Kölsch Simplicitas

I try to do a kölsch-style ale roughly once a year, in part because I like the style, in part because it’s hard to find (in my opinion) truly great commercial examples, and in part because it’s a fun challenge to brew such a fussy beer. I’ve made a few iterations over the years, heading ever simpler with each batch. 2020’s version (Kölsch Minimus) was really elegant in its simplicity, so I modified it slightly for ingredients on-hand and to try a slight variation. Whereas last year’s batch had pilsner and Munich malt, this year I used pilsner and a touch of Carahell. I used the Edelweiss hop blend (instead of Sterling), and brought in the Lallemand Köln Kölsch-style ale yeast instead of K97.

clear, yellow beer with white head, poured into a clear glass, held in a hand

Kölsch Simplicitas

  • 9.25 lb. Viking pilsner malt
  • 0.5 lb. Carahell malt (Weyermann)
  • 1 oz. Edelweiss hop blend (5.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Edelweiss hop blend (5.1% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 0.25 tsp. BruTanB, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Edelweiss hop blend (5.1% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Köln Kölsch Style ale yeast (Lallemand)

Target Paremeters

  • 1.047 s.g., 1.009 f.g., 5.0% abv, 4 SRM, 24 IBU
  • Full volume mash, 90 minute mash at 150°, 10 minute mash-out at 168°
  • Claremont tap water, adjusted with 88% lactic acid to hit target of 28 ppm Ca, 6 ppm Mg, 91 ppm Na, 50 ppm SO4, 85 ppm Cl, 15 ppm HCO3, -11 ppm RA

Procedure

  • I adjusted the tap water with 5.4 mL of 88% lactic acid, to neutralize the carbonates. Then, I heated to 156° and mashed in, to hit a target of 150°. I added 2 mL of 88% lactic acid to adjust mash pH. I held the mash at 150° for 90 minutes while recirculating, and then raised the mash to 168° for 10 minutes, before removing the grains.
  • In total, I had 6.4 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.041, for 73% mash efficiency.
  • I brought the runnings to a boil, adding hops and finings per the recipe.
  • After a 60 minute boil, I turned off the heat and chilled to 64°, before transferring to the fermenter.
  • I brewed this beer on 8 January 2022. After pitching the yeast, I held the beer at 64° for fermentation.
  • I kegged the beer on 4 March 2022, transferring into a purged keg. The final gravity of the beer was 1.010, for 4.9% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Very clear, just short of brilliant; medium-yellow in color. Pours with a creamy white head–absolutely beautiful and very persistent!
  • Aroma
    • Lightly grainy malt aroma; hop character is fairly minimal now, although in the earlier days of the beer there was a more prominent floral note that has since faded. Yeast character is very clean.
  • Flavor
    • The beer has a very nice, moderately malty flavor, against a moderate level of bitterness. Malt and hops are perfectly in balance. Yeast character is clean, with very slight fruitiness.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Crisp finish! Yum. The body is medium-light, and carbonation is moderate.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes! This is a nice alternate recipe relative to 2020’s kölsch. My only minor dings are that the hop aroma has faded a bit since initial tastings; I kept this one in the fermenter awhile before kegging, so I think I would be in better shape if I had done the transfer a few weeks earlier. Otherwise, this is a great alternative kölsch to add to my recipe library. I like the Lallemand German ale yeast; it seems to ferment a touch cleaner than K97. I don’t know if I have a strong preference for one or the other, at least in the case of a kölsch. It just brings something different.
  • Overall
    • 8/10

Kölsch Minimus

I keep coming back to the kölsch style, iterating through various grain bills and yeast choices. My past attempts (here [with process notes], here, and here) have been pretty good, but not quite on the mark of what I’m looking for.

pale gold beer with thin white head in clear glass, sitting on glass patio table

My recipes have evolved considerably over three attempts. The first version (Vitamin K Kölsch Clone), brewed way back in 2015, was a fairly typical American brewpub version, with a measure of wheat malt. My next version, Kölsch Simple, used a Kolsch base malt from Schill Malting, but ended up a bit darker and maltier than typical for the style. My most recent attempt, Kölschy Kölsch, was closer to the mark but still a bit stronger on the malt character than I wanted.

So here we are at kölsch attempt number four! I wanted something quite drinkable, with an abv on the lower end of things, and a simple malt character. Kölsch Minimus is the result! My recipe philosophy was to go with a majority (95%) pilsner malt, and then a touch of Munich I (5%) to add a teeny bit of character. Hops were all American equivalents of German hops, and I used a dry yeast (K-97) for fermentation.

Kölsch Minimus

  • 9.5 lb. pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.5 lb. Munich I malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.8 oz. Sterling hop pellets (7.4% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 0.2 oz. Sterling hop pellets (7.4% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. SafAle German Ale yeast (K-97)

Target Parameters

  • 60 minute infusion mash, 152°, batch sparge
  • 1.046 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 4.5% abv, 21 IBU, 3 SRM
  • Claremont tap water adjusted to hit hit 52 ppm Ca, 2 ppm Mg, 26 ppm Na, 40 ppm SO4, 94 ppm Cl, 24 ppm HCO3, -19 ppm RA, 20 ppm alkalinity

Procedure

  • The night before brewing, I prepared my water by adding 7.5 mL 88% lactic acid and 1/2 Campden tablet to 9 gallons of tap water. The lactic acid knocked out the carbonates, to bring the hardness of the water down.
  • I mashed in with 3.5 gallons of water at 163°, to hit a mash temperature of 152°. After 60 minutes, I added 1.5 gallons of water at 185°, let sit 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings. I then added another 3.75 gallons of water at 185°, let sit 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.2 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.041, for 77% mash efficiency.
  • I boiled the wort for 60 minutes, adding hops and finings per the recipe.
  • After the boil, I chilled the wort down to 74°, transferred it to the fermenter, pitched the yeast, and chilled the beer the rest of the way down to 64° in the fermentation chamber.
  • I brewed the beer on 7 June 2020, with a starting gravity of 1.048.
  • I kept fermentation temperature at 64° for six days (until 13 June 2020), when I moved the fermenter to ambient in order to make room for another beer in the fermentation chamber. By this point, bubbling through the airlock had largely ceased.
  • I kegged the beer on 22 June 2020, transferring into a CO2-purged keg. The fermenter had a slight whiff of sulfur when opened; it wasn’t overpowering, and was subtle enough to be pleasant against my taste of the uncarbonated beer.
  • Final gravity was 1.009, for 5.1% abv.

Tasting

  • Aroma
    • Subtle malt aroma with a slightly grainy character; I don’t pick up any fruitiness from the yeast, but there is a very subtle sulfury character that is quite pleasant against the malt. No noticeable hop aroma.
  • Appearance
    • Pale gold, slight haze; white head that thins out shortly after pouring but is reasonably persistent
  • Flavor
    • Soft, highly drinkable beer, with a pleasantly understated grainy/sweet malt character. Bitterness is moderate against the malt, and quite smooth. Hop flavor is low, with a spicy quality (as expected with these hops). I get very little in the way of yeast character.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium-light body, moderate carbonation, crisp finish.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This is probably the best kölsch-style ale I have brewed to date. The malt character is exactly where I want it, and the hops are pretty much perfect too. I’m pleased with how the yeast performed here. The only minor flaw is in the clarity of the beer–I am simply too lazy to fine this batch, and I was a bit worried about oxidation if I opened up the keg. I suspect it will clarify a little more with extended time in the keg, although this is likely at the risk of flavor degradation.
  • Overall
    • 8.5/10

Kölschy Kölsch

My homebrew club had a kölsch-style ale scheduled as our March contest beer. Well…world events meant that we couldn’t get together. But, I could still do my own tasting at home!

I decided to go for a super-simple beer, with a minimalist grain bill. Last year, I did a kölsch with the Kolsch malt from Schill malting. It turned out pretty well, but was a bit darker than acceptable for the style. So, I used around 1/3 of this malt and the rest was pilsen malt, to lighten up the beer and make the flavor a touch more subtle. I have read in several places that wheat malt is not frequently used in “traditional” grain bills, so I chose to leave this out. Finally, I used Liberty hops for an American twist, and chose WLP029 (White Labs’ German Ale/Kolsch yeast).

As for the recipe name…well, I wasn’t feeling that creative!

Kölschy Kölsch

  • 7.25 lb. Superior Pilsen Malt (Great Western Malting)
  • 3.5 lb. Kölsch (Schill Malting)
  • 1.5 oz. Liberty hop pellets (4.3% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Liberty hop pellets (4.3% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. German Ale / Kölsch yeast, WLOP024 (White Labs)

Target Parameters

  • 60 minute infusion mash, 151°, batch sparge
  • 1.047 o.g., 1.010 f.g., 4.9% abv, 24 IBU, 4 SRM
  • “Cologne-ish water”, built from 8.5 gallons of RO water with 3.5 g baking soda, 4.5 g of epsom salt, 4.0 g of calcium chloride, and 2.5 g of gypsum, to hit 52 ppm Ca, 14 ppm Mg, 30 ppm Na, 98 ppm SO4, 60 ppm Cl, 78 ppm HCO3, RA=19 ppm, alkalinity=64 ppm

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 3.6 gallons of water at 162°, to hit a 150° mash temperature. It was down to 146° after 45 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, I added 1.25 gallons of water at 185°, let sit for 10 minutes, and vorlaufed before collecting the first runnings.
  • Next, I added 3.6 gallons of water at 185°, let sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.2 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.041, for 76% efficiency.
  • I brought the kettle to a boil, adding hops and other ingredients per the recipe.
  • After a 60 minute boil, I turned off the heat and chilled the wort, before transferring to the fermenter and pitching the yeast.
  • Starting gravity was 1.050, and I fermented at 65°.
  • I brewed the beer on 25 January 2020, and had vigorous fermentation within 24 hours. I moved the beer to ambient conditions on 1 February 2020.
  • I kegged the beer on 29 February 2020, and was able to save around 1/2 quart of yeast for a future brew (probably an altbier).
  • Final gravity was 1.010, which equates to 5.3% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Clear, nearly brilliant. Light gold color, with a fine white head. The head is low but persistent around the edges of the glass.
  • Aroma
    • Sweet graininess, with a light touch of honey and apple–almost a Riesling-type character. No hop aroma.
  • Flavor
    • Grainy and lightly sweet grain character, with a subdued apple or pear-like fruitiness. Hop flavor is minimal, although the bitterness is a little stronger than I anticipated.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Moderately light body; crisp, but not overly dry. There is a lingering hop bitterness in the finish…it hangs around perhaps a touch more than is completely enjoyable for my taste.
  • Would I Brew This Again?
    • This is a pretty good beer, with a nice flavor and appearance. I feel like the malt character is a bit stronger than I really want for this style, so I might go with a 100% pilsner or pilsner+American 2-row version in the future, or mix in some Vienna malt instead. That said, though, it’s a solid version of a kölsch!
  • Overall
    • 8.5/10

Kölsch Simple

IMG_20190628_144212As I continue my explorations of German-style brewing, a kölsch-style ale seemed like a good next step for the summer months. My local brew shop had a kolsch malt from Schill, that was supposed to have a really nice flavor. It’s a touch on the dark side (4.5 SRM), but I thought what the heck, let’s roll with it anyhow. I’m glad I did, because the malt character really is spectacular (rich and bready), even if the beer is too deep in color to satisfy kölsch purists! The beer has drastically improved since I first kegged it. This particular yeast strain has nice background character, but takes forever to drop clear (which I would have realized if I had read about it in more depth). As a result, the beer was a sort of muddy, unattractive mess for the first few weeks. Thankfully, this could be fixed by time and cold…

Kölsch Simple

  • 9 lb. Kolsch malt (Schill)
  • 1 lb. Barke pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.5 lb. carapils malt (Briess)
  • 0.5 lb. white wheat malt (Great Western)
  • 2 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.35% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax, 10 minute boil
  • 0.6 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh hop pellets (4.0% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. SafAle German Ale dry yeast (K-97, 11 g)

Target Parameters

  • 60 minute infusion mash, 149°, batch sparge
  • 1.048 o.g., 1.010 f.g., 5.0% abv, 24 IBU, 6 SRM
  • “Cologne-ish water”, built from 8.5 gallons of RO water with 1.5 g baking soda, 1.4 g of epsom salt, 1.25 g of calcium chloride, and 0.75 g of gypsum, to hit 16 ppm Ca, 4 ppm Mg, 13 ppm Na, 30 ppm SO4, 19 ppm Cl, 34 ppm HCO3, RA=14 ppm, alkalinity=27 ppm

Procedure

  • I built my strike water with 3.75 gallons of RO water augmented with 0.75 g gypsum, 1.25 g CaCl, 1.4 g epsom salt, 1.5 g baking soda, and heated it up to 160°. This hit my 148° mash temperature target. I added 0.5 tbs. of 88% lactic acid to the mash.
  • I sparged with RO water, in two batches. First, with 1.25 gallons at 185°, added to the mash. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected first runnings. Next, I added 3.6 gallons, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.044, for 80% mash efficiency.
  • I boiled the wort for 60 minutes, adding the various hops and finings as in the recipe. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled before transferring.
  • I chilled the beer in the fermentation chamber down to 65° before pitching the yeast.
  • Starting gravity was 1.050. I brewed this beer on 19 April 2019, and there were preliminary signs of fermentation by the next morning.  Primary fermentation was at 65°.
  • I cold crashed the beer on 16 May 2019, and kegged it on 18 May 2019. Final gravity was 1.011, for an overall abv of 5.1%.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Clear, but not brilliant, with a slight haze (it has cleared considerably over the past few weeks); deep gold color; frothy white head that is pretty persistent.
  • Aroma
    • Bready malt note, with a bit of spicy hop aroma behind that; a slight hint of fruitiness.
  • Flavor
    • Bready, with a modest bitterness behind that; bitterness is smooth and rounded. The beer has a slightly fruity yeast character, which has subsided considerably since the first tastes.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Moderate body, with smooth finish; moderate carbonation
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Not in this form. I would cut the kölsch malt with pilsner malt, perhaps 50/50. I would also look for another yeast–perhaps the White Labs equivalent? This is a nice German-style ale, but not kölsch in the traditional sense.
  • Overall
    • 6.5/10

Vitamin K Kölsch Clone Kegged

Last night (March 14), I kegged my Vitamin K Kölsch Clone. The beer had been in the primary for 13 days, fermenting from 1.045 down to 1.009. At 4.7% abv, this is exactly on target from the original recipe. Due to another beer in the fermentation chamber, I ended up not cold-crashing this one.

The kölsch is delicious at this stage–clean and lightly fruity, which I suspect will only continue to improve as it matures. I was also impressed by how well the batch has clarified, resulting in a beautifully clear and light yellow beer. A good yeast strain (as an aside, the sulfur production for this one noted by White Labs was indeed prominent–but thankfully it dissipated by kegging time).
This beer will be very nice for the upcoming warm months. I kegged just a touch under 5 gallons of beer, and am carbonating it at 13.5 psi at 42°. This is approximately 2.5 volumes of CO2.