Brewing a Kolsch Beer Recipe: Beer Styles

by Deege on April 5, 2008 · 60 comments

Beer Glasses

You want a good lager, but you can’t make one because you do not have refrigeration? Try a making a Kölschbier! Today, guest blogger DJ provides an excellent summary of how to brew Kölsch.


Kölsch (pronounced “koelsch”) is a beer brewed exclusively by the breweries in Köln (or Cologne to the English speaking countries). The beer style has been around for several centuries, but was never called Kölsch until the Sünner brewery labeled it as such in 1918. In the 1930s, at least 40 breweries made Kölsch. Unfortunately the World War decimated the German Kölsch industry and only 2 breweries remained.

Since the European Union gave special protection to Kölsch in 1997 (geschützte Herkunftsbezeichnung), only 14 breweries legally produce Kölsch. This restriction is an extension of the Kölsch Convention of 1986. The Kölsch Convention states that Kölsch must be brewed in Köln, pale in color, top-fermented (ale), hop accentuated, and filtered. In short, the beer is a pale ale from Köln.

The culture of this beer is also unique. People from all economic classes enjoy the beer. Karl Marx remarked that his revolution could never take hold in Köln, because the workers drink with their bosses. The beer is so anti-class that the breweries all agreed that no Kölsch would be sold with “special”, “extra” or any other add-on. The beer is even popular with the women.

But it tastes like a lager!

Kölsch is ale that tastes like a lager. If you handed a Kölsch to an unaware beer drinker, it is very common to mistake the beer as a lager. The beer has a very soft mouthfeel. It can be slightly sweet, but has no malty aroma and finishes very dry. Some Kölschbiers have some fruity flavor, but it is very slight. Any fruitiness in the beer should be very subtle.

There is no hop aroma and little hop flavor. It is very low in esters, and has no diacetyl. These beers typically are between 4% to 4.5% ABV. The Brewer Style guidelines list the beer’s alcohol content at 4.4 – 5.2% ABV, but I would error on the lower end of the spectrum. The color of the beer is straw-like (3.5-7 SRM). Kölsch is similar to an American Blonde Ale, but finishes much cleaner and crisper.

Some commercial examples of the beer are Reissdorf, Gaffel, Alaska Summer Ale, Harpoon Summer Beer, or Sünner Kölsch. The American versions are “Kölsch-style” since they cannot be called “Kölsch”.

The Recipe

Like any German beer, the ingredients for this beer follow Reinheitsgebot. Kölsch typically uses German pilsner malt and/or pale malt. Some recipes use wheat malt or Vienna malt, but it is less common. Wheat malt is not common in the commercial versions of the beer, but shows up in many homebrew recipes. Most Kölsch recipes use Spalt hops, but other German noble hops can be used. The beer uses very soft water and is often lagered for a month after fermentation. Here’s the recipe I use.

  • 10 lbs German Pilsner Malt
  • 0.5 lbs German Munich Malt
  • 1.5 oz Spalt hops (4% AA bittering for 60 minutes)
  • White Labs WLP029 German Ale/ Kölsch or Wyeast 2565 Kölsch

If you are an extract brewer, use 8 lbs of Pilsner LME and 0.25 lbs of Munich LME. Sometimes Spalt hops are difficult to find (especially with the hop shortage). You can substitute the Spalt hops with Saaz, Hallertau, or Tettnanger. Mt. Hood can also be used. The hop you select is strictly for bittering, because Kölsch should have little to no hop flavor and no hop aroma.

Mash the grain for 90 minutes at 150°F (65°C). This should give you a good fermentable wort. Boil the wort for 90 minutes. At the 60 minute mark, add your hops.

Ferment the beer at 60°F (15°C) or as close as you can get to 60°F (15°C). Once the fermentation is complete, find a cold place to store the beer for a few weeks. A lagering period will help the beer if you can do it, but don’t sweat it if you can’t.

At bottling, add 1 ¼ cup of light DME that is boiled in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes. If you are kegging, carbonate the beer to 2.5 volumes.

This beer is great for those hot summer days. I’ve even heard it referred to as the “lawnmower ale”. The traditional serving glass for Kölsch is a cylindrical 200 ml glass called a stange (pole). The serving temperature should be cellar temperatures (50°F/10°C).

Editors Note: Today’s article was guest authored by DJ Spiess of The Fermentarium – thanks again to DJ for providing this great piece on Kolsch. If you enjoyed this article, please leave a comment or subscribe for more great articles. Use the BrewPoll button on the right to vote for this article!

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul May 30, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I did this recipe back in Jan 2014. I did a bucket primary for two weeks, then transferred to a 6.5 gallon glass carboy and let her sit in the cellar at between 52-55 degrees for one month. This was an amazing brew. I had friends over and gave some as gifts to fellow beer drinkers and they all loved it. Needless to say it was all gone quickly. Fast forward May-30-2014 I just did another batch this past weekend using Brads Beer smith program to scale it to 12 gallons and they are sitting in plastic buckets at the moment. I will transfer to glass, then another month to mature. Great recipe and an awesome house beer to keep on hand. AlC was 4.8% on my first batch.

Alan Junghans June 6, 2015 at 12:02 pm

I will be using a Schill Kolsch Malt. My LHBS just started carrying it. Sticking with .5 lb Munich.

Cameron Potter June 23, 2015 at 5:36 am

I like how you compared Kölsch to an American Blonde Ale, only with a cleaner finish / mouthfeel. I really agree. In fact, I recently brewed an American blonde and fermented using weihenstephan w-177 Kölsch yeast. The recipe is very similar to what I would normally use for a Kölsch, but the blonde is being fermented at a higher temperature than I ferment Kölsch.

I then plan on comparing my house Kölsch to the blonde. I’m hoping that this will illustrate the difference in mouthfeel / finish between the two styles.

I just posted a new article called The Secret To Excellent Kölsch Recipes which may be useful to some of your readers getting ready to brew a Kölsch:


John A July 3, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Would be nice if the O.G. was posted… thanks for the recipe though. Just brewed this all grain.

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