Summer Refreshments: Kolsch & Pilsner

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I don’t know about you, but I am taking the summer off from hops.

Before you click the back button, just hear me out. Over the last five or so years now, the beer market has been absolutely flooded with high-alcohol, hop-soaked IPAs. So much so, that it can be hard to find a beer in your local shop that isn’t an IPA. In an effort to make these beers more drinkable in summer (ie, less boozy) companies invented session IPAs, which essentially just means they are still hoppy as heck IPAs but won’t put you to sleep if you have more than one. The present day beer scene is all Double IPAs, Triple IPAs, (they are even hopping pale ale now, called APAs) and session IPAs and it’s causing serious palate fatigue (plus a good measure of boredom, if you ask me). Thankfully, American breweries are catching on (and taking a page out the German beer playbook), turning out deliciously crisp, refreshing, low alcohol, (and minimally hopped) beers. Enter: Kölsch and Pilsner!


Kölsch is a clear German ale with a light golden color and mildly fruity profile. Hailing from Cologne, the gently bittered beer is fermented with an ale yeast, then it’s conditioned at colder temperatures more befitting a lager. The result is a crisp, airy, fruity delight suited for sipping all afternoon, due to the typically lower alcohol content.  Kölsch is one of the most elegantly aromatic, flavorful (yet not taste bud arresting), refreshingly clean beers you can find. In the states, they are called Kölsch-style ales. Still delicious and crisp, but only in Cologne can the beer be called a true Kölsch. Thankfully though, the U.S. has less stringent rules about recipes and ingredients, so breweries are free to play with different flavoring agents, like in Black Hat Brewing’s Blueberry Kölsch-Style Ale, pictured above.



Because most of the world’s beer production focuses on some variation of beer styles, craft brewers have thumbed their noses at brewing Pilsners for years. When brewed correctly, authentic Pilsners are amazing beers, but they are among the most difficult styles to get right. They involve complex brewing and fermentation processes and there’s nothing to hide behind, like in a port or darker, hoppy lager. These days, when a brewer wants to show off his or her brewing skills, producing a high-quality Pilsner is the way to do it. Pilsners are also ways for breweries to get back to basics with a clean, straightforward, classic beer style.

Pilsners have a long, storied history and basically changed the world of beer forever. The story goes that while the Bohemian city of Pilsen had been brewing beer since the end of the 13th century, by the 1830’s citizens were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the taste. So dissatisfied, in fact, that in 1838 the city’s people dumped barrels of ale in the streets.  The city then founded a brewery – now known as Pilsner Urquell – and brought in a Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll, to create a better beer.

After touring breweries in Germany, Groll brought back with him the Bavarian technique of cool fermenting yeasts, which he combined with local Saaz hops, pale malts and the soft water of Bohemia. In 1842, he brewed the first beer with these ingredients, the beer now known as the Czech Lager. Groll ended his time in Bohemia in 1845 and returned to Germany, bringing the lager recipe with him. By the 1870’s, the style had spread throughout the then Austro-Hungarian territory into France and beyond, and the rest they say, is history! Breweries in the states have started to embrace the simple perfection of a good pilsner and you should too!

Take a vacation from hops for a while and discover these crisp, thirst-quenching styles that won’t break your palate or the bank!


Leah Mojer, Beverage Manager



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