Are You Tasting the Pith? - 16th May 04
Just as Chablis is an appellation controlée for the wine world, so it is for Kölsch. Kölsch comes the immediate geographical locality of Köln, or Cologne, as we Anglophiles would have it. A perfect drink for spring, it has a delicacy that is lost when over-chilled for the heat of high summer, and a freshness that seems to mimic the burst of blossom that we are having at the moment. It looks like a pilsner, so you can fob your friends of with Budvar while you have some of the good stuff...
The Kölsch Convention, signed in 1985, sets out where it can be brewed (within a 20 mile radius of Köln, with the exception of a couple of well-established producers), how it can be described (no-one may claim to produce an 'original' or 'premium' version), and even the glass it should be served in (tall, narrow straight-sided glassware with no extraneous decoration).
Technically, Kölsch might be termed an ale, given that it uses a top- (rather than bottom-) fermenting yeast, and it tends to have a hint of phenolic fruitiness, both in the nose and the finish, the palate being fairly dry. In fact, the brewing process and cold-conditioning it receives is familiar to us resident of God's Own County, as it is replicated in the award-winning "lager ale", Daleside Blonde. Yorkshire Kölsch, anyone?
On the nose, Dom has a light floral fruitiness, perhaps hints of elder flower, and this is carried through in the palate. Slightly sweet, with hints of fruitiness that aficionados of English ale might recognise. The finish is a delicate balance between surprisingly fruity malt and light, grassy hops. My favourite, although that's not to say the best.
A quite different proposition to Dom, Kuppers greets the proffered proboscis not with fruit and blossom, but with a brackish hop blast. I know you can't actually smell saltiness, but that's the impression you get from Kuppers - slightly harsh, rather than delicately fruity, albeit with a mediating malty edge. No surprises on the palate - quite forthright, with a clean biscuity finish closer to Warsteiner than anything else.
A soft, clean nuttiness, rather like sweet chestnuts, characterises this wonderful example. Neither overtly as sweet as Dom, nor as brackish as Kuppers, Reissdorf manages to have everything it should have, in about the right quantity. A hint of fruit, a hint of malt, a hint of sweetness, a hint of hop. Easily the best balanced here, and by any outside criteria, I would expect this to be voted the best.
Very soft, sacrificing some of the delicate fruitiness that we would like to see with a soft, almost milky maltiness - think Horlicks or Ovaltine. Kölsch is often said to have excellent aperitif and digestif properties, and they are weirdly evident in this example. Almost as soft and soothing as a glass of Badoit mineral water.
A close contender for "best example", this is everything a good Kölsch should be. I was mightily impressed the first time I ever tried it, and it holds its own well in this comparative tasting. Wonderfully balanced and delicate, with a soothing fruitiness and refreshing smoothness. Worth seeking out.
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