Last week’s Cream Ale and the ensuing discussion with a few friends led me to decide to brew a Kölsch this week, thinking that they’d be ready at more or less the same time, for ease of comparison. Furthermore, I decided to use the same yeast, just to prove a point. Very subtle difference in the grain bill, completely different hops, same yeast, it will really come down to the conditioning. And to simplify even further, I added the new Kölsch wort to the “dregs” in the Cream Ale fermenter, no need to clean out the bucket, save the yeast, reculture it, etc. I know of some commercial breweries and even whole styles where this is a regular practice, but for me, it’s a first. Makes me feel sort of old school, even medieval – back in the pre-Pasteur days, when yeast as a micro-organism had not been identified, brewers trusted to luck, to ambient wild flora and fauna, or reused the same equipment without cleaning it. They knew there was something in it that made the beer work, they just didn’t know what it was. I’ve read of brewers who kept a special wooden spoon, encrusted with old beer, with which they stirred the cooled wort, unknowingly adding the dried-out yeast. Some called it magic, some superstition, but it worked. Generally.
The problem, of course, is that yeast mutates over time. Modern brewers have access to clean, true yeast strains, varieties tailored to specific brewing styles, known and reliable entities that produce virtually the same results every time. Imagine what medieval and ancient beers must have been like, potentially completely different each time… and no one knew why.
5 gallons, all-grain
- 7 lbs. lager malt
- 1 lb. cara-pils malt
- 2 oz. Strisselspalt hop pellets (2.6% aa)
- White Labs European Ale yeast (WLP 011)
- 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)
Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts of water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold 60 minutes at 152°F. Heat another 14 quarts of water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge. Collect 25 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to boiling. Add 1 oz. Strisselspalt hops, boil 45 minutes. Add rest of Strisselspalt hops, boil 15 minutes. Remove from heat, chill to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast, seal and ferment 8 – 10 days at 60°F. Rack to secondary and condition cool (50°F) for two weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition cool (45 – 50°F) for two weeks.
Notes on style: Just to review, Kölsch is one of basically only two styles of ale brewed in Germany, originating in the city of Köln (Cologne). Like it’s darker counterpart Altbier (primarily from Düsseldorf and Münster), Kölsch is brewed with an ale yeast but fermented and conditioned relatively cool, sometimes even lagered cold. It is bright gold, crystal clear, never hazy, malty but with a distinctive Noble hop bite. The BJCP style guidelines describe it as “a clean, crisp, delicately balanced beer usually with very subtle fruit flavors and aromas. Subdued maltiness throughout leads to a pleasantly refreshing tang in the finish.” Best served cold in a tall thin cylindrical glass (Köln natives refer to their classic glass as a “test tube”…)
Notes on yeast and hops: The yeast used here is usually best suited to Altbiers, but as noted in the Cream Ale recipe last week, it is pretty versatile. Mainly I wanted a yeast with a clean profile and that could handle temperature fluctuations. I deliberately went mild on the hops, hoping for a somewhat sweeter version of the beer. Strisselspalt is the French/Alsatian equivalent of the more common German Spalt (one of the three German Noble Hops, along with Tettnang and Hallertau, the fourth being Czech Saaz). It is used primarily in Alsatian lagers and in Bière de Garde. I really like its restrained spicy notes.