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Active fermentation
Active fermentation

Brewing a Kölsch

Previously in this series of articles on How to brew different Styles of Beer? we covered Brewing a Dunkels Weissbier, this time the Beer Style comes from the ‘Pale Bitter European Beer’ category in the BJCP 2014 Guidelines and is the style of a Kölsch.

In the following sections we are going to examine different aspects of this style such as its background, the style guidelines, ingredients used, sample recipes, brewing process, and finally the outcome of brewing a batch of this beer.


Grains: Pilsner malt, Munich malt & White Wheat malt
– Pilsner malt
– Munich malt
– White Wheat malt

This beer derives its name from the city of Cologne (Köln) in Germany. Many people think of this style of beer as being a lager when in fact it is fermented with an ale yeast but if often lagered to help smooth out the flavors.

According to the BJCP 2014 Style Guidelines Kölsch is an appellation protected by the Kölsch Konvention (1986), and is restricted to the 20 or so breweries in and around Köln. The Konvention simply defines the beer as a

light, highly attenuated, hop-accentuated, clear top-fermenting Vollbier

A step mash is traditionally used, although good results can be obtained using a single rest at 149  deg F. Fermentation is carried out at cool ale temperatures (59-68 deg F) and lagered for at least a month, although many Cologne brewers ferment at 70 deg F and lager for no more than two weeks.

Commercial examples of this style include Früh Kölsch, Reissdorf Kölsch, Gaffel Kölsch, Sünner Kölsch, Mühlen Kölsch, and Sion Kölsch.


In the BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines Kölsch was in the ‘Light Hybrid Beer’ category (see here), but now in the revised 2014 Guidelines the style has been grouped together in a new category with three other German beer styles as follows:

BJCP 2014 BJCP 2008
Category 5: Pale Bitter European Beer
6: Light Hybrid Beer
Styles 6A: Cream Ale
6B: Blonde Ale
5A: German Leichtbier
5B: Kölsch 6C: Kölsch
 5C: German Exportbier
 5D: German Pils
 6D: American Wheat or Rye Beer

In the new guidelines the vital statistics of the Kölsch have only had one tweak which is to lower the bitterness starting range by two points:

  • Original Gravity (OG) = 1.044 – 1.050
  • Final Gravity (FG) = 1.007 – 1.011
  • Alcohol By Volume (ABV) = 4.4 – 5.2%
  • Bitterness (IBUs) = 18 – 30
  • Color (SRM) = 3.5 – 5


According to the BJCP 2014 Guidelines the following are characteristic ingredients used in the brewing of a Kölsch:

  • Malts: German Pilsner or Pale malt. Up to 20% wheat malt may be used, but this is quite rare in authentic versions.
  • Hops: Traditional German hops (Hallertau, Tettnang, Spalt or Hersbrucker).
  • Yeast: Attenuative, clean ale yeast.
  • Water: Water can vary from extremely soft to moderately hard.
  • Additions: None.


Below are some recipes for 5 gallon batches of Kölsch from leading authors in the homebrewing community together with some analysis on how they comply with the style guidelines:

– Bambi’s Best Blonde Ale –

Source: Radical Brewing
Author: Randy Mosher

Hop varieties used in recipe
Hop varieties used in recipe


  • 8 Lb German/Belgian Pilsener malt
  • 1 Lb German/Belgian Munich malt
  • 0.5 Lb Pale Crystal malt
  • 0.5 Lb Wheat (flaked or malted)
  • 1.0 oz Crystal (or Hallertau type) hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 1.25 oz Crystal (or Hallertau type) hops (flavoring – 20 mins)
  • 1.5 oz Saaz hops (flavoring – 20 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Crystal (or Hallertau type) hops (aroma – 0 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Saaz hops (aroma – 0 mins)
  • Altbier or Kölsch yeast


  • Mash @ 152 deg F (67 deg C) for 60 mins
  • Optional Protein rest of 15-20 mins @ 122 def F (50 deg C) to help with clarity
  • Boil for 60 mins
Bittering, Flavoring & Aroma hop additions
Bittering, Flavoring & Aroma hop additions


  • OG: 1.048
  • FG: 1.011 – 1.015
  • ABV: 4.3 – 4.9%
  • IBU: 30
  • SRM: Not specified.


  • Malts: The choice of Pale Crystal malt is not within the style guidelines though adding some Wheat malt for head retention is common recipe practice and inline with the guidelines.
  • Hops: Hallertau-type hops match the guidelines but not the choice of Saaz even though they are often found in German beers.
  • Yeast: Altbier and Kölsch often use the same German Ale yeast so matches the guidelines.
  • Statistics: The gravities and alcohol content are within the guidelines with the lower one of 4.3% being slightly below. The bitterness is right at the top of the range.

– JZ Früh

Source: Brewing Classic Styles
Author: Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer

Vigorous boil
Vigorous boil


  • 10.3 Lb Pilsner malt
  • 0.5 Lb Vienna malt
  • 1.5 oz Hallertau
  • White Labs WLP029 German Ale/Kölsch yeast or Wyeast 2565 Kölsch yeast


  • Mash @ 149 deg F (65 deg C) for 90 mins
  • Boil for 90 mins
  • Lager for 4 weeks
  • Carbonate to 2.5 volumes
Simple measuring stick
Simple measuring stick
(for calculating efficiency & filling the mash tun)


  • OG: 1.048
  • FG: 1.009
  • ABV: 5.1%
  • IBU: 25
  • SRM: 4


  • Malts: A simple malt bill with the right base malt for the style and although the guidelines do not mention Vienna malt this is most likely used to help with the maltiness or graininess of the beer without impacting on color too much.
  • Hops: Within style.
  • Yeast: Within style.
  • Statistics: These are all within the ranges specified by the guidelines.

– Kölsch –

Source: Wisdom for Home Brewers
Author: Ted Bruning & Nigel Sadler

Measuring the Original Gravity
Measuring the Original Gravity


  • 8.8 Lb Pilsner malt
  • 17.65 oz Munich malt
  • 1.4 oz Spalt (bittering – 75 mins)
  • 1.0 oz Spalt (aroma – 0 mins)
  • German Ale yeast


  • Mash @ 145 deg F (62.5 deg C) for 75 mins
  • Boil for 75 mins
Filling carboy post-boil
Filling carboy post-boil


  • OG: 1.045
  • FG: 1.010
  • ABV: 4.6%
  • IBU: Not specified.
  • SRM: Not specified.


  • Malts: A simple malt bill that is within style and the choice of Munich is most likely to help with color and maltiness of the resultant beer.
  • Hops: Within style.
  • Yeast: Within style though no specific variant is mentioned.
  • Statistics: The Starting Gravity and alcohol content are towards the bottom of the respective ranges. Bitterness and color are not specified so may need calculating via brewing software to check how they fit within the guidelines prior to brewing.


Active fermentation
Active fermentation

The recipe chosen for brewing this batch of Kölsch was Bambi’s Best Blonde Ale. Although the other two recipes are simpler and arguably have malt bills and hop choices that are closer to the style guidelines, the reason for my choice is because Randy Mosher’s recipe was used at a collaborative brew day at my homebrew club but with a lot of tweaking so I was intrigued to find out how a less modified version would turn out:

  • 8 Lb German Pilsner malt
  • 1.5 Lb Munich malt
  • 0.5 Lb White Wheat malt
  • 0.8 oz Hallertauer hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 1.0 oz Saaz hops (flavoring – 20 mins)
  • 1.0 oz Hallertauer hops (flavoring – 20 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Saaz hops (aroma – 0 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Hallertauer hops (aroma – 0 mins)
  • White Labs WLP029 German Ale/Kölsch yeast
Brewing process steps
Brewing process steps

In the above recipe the Pale Crystal malt was omitted due to lack of availability and not being within the style guidelines, instead an extract half pound of Munich malt was substituted.

The 5 gallon batch of beer was brewed following these steps:

  • Charcoal filtering the borough water and leaving it to stand overnight in order to vent off the chlorine.
  • Measuring out and milling the grains, also measuring out the hops and Irish Moss.
  • Sterilizing the fermentation equipment.
  • Heating the strike water to 124 deg F before mashing-in (adding the grist to the hot water).
  • Mashing for 20 mins at 122 deg F for Protein rest to help with final beer clarity.
  • Raise temperature to 150 deg F for Saccharification rest so the starches convert into sugars (pH 5.6).
  • Raising the temperature to 168 deg F to mash-out and stop enzymatic activity i.e. halt the conversion of starches to sugars.
  • Removing the grain bag.
  • Boiling for 10 mins to allow time for the hot break to clear.
  • Continue boiling for 40 mins with the bittering hop addition.
  • Continue boiling for 5 mins with the flavoring hop additions.
  • Adding Irish Moss at 15 mins to help clear the beer.
  • Add aroma hops additions at 0 mins (flame-out).
  • A yeast starter was prepared comprising of 8 oz of DME (Dry Malt Extract) in two liters of water and placed in a flask on a stir plate together with one packet of yeast.
  • Yeast nutrient was added to the wort once it had been cooled.
  • Wort was aerated with Oxygen (60 secs) via a diffusing stone connected to an O2 tank with a regulator.
  • Yeast starter was decanted prior to pitching into the wort so that most of the spent wort did not go into the beer.
  • Primary fermentation was at 67 deg F for one week in a temperature controlled freezer.
  • The beer was racked off the trub (sediment) into the secondary fermenter and held at 67 deg F for a second week before cold crashing with gelatine for additional clarity.
  • Beer was force carbonated to 2.5 volumes of CO2 after cooling the beer to 36 deg F.


Brewing temperature profile
Brewing temperature profile

According to the style guidelines a Kölsch should have the following characteristics:

  • Appearance: Very pale gold to light gold. Very clear (authentic commercial versions are filtered to a brilliant clarity). Has a delicate white head that may not persist.
  • Aroma: Low to very low malt aroma, with a grainy-sweet character. A pleasant, subtle fruit aroma from fermentation (apple, cherry or pear) is acceptable, but not always present. A low floral, spicy or herbal hop aroma is optional but not out of place. Some yeast strains may give a slight winy or sulfury character (this characteristic is also optional, but not a fault). Overall, the intensity of aromatics is fairly subtle but generally balanced, clean, and fresh.
  • Flavor: Soft, rounded palate comprising of a delicate flavor balance between soft yet attenuated malt, an almost imperceptible fruity sweetness from fermentation, and a medium-low to medium bitterness with a delicate dryness and slight crispness in the finish (but no harsh aftertaste). The malt tends to be grainy-sweet, possibly with a very light bready or honey quality. The hop flavor is variable, and can range from low to moderately-high; most are medium-low to medium intensity and have a floral, spicy, or herbal character. May have a malty-sweet impression at the start, but this is not required; in any event, should not have noticable residual sweetness. May have a slightly minerally or sulfury accent that accentuates the dryness and flavor balance. A slight wheat taste is rare but not a fault. Otherwise, very clean.
  • Mouth-feel: Medium-light to medium body (most are medium-light). Medium to medium-high carbonation. Smooth and generally crisp and well-attenuated.
  • Overall: A clean, crisp, delicately-balanced beer usually with a very subtle fruit and hop character. Subdued maltiness throughout leads into a pleasantly well-attenuated and refreshing finish. Freshness makes a huge difference with this beer, as the delicate character can fade quickly with age.

How did my batch of Kölsch turn out?

Sample pour of Kölsch
Sample pour of Kölsch

All the numbers were hit spot on target which in my mind is a sign of a good brew day! Here are the actual vital statistics:

  • OG: 1.049
  • FG: 1.010
  • ABV: 5.1%
  • Bitterness: 28.7 IBUs*
  • Color: 4.5 SRM*

* calculated via BeerSmith software.

The tasting notes are as follows:

Light straw in color with a slight haze and a white head. A slight citrus hop aroma. Flavor is hoppy then yeasty. Highly carbonated with a medium body.

Initially I was disappointed with the lack of clarity of this beer considering I had even done a Protein rest and used gelatine when cold crashing but after being bottled for a week or so it poured crystal clear and in my personal opinion tasted great. I am very happy with this beer and have entered into the National Homebrewers Competition 2015 so we will see how it scores. The only potential downside is not having had sufficient time to lager it…

What’s Next?

In my next article in this series I will be examining Brewing an Altbier which is in the ‘Amber, Hoppy European Beer’ category so please check back for that article to be published.

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