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

Is there formaldehyde in beer?

formaldehyde-beer-smThis question was recently submitted by a reader, and to tell you the truth I did not know much about the formaldehyde in beer issue.  My initial reaction was “of course there is not formaldehyde in beer”, but as I dug deeper into the research I began to grow concerned.

Now when I hear “formaldehyde” I think of preserving corpses… not exactly getting me in the mood for a cold one.  So to start off I figured a definition of formaldehyde was in order:

Formaldehyde: a chemical used in manufacturing and chemical industries, and as a preservative by anatomists, embalmers, and pathologists. Being exposed to formaldehyde may increase the risk of developing leukemia and brain cancer.

So not only do I now think of corpses, but now I have brain cancer on the brain…. I am really hoping this does not turn out to be true at this point.

As I began my research into this question, a few things became clear:

  • There appears to be some truth to the rumor in Chinese beers,
  • There does not seem to be strong evidence of this rumor outside of China
  • There does not seem to be a definitive answer on the subject

China appears to use formaldehyde

First of all, why on earth would breweries knowingly use formaldehyde?  As it turns out it is a very inexpensive clarifying agent that lightens the color of the beer and extends its shelf life.  Although some Chinese breweries claim that they have discontinued the practice, there are a number of beers sold in China that are very cheap and low quality (intended to be affordable to the masses), and it has been stated that these lower quality brews still use formaldehyde to keep costs down.

So how widespread is the use of formaldehyde in Chinese beer? I found a few articles dating back to 2005, where a representative of the China Alcoholic Drinks Industry Association (CADIA) is quoted as saying that 95% of the domestic beer in China has formaldehyde.  What was that?  Did you say 95% of domestic beers in China have a known cancer causing agent in them?  Not really making me want to drink a Chinese beer.

Furthermore, an article in the “People’s Daily Online” reported in 2005 that:

Chinese brewery giant Tsingtao has confirmed the safety of its product, saying the per-liter formaldehyde content of its product is much lower than the standard set by the World Heath Organization (WHO). The Tsingtao Brewery Co., Ltd. made the remarks in a statement it issued Friday in response to earlier domestic media reports putting Tsingtao beer’s formaldehyde content under suspicion. China’s State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (SAQSIQ) also said that Chinese beer, including big-name Tsingtao beer, is safe to drink.

However, I did find some more recent resources stating that this practice is dying off (no pun intended) and that only some breweries are still permitting formaldehyde in the brewing process today.  I was also not able to find any reference to formaldehyde in any beers that China imports to other countries, as it appears to only be used in their domestic versions.

Finally, I came across a research study done in 2006 which concluded that:

Formaldehyde was measured in 29 beers [out of 84 tested] (including 7 imported brands) using solid-phase microextraction with on-fiber derivatization. Formaldehyde levels were between 0.082–0.356 mg/L. None of the beer samples exceeded WHO drinking water criteria for benzene, trihalomethanes or formaldehyde.

No Evidence of Formaldehyde Use Outside of China

While I did come across a lot of discussion in online forums about formaldehyde in non-Chinese beers (especially beers from Southeast Asian countries), I was not able to find any evidence if this.  There is a great article I found that discusses this (specifically in reference to a Thai beer called Singha) located here: http://lewbryson.com/formaldehyde.htm.

No definitive answer

In all of the research I conducted online, I was not able to find a clear definitive answer on the subject (besides the info on China).  There was a ton of forum discussions full of opinion and conjecture, but not much in the way of evidence.

Many folks felt certain that some Asian countries used formaldehyde in the brewing process, while others questioned the assertion and compared it to the rumor about urine in Corona.  Some of the most interesting discussions were very scientific in nature, with quite a few folks claiming that trace amounts of formaldehyde were a natural byproduct in beer.  Since I am not very strong in the sciences I have not gone into an in depth discussion of these arguments.

However, I did want to point out one study that was mentioned in the research report listed above.  In it they mentioned another study that looked at European beers:

Donhauser and co-workers9 examined beers from Europe, using a HPLC method, and showed that 65% of them contained detectable formaldehyde, although in many the level was close to the detection limit of 0.2 mg/L. (Donhauser, S., Glas, K. and Walla, G., Detection of formaldehyde in beer. Monatsschrift für Brauwissenschaft, 1986, 39(10), 364–368.)

This would seem to give some credence to the trace amounts argument, but I would love to hear from some other readers that are more versed in the sciences than I….. anyone know a little more about this?

All in all, formaldehyde does not appear to be a major concern for beer drinkers.  However, I would still be a little weary drinking a beer in China (but I don’t plan on visiting anytime soon so I should be safe…..)

Please let us know what you think about this issue in the comments below.

What is the Reinheitsgebot (“German Purity Law)

Well, the first step is to learn how to say Reinheitsgebot…. “Rine-Hites-gaBoat” is the best pronunciation I could find.  Of course some native German speaker will probably correct this, but its pretty darn close.  So now that we can pronounce the word, lets get into what its all about.

The Reinheitsgebot, or “German Purity Law” as many call it, literally translates to “purity law” or “cleanliness law”.  An early version of the law was proposed in 1487, but the version most speak of today originated in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt on April 23, 1516.  Introduced by Duke Wilhelm IV, the original intent of the law was three fold:

  • Control pricing
  • Ensure the quality of beer
  • Reserve more valuable grains like rye and wheat for bread making, as these grains were often in very short supply

The law limited the allowed ingredients in beer to water, barley and hops.  However, this was only one sentence in a much longer text focused primarily on pricing rules and regulations (see original text below).  Unfortunately the pricing portion of the law did not last… the price was set as one Pfennig per Mass (now that sounds like a great price for a beer!).

Notice there is no yeast in the list of allowable ingredients.  Why you ask?  Well, they really did not know that yeast existed, or was necessary for fermentation, in the 16th century.  They would either use some of the sediment from a previous batch of beer (which included the yeast) or they would let the batch sit out until some wild yeast began the fermentation process. It was not until the 1800’s when Louis Pasteur discovered the role of yeast in fermentation that it was added to the list of acceptable ingredients.

So that is the basics of the original “German purity law”.  As we will discuss in a future FAQ, the law has been updated and adapted to keep up with modern times and has also become the source of some interesting controversies.  Look for the new article soon….

Text of Reinheitsgebot

The best English translation of the Reinheitsgebot that I could find was published in Zymurgy magazine by Karl J. Eden in 1993.

We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer:

From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [Bavarian Liter 1,069] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and

From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller usually one-half Pfennig].

If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered.

Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Mass.

Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.

Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or markets buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass of the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley (also considering that the times of harvest differ, due to location), WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned.

What is a Stout?

What is a Stout?The Stout was traditionally a stronger full-bodied variety of a porter, called a “stout porter” or “stouter”, but soon emerged as its own very popular style.

While the distinction between a stout and porter is still a little confusing, the stout is, generally speaking, a fuller-bodied, stronger, and darker beer with strong coffee or burnt caramel flavors.  Stouts, much like coffee for many folks, is an acquired flavor.  It is a beer to be sipped and savored, not pounded back on a hot summer day.

To speak of “a” stout is not entirely accurate. It is better to refer to the stout family of beers – dry stout, imperial stout, oatmeal stout and sweet stout – each with its own unique history and flavor.

Dry Stout

This is what most people probably think about when they hear the term “stout”, also known as an Irish Stout.  Dry stouts tend to have a higher alcoholic content than the sweet or oatmeal stouts, with a maltier, roasted flavor.  Their distinct flavor comes from using unmalted roasted barley in the brewing process, creating a creamy, roasty flavor with a medium to high hop bitterness and a fruity acidity.  The dry stout tends to be medium bodied with the unique opaque black color of a stout. This is the beer made famous by Guinness and considered more important than water by many Irishman (myself included!).

Sweet Stout

Also referred to as an English stout, or “London style,” the sweet stout is brewed with a chocolate malt, making it less roasty, and accented with strong fruit overtones, especially plum. Once known as “Milk Stout” due to the use of lactose (milk sugar) in the brewing process, the name was changed to sweet stout so as not to imply that actual milk was included in the beer.  The use of milk sugar creates a medium to full bodied beer with a smooth, sweet taste with very little hop bitterness.  Many consider these to be a soothing restorative. Next time you have trouble falling asleep why don’t you try a warm Milk Stout!

Oatmeal stout

This beer, as the name implies, is actually brewed with oatmeal (makes you look at the breakfast mush in a whole new light, eh?).  The oats are added to the barley malt, giving this stout a fuller body and flavor with strong coffee and burnt toffee overtones.  While a few brewers use malted oats in the brewing process, most simply add oatmeal to the mash.  These beers tend to be very smooth with a strong smooth body, but not necessarily a high alcohol content.

Imperial Stout

mperial stouts were originally brewed for the pre-revolutionary czar of Russia, a huge fan of the English-style stouts.  Since the typical English Stout did not travel well, these beers were loaded with hops in order to last the long trips to Russia (much like the IPA’s that were shipped to India).  Imperial Stouts are by far the strongest of the stout family, distinctly bitter with a burnt malt flavor that goes along with a fruity character that some describe as “burnt currant”.  Also called Russian Stout or Russian Imperial Stout.

Odd Beer Award goes to…..

Oyster Stout

While few breweries concoct this beer these days, there was a time when the Oyster Stout was fairly popular, especially in seafaring port towns.  Some version actually contained raw oysters, but most used oyster exctract.

Second runner up…. Espresso Stout – Most are so named because of the “coffee-ish” character, there are some brewers who are adding crushed espresso beans during the brewing process to enhance the coffee character.

Great Stout Recipe

A buddy of mine in California turned me on to this and I must say it is very good.  All you do is add one shot of Port Wine to a pint of Guiness and enjoy.  Not sure why these flavors go so well together, but boy is it smooth.  Let me know how you like this if you try it.