Friday, August 21, 2009
A Quick Visit to Cologne: Kolsch Anyone?
Cologne (Koln) is located along the Rhine River in western Germany. It is a major river town that was pretty much leveled in World War II, but has been rebuilt into a great city. I am passing through the region this evening enjoying a couple of nights of relaxation before heading to Dublin for the Livestrong Global Cancer Summit.
I decided tonight to try to hit as many Kolsch breweries as possible. It is a fairly easy thing to do since the brauhaus locations are packed together near the Koln Dom cathedral and the Rhine River. Add to this the fact the beers are served in 0.2 liter sizes and you realize that as long as you keep moving you can hit a bunch of spots.
The Koln Guild of Brewers was established in 1396 and it set standards for beers made in the city. Today's Kolsch first appeared in the 1800s and in 1986 the breweries established an appelation under which only about 20 breweries are allowed to us the term Kolsch. Kolsch is a golden colored top fermenting beer. Unlike other ales, Kolsch is fermented in cold temperatures similar to lager beers. The results are worth the work.
I started off at Fruh au Dom. It took me longer than I expected to find the place because you cannot really see the place from the eastern side, where I was trying to make my approach. After building up a thirst, I had the kolsch, priced at 1.80 Euros per 0.2 liters. It is a light, crisp drink that leaves you wanting more. The bartenders serve the beer via gravity at the tap. I also quickly realized the glassware is as delicate as the beer. I watched three come back to the bar broken after a nearby toast.
My next stop was Brauhau Sion. I watched in near amazement as the bartenders filled kranz after kranz (the name they give to the trays that have twelve slots and can actually accommodate 20 of the kolsch pipes.) Sion at 1.55 Euros was more malty than most of the kolsch beers I had on this visit. I watched after a keg ran dry while a bartender grabbed what looked like a Jiffy Lube filling system to replenish the empty keg.
At Peters Kolsch I was able to talk for a couple of minutes with a waiter who told me they are constantly moving because of the small portion sizes. The restaurant was bustling, which is a great sign for a German beer hall. This beer had a good level of hop bitterness, but like the others the portion sizes meant you beer was always cold and being replenished.
My next stop was at the Dom Kolsch outlet along the Rhine. I was impressed by the amazing continuous flow of raw materials up and down the river. Coal, freight containers, liquid natural gas and dozens of barges with unknown cargo passed by while I had a single beer. Dom is a clean beer, but lacks the crispness of some of the other hoppier brews. It still leaves you wanting more.
Outside I walked by a place called the “Bier Museum” that bragged on an overhead sign at having 18 taps. The place was empty, telling me the locals value freshness over variety.
I had a Gaffel Kolsch at Haxenhaus zum Rheingarten with my dinner. It was served in a 0.4 liter glass and just did not have the same sense of freshness offered by the others. It felt more like a regular beer than a treat.
My next stop was a the Paffgen Bierhaus, which felt like the place most 30+ single office workers in Cologne had decided to try their luck. Still, the service was prompt and the kolsch was crisp and on the hoppy side.
The final stop of the evening was for a taste at Gilden Kolsch. This beer was a subtle and soft kolsch that ended on a dry note. It was more complex than most of the others and I wished I had really tasted it earlier to judge it closely against a couple of my other favorites.
In preparing for the trip I had reads several comments about the waiters in kolsch brauhaus being rude and unfriendly. I have to say that was not my experience as a single traveler. In fact, the service is almost too good if you want to have just a single beer and move on. The efficiency of the operations on a busy Friday was impressive.
This has been a quick stop in Cologne and I hope to get back here again.