What is a Kolschbier (Kolsch)?


Jason Mrachina via Compfight

Kolschbier is a popular “warm weather beer” and German classic.  The name Kolsch (pronounced “kelsch”) is derived from its location… Koln, Germany (or Cologne for us Yanks).  The name indicates that the beer was brewed in the traditional style of that particular city.

In order to officially called a Kolsh, the beer must be brewed by a member of the Koln Brewers Union.  Much like the name “champagne” in the snobbier world of wine, the name Kolschbier is protected and controlled by the Union and may not be used by anyone else.

Tasting Notes

Kolschbier is golden in color with a somewhat hazy finish, partly due to the addition of wheat, but mostly the result of being unfiltered.  The style should have a delicate, lightly fruity flavor with a dry and medium hoppy finish.  A very refreshing beer that is often enjoyed in the warmer summer months.

While it is brewed as an ale, with top fermenting yeast, it undergoes a cold fermentation and aging period, giving it its “hybrid” status (see Difference Between and Ale and a Lager for more info).

The Kolschbier is aslo said to have medicinal powers, specifically as an excellent curative for digestive problems (so put the pepto back on the shelf and grab a Kolsch!).

Examples of Kolschbier

Only Available in Colone:

PJ Früh Kölsch

Dom Kölsch

Küppers Kölsch



US Attempts at Kolsch

Goose Island Summer Time German-Style Kolsch Bier

Crooked River Kölsch

What is a Steam Beer (or California Common)?

Steam Beer – History

The steam beer, or California Common, is an American original and was first produced in California during the gold rush (late 19th Century).  The style of beer is very much tied to the west coast and in particular San Francisco.

At its height, this style of beer was brewed by as many as 27 different breweries in California.  Today, “steam beer” is a trademarked term, and can only be brewed under that name by Anchor Steam Brewing Co. in San Francisco, CA.  Other brewers now use the name “California Common” for this style.

While no one is 100% certain on the origin of the name steam beer, it seems to have a few plausible explanations.  On one hand, it may have come from the “hissing” sound that this beer made during the heated fermentation process.  On the other hand, and more likely in my opinion, the warm conditioning created a highly carbonated brew and when a new barrel was tapped it caused a hiss or spray when opened.  Of further note, Anchor Brewing claims that the name “steam beer” came from the steam that emanated from the roof of their brewery.  Apparently they had no way to cool the hot wort during the brewing process, so they pumped it up to the roof and let the cool San Francisco air do the job of cooling.  Thus steam was often seen rising from the top of the brewery.

It is also interesting to note that there are references to steam beer in the literature of the 1890’s and early 1900’s, where it was clearly referred to as a lower quality and cheaper type of beer.  In Frank Norris’ 1899 novel “McTeague” there is a reference to the main character being made more “civilized” by his new wife:

“She broke him of the habit of eating with his knife, she caused him to substitute bottled beer in the place of steam beer, and she induced him to take off his hat to Miss Baker, to Heise’s wife, and to the other women of his acquaintance. ”

Brewing process for Steam Beer

Most historians claim that the brewing of steam beer was more a creature of necessity, than a well thought out “style”.  The first brewers that came to California lacked the supplies and tools to brew most types of beer, and hence had to improvise as best as they could. As lagers were very popular at the time, they wanted to brew them, but lacked the tools for cold fermentation (see Differences Between an Ale and a Lager).  Therefore, they created a brewing process that used a lager yeast (bottom fermentation), but fermented at ale (top fermentation) temperatures.

The fermentation is done in long shallow vessels called “calrifieres”, and is followed by a period of warm conditioning or “krausening”.  This warming, more like boiling, also helped to kill off any bacteria.  The beer was also highly hopped to prevent spoilage, much like the IPA (India Pale Ale).

Tasting Notes for Steam Beer

One of the first steps in tasting a beer, is to classify its style so you have some idea of what to expect.  This classification would begin with deciding if a beer is an ale or a lager (see Differences Between an Ale and a Lager).  The steam beer or California Common is very difficult to categorize as an ale or a lager as it is fermented warm (like an ale), but uses bottom-fermenting lager yeast.  This puts the beer in the Hybrid category of styles and thus difficult to compare to other beers.

The second you drink a steam beer you will notice a real toasty/malty essence, with a fairly aggressive hoppiness in flavor and aroma and a fair amount of carbonation.  They are generally clear and crisp like a lager, but also full-bodied like an ale.  It is this contrast in taste and style that makes the steam beer so unique and wonderful.

Examples of Steam Beer

Of course the most popular example of the steam beer is Anchor Steam.  I will admit that I am very biased when it comes to this beer as I spent over 5 years living in San Francisco and Anchor Steam was one of my stables while there.  It is difficult to know how true to the traditional steam beer that Anchor Steam is as most other brewers really stopped making this style at one time.  However, I will say that it remains one of my favorite beers today and is usually the example that other California Commons are compared..  It is crisp and clean like a lager, but has much more flavor and body like an ale.  A great choice if you don’t know which type of beer you really want.

Text from the Anchor Steam bottle:

San Francisco’s famous Anchor Steam®, the classic of American brewing tradition since 1896, is virtually handmade, with an exceptional respect for the ancient art of brewing. The deep amber color, thick creamy head, and rich flavor all testify to our traditional brewing methods.

Anchor Steam is unique, for our brewing process has evolved over many decades and is like no other in the world. Anchor Steam derives its unusual name from the 19th century when “steam” seems to have been a nickname for beer brewed on the West Coast of America under primitive conditions and without ice. The brewing methods of those days are a mystery and, although there are many theories, no one can say with certainty why the word “steam” came to be associated with beer.

For many decades Anchor alone has used this quaint name for its unique beer. In modern times, “Steam” has become a trademark of Anchor Brewing.

Tell us what you think about Steam Beer

Do you prefer to call it a California Common?  What do you think of the tasting notes?  Let us know in the comments below.

What is a Porter?

History of Porter Beer

The porter has a very interesting history and a fair amount of disagreement on what it is and should be, leaving the question of exactly what is a porter beer?.  Originally, a “porter” or porter beer was not a single beer at all but a combination of beers mixed together based on customer requests.  The British have a custom of mixing cheaper and lighter beers with heavier more expensive aged beers (i.e. a black and tan). The combining of these beers would create what was called an “entire beer”.

Amazon ImageApparently, there was a particular combination that was particular to the porters around Victoria Station in 18th century London.  These porters were rumored to make a meal out of this heavier darker beer (sounds like a good lunch hour to me).  Eventually, around 1730, a brewer named Harwood brewed a beer based on this combination.  It was heavily advertised as richer and more “nourishing” than a regular ale, which spoke to porters on lunch break.  The porter was officially born.

Tasting Notes

Amazon ImageIn general, the porter is a top-fermented beer that uses black or chocolate malts to create a beer that ranges in color from dark brown to almost black.

The taste of a porter should be spicy, chocolaty and be dominated by a distinctive dark malt or roasted grain flavor, with a slight sweetness.  They also tend to be well hopped and the hoppiness can range from bitter to mild.

Often compared to, or confused with Stouts, porters tend to have a lower alcohol content, lighter body and malt character, and a slightly sweeter taste… and they were here first. The stout actually gets its name from a porter.  The name “stout” for a very dark beer seems to have come about from the name for a strong porter – “extra porter” or “stout porter”.  The name would eventually be shortened to just stout.

Popular Brands of Porter:

Arcadia’s – London Porter
Anchor Brewing Co.’s – Anchor Porter,
Samuel Smith’s – The Famous Taddy Porter,
Fuller’s – London Porter

 Let us know what you think – What is a Porter?

Post your comment s below and let us know your thoughts.

What is meant by beer styles or beer types?

Beer Styles - Beer Types

Understanding beer begins with understanding the idea of “style” (beer style or beer types).  As we shall explore, it is not always as simple and straightforward as one might think.  Some people have compared the wine drinker’s use of grape styles to that of the beer drinker’s use of classifying beer styles.  While this may be a convenient device for the discussion of wine, it is wholly inadequate when discussing beer.

The wine snob (I mean wine enthusiast) can use the basic ingredient of grapes to solidly classify a style of wine – if you want to make a cabernet, then you need to use cabernet grapes.  Beer lovers do not have such a luxury.  There are many different types or styles of beer that can be brewed from the same basic ingredients – water, grain (usually barley), yeast, and hops.  It’s the methods, timing, amounts, and other factors that contribute to the final product.

What we mean by Style

We use the term “Style” to describe a general classification of beer that helps to define a beer by ingredients, color, aroma, yeast type, brewing methods, bitterness, originating region, and overall flavor.  In order for a beer to be considered within that style, it must fit, at least loosely, into these general parameters.  The descriptions provided below are not considered comprehensive or definitive; they are simply a description of what we consider to be the “classic” version of each individual style.

Always keep in mind that the beer you are tasting may or may not compare exactly to the descriptions outlined here (or elsewhere for that matter).  Each brewery and brewmaster has quite of bit of leeway within each of the styles – in the end there are no rules or laws governing how brewmasters are supposed to interpret and design their beers. This ensures that each brand or brewery can create their own individual interpretation of each style (See NOTE below).  In essence, beer is like a snowflake, with an almost limitless number of variations within each type.  Therefore it is our job as beer enthusiasts to sample and enjoy each and every one (tough job, but someone has to do it!).

An appreciation of the main beer styles will greatly increase your enjoyment of good beer.  However, the most important question you should be asking is, “Do I like this beer?”  If a discussion of a beer’s style adds to your enjoyment of the brew, so much the better, but always remember that beer has been brewed since the beginning of civilization to BE ENJOYED, so relax and enjoy it.  That’s an order.

*Note – There is also the complication of misleading naming and labeling within the beer industry.  Just because a label states it’s a pale ale, does not mean it truly meets the style guidelines. As an example, the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samual Adams, creates a seasonal brew called Cranberry Lambic.  While I like the beer itself, it can not be a lambic since only beers from a particular area of Belgium can be considered true Lambics) These misleading naming practices are quite common and only further exacerbate the difficulties in classifying beers.

To learn more about Beer Styles and Types, check out the FAQ’s below:

What is the difference between an Ale and a Lager?

Read more in Beer Styles

What is the difference between an ale and a lager?

Assorted Beers in a Flight Ready for TastingIn the most basic classification scheme, there are two main types of beer.  No, its not “tastes great” / ”less filling”-  they are ales and lagers.  Ales, the oldest beers in the world, have been around thousands of years longer than lagers.  Looking at the history of beer, civilizations as far back as the Sumerians and Egyptians have been brewing and drinking what would be considered ales.  Lagers, on the other hand, may have only been around since the mid-nineteenth century.  However, many have speculated that “lagering” may have been “discovered” as far back as the Dark Ages, when some European brewers may have stored their beer in ice caves for later consumption. What they found Amazon Imagewas that the beer that was stored and fermented cold had a much clearer and cleaner beer “free from turbidity”.

The main difference between ales and lagers is the type of yeast used in the brewing process, which in turn dictates what ingredients and techniques can be used.Amazon Image

Ales are fermented warm and made with a top-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces cervisiae), which is, just like it sounds, a yeast that rises to the top of the brew during fermentation.  Ales are generally stronger and more forceful in taste than lagers because of their relatively fast and warm fermentation.  Many countries, including England, serve their ales at “cellar” temperature (50-55 degrees Fahrenheit).

Lagers, from the German word “lagern” meaning to store, are made with a bottom or cold-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces Uvarum  – see sidebar) that sinks to the bottom of the brew during the fermentation process.   While ales can be brewed in as little as 7 days, lagers Amazon Imagetraditionally need to age before their brewing process is complete.  This can increase their brewing time to more than a month or more.  This longer, colder fermentation process inhibits the production of esters (which give beer a more fruity taste) and avoids other fermentation byproducts common in ales. The lager process creates beers with a generally cleaner, smoother, crisper, and more mellow taste.  Unlike ales, lagers should always be served cold.  The lager is also the most popular style of beer in the world, with some stating that it accounts for 90% of all beers consumed (a large portion of this is from the mass produced watered down lagers of the major US breweries).

*Note – Lager yeast (Saccharomyces Uvarum) was originally named Saccharomyces carlsbergensis (notice the word “Carlsberg” in there… not a coincidence).  The name was chosen to honor the brewery that was credited with first isolating lager yeast (Carlsberg brewery) – the yeast was later named Saccharomyces Uvarum)  Bottom-fermenting yeast was simultaneously discovered by Gabriel Sedlmayr and Anton Dreher about 1830.

Ale vs. Lager – At A Glance



Thousands of years old Relatively new
Fermented warm Fermented cold
Top fermentation Bottom fermentation
Yeast – Saccharomyces cervisiae Yeast – Saccharomyces Uvarum
Quick brew cycle – as little as 7 days Longer brew cycle – up to several months
Usually fermented between 59 – 77 degrees F Usually fermented between 40 and 55 degrees F
Strong, assertive, and more robust in taste Smoother, crisper, and more subtle in taste and aroma
Served not too cool, usually 50-55 degrees F, 10-14 degrees C,  sometimes called  “cellar temperature”. Served cold, usually 40-45 degrees F, 4-7 degrees C.