:305 In 1676 and again in 1698, the council again tried to legislate against bottom-fermented beer by forbidding its sale within the city walls.[3]:305 However, by 1750, Cologne brewers were competing against 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.[3]:306

This type of beer was first called Kölsch in 1918 to describe the beer that had been brewed by the Sünner brewery since 1906, developed from the similar but cloudier variant Wieß (for "white" in the Kölsch dialect). By the start of World War II Cologne had more than forty breweries; only two were left by the end of the war.

In 1946, many of the breweries managed to re-establish themselves. In the 1940s and 1950s, Kölsch still could not match the sales of bottom-fermented beer, but in the 1960s the style began to rise in popularity in the Cologne beer market. From a production of only 500,000 hectolitres (430,000 US beer barrels) in 1960, Cologne's beer production peaked at 3.7 million hl (3.2 million US bbl) in 1980. In the 21st century, price increases and changing drinking habits caused economic hardship for many of the traditional corner bars (Kölschkneipen) and smaller breweries, and by 2005 output had declined to 2.4 million hl (2.0 million US bbl).

In 1986, the brewers of Cologne agreed upon the Kölsch Konvention, which set out the brewing process that had to be used, and restricted the use of Kölsch to breweries that were within 50 kilometres (30 mi) of Köln. In 1997, Kölsch became a product with protected geographical indication (PGI), expanding this protection to the entire EU.[4] Currently thirteen breweries in and around Cologne meet this convention, anchored by Früh, Gaffel, Reissdorf and Kölner Verbund [de]. Smaller brewers include Mühlen-Kölsch and Bischoff-Kölsch [de].

Exports of Kölsch to the United States, Russia, Korea, China and Brazil are increasing.[5] Exported Kölsch does not need to strictly comply with the Provisional German Beer Law, the current implementation of the Reinheitsgebot.

Brewery Established Annual output in hectolitres
Heinrich Reissdorf 1894 650,000
Gaffel Becker & Co 1908 500,000
Cölner Hofbräu Früh 1904 440,000


In Cologne, Kölsch is traditionally served in a tall, thin, cylindrical 200-millilitre (6.8 US fl oz) glass called a Stange ("pole" or "rod"). The server, called a Köbes, carries eleven or twelve Stangen in a Kranz ("wreath"), a circular tray resembling a crown or wreath.[6] Instead of waiting for the drinker to order a refill, the Köbes immediately replaces an empty Stange with a full one, marking a tick on the coaster under the Stange. If the drinker does not want another refill, he or she places the coaster on top of the empty Stange and pays for the number of beers marked on the coaster.[7]

Outside the EU[edit]

As noted above, Kölsch is a product which has a protected geographical indication (PGI) in the EU. This protection is not recognized outside the jurisdiction of the EU, and many breweries outside the EU produce and market beer as "kolsch" or "kölsch" with varying degrees of authenticity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kölsch-Konvention - Wettbewerbsregeln des Verbandes". koelner-brauerei-verband.de.
  2. ^ Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers (Boulder, Colorado: Brewers Publications, 1996), 127-8 and 136-9.
  3. ^ a b c Arnold, John P. (1911). The Origin and History of Beer and Brewing. Chicago: Alumni Association of the Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology.
  4. ^ "Directive 2325/97/EC". 27 November 1997. Supplementing the Annex to Regulation (EC) No 1107/96 on the registration of geographical indications and designations of origin under the procedure laid down in Article 17 of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2081/92
  5. ^ Bolsover, Catherine (1 October 2011). "Cologne's favorite beer, Kölsch, makes new friends abroad". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 1 October 2011.
  6. ^ "Kölsch Beer Glasses". Lee Valley Tools. 2018. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  7. ^ Porter, Erin (6 February 2018). "Beer of Cologne: Koelsch". TripSavvy. Retrieved 27 September 2018.

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