Brewing a Kolsch Beer Recipe: Beer Styles

by Deege on April 5, 2008 · 56 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.

History

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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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Smith April 7, 2008 at 7:26 pm

DJ – Another great article. I bought the ingredients for a Kolsch recently, and I’m looking forward to brewing it. This will come in handy!

DJ @ Fermentarium April 8, 2008 at 6:44 am

Thanks! I’ve got 15 gal fermenting myself. Made it on Sunday, and I can’t wait to start drinking it!

Chad April 23, 2008 at 6:34 pm

It should be noted that Kolsch yeast is, well, messy. A blowoff tube is highly recommended unless you like painting your walls with krausen. It is also a very low flocculation yeast. It takes a while for the beer to clear — yet another reason for extended maturation or pseudo-lagering. It makes a huge difference in the clarity of the beer.

cleveland brewer October 21, 2008 at 12:42 pm

I brewed this recipe and it came out outstanding.
The hardest thing about the recipe is the lager time!

Norberto January 20, 2009 at 7:11 am

Hi, I just wanted to know what is the batch size (Q) for these ingredients.

Brad Smith January 20, 2009 at 9:00 am

It is based on a 5 gallon batch size — Brad

Cowboy Up January 21, 2009 at 9:14 am

I am going to brew this beer soon. Did you use a secondary fermentation or single? I will also be using Tettnager for the hops and Safale German Ale dry yeast. Should I use 2 pks. of Yeast? Thanks for the article and the help. Cowboy Up!

Brad Smith January 21, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Hi – Yes I do use a secondary fermentation. One package of dry yeast is sufficient if you hydrate it properly before using it. — Brad

boydna February 2, 2009 at 1:09 pm

A 90 minute mash? Is that a typo?

Brad Smith February 2, 2009 at 4:24 pm

No,
When mashing at low temperatures (148-150F) you do need to use longer mash times to achieve full conversion. You can either go with a longer mash, or perform an iodine test periodically to make sure you get full conversion.

Brad

Martin February 6, 2009 at 3:39 am

Great article. I like too much good beer from Europe.

Regards

citabria February 6, 2009 at 1:22 pm

For the extract recipe, isn’t it 8 lbs of pilsner LME and .25 lbs of Munich MALT?

Brad Smith February 6, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Yes, that sounds about right.

First Stater February 23, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Isn’t this a bit strong for a Kolsch? I have it somewhere north of 5.8 ABV, hardly the session strength typical of a Kolsch. I usually use around 8 pounds of Pilsen. I’ve also have seen many recipes adding a bit of wheat for head retention, something I normally do for a Kolsch. Regardless, a great beer and thanks for giving it some respect.

Fred June 30, 2009 at 9:32 am

I have a question on Mash time. When you only want to make a 2 gal bach of beer, is the mash time and hops time shortened by a factor of 5? The Kolsch recipe calls for a finished volume of 5 gals. I only want to brew 2 gals but don’t know if I should use the 90 min mash time or should use 30 min since my volume is only 2 gal. As you can tell, I’m new at this. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

Brad Smith June 30, 2009 at 5:02 pm

For a small batch I would probably do a iodine test to check it. Get a little bit of liquid iodine (from the pharmacy) or iodophor and put a few drops on a small sample of the clear liquid from your mash. If the liquid turn dark purple it is not ready yet. If it is relatively clear when you add the iodine then it is ready to go and you can proceed with lautering.

Chris July 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm

I have a question about water to grist ratio. Are you using the standard 1.5 quarts to a pound of grain.

DJ @ Fermentarium July 30, 2009 at 6:27 am

I use 1.2 quarts/pound, but yours may vary for your brewing system.

Chris August 2, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Thanks DJ, Just brewed this on Saturday. I didn’t worry to much about the ratio. I just added strike water until I was about an inch of water above the grain bed. Turned out to be about 4 gallons for the 10.5 pounds of grain. I batch sparged and got over 70% efficiency.

My Kolsch is fermenting right now and I look forward to drinking it. Thanks for the great article and recipe.

keithshead August 7, 2009 at 7:16 pm

Just ordered the kolsch yeast and spalt hops, but i want to do a partial mash. What would the amounts be for a partial mash of 5gallons?
Cheers

admin August 7, 2009 at 7:39 pm

keithshead – It will be hard to brew an exact Kolsch with partial mash as it is difficult to find ultra-pale liquid or dry malt. Unfortunately the process of creating malted extract also darkens the malt since you have to concentrate or dry out the wort with heat. I would look for the palest base malt you can find and then use some very pale malt in your mashed portion as well.

chrismcnally November 2, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Great article! I am going to brew this next week.

I don’t understand how i know the fermenting is done. what should I expect for a FG, OG or how long to keep in primary and secondary? When I condition the beer, at what temp should I keep it, same as the ferment temp 60 degrees? then the lagering, I usually cold condition in the fridge, is that OK?

Thanks very much for this article there are a lot of us who want to brew this kind of beer.

Brad Smith November 2, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Fermentation is done when the measured FG has not changed for several days and also when you see no more signs of active fermentation (such as bubbling). When cold conditioning your beer it is best to use a fridge with an electronic brewing thermometer attached as regular fridges actually don’t have very precise temperature control. Temperatures can vary considerably.

chrismcnally February 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I brewed this beer and I think it’s very ‘budweiser’ like. Hopefully others will do better. here are my notes:

i fermented at 64. we had some nice days and I could not get it down to 60.

My yeast started smelled like banana peels! All the banana was gone in the final tasting though.

OG 1.050 FG 1.010

fermented for about 3 weeks, 64 to start, eventually down to 60, then letting it cold crash near the end.

The bottle carbonation is taking a long time, I had some out for 18 days carbonating and then in the fridge for 2 weeks. They taste pretty good. I am giving them to my Lager loving friends.

Samantha May 22, 2010 at 8:08 am

Women like it too? really? I mean really? Come on!

admin May 22, 2010 at 8:17 am

Um – I’ll let DJ answer that one since it was his post.

DJ May 24, 2010 at 6:41 am

Yep. That was an unintended sexist remark, and probably could have been worded better. I apologize.

I guess what I was trying to get at is, it’s a very popular beer with the women in my neighborhood who often stay away from the darker or hoppier beers. It does not mean all women do not like darker or hoppier beers, but in general I’ve found this to be the case.

Big B October 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm

what type of yeast did you use?

DJ @ Fermentarium October 4, 2010 at 5:27 am

I almost always use White Labs, so used White Labs WLP029 German Ale/ Kölsch.

frank Koelsch December 28, 2010 at 2:48 pm

My name is Frank Koelsch—as you see it is the english version.
I have drank about three varieties of Kolsch beer. I am interested it brewing some form of Kolsch beer. I would like some advice on a starter brew and where to get the ingredients.

By the way my family came from the Koln area, as I understand.

Brad Smith December 29, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Thanks Frank – It is not that difficult to brew if you brew all grain. You need the right yeast, and very pale malt, but the rest is straightforward. It is more difficult to do with extract as it is impossible to find extract that is truly light enough in color to duplicate a proper one. The extract process makes the malt too dark.

RJ January 28, 2011 at 4:51 am

I’ll be making this this weekend. Assuming I ferment at 60F and can lager at 50F, what temp should I bottle carbonate at? I normally do room temp. Our house is 68 during the day and gets down to 62 at night. My basement fluctuates between 57 and 63 this time of year.

Dan Carpenter February 26, 2011 at 4:57 am

Getting ready to brew a Kolsch in about 2hours but i have made a great deal of changes.
I use 2row lager as my base and add carapils and munich with a pound of maize with a in fusion mash of 152degrees for 1hour and use Hallertauer, Saaz and Tettnanger.
The three batches i’ve made have turned out to be very close to Goose Islands kolsch.
Its my dads favorite beer that i make so i try to make one every spring for him.

Tory April 29, 2011 at 8:06 pm

With the lower fermentation temp (60F) should there be a Diacetyl Rest between Primary and Conditioning? If so how high should the temp be, and how long for the Rest?

Uncle X May 12, 2011 at 5:15 am

At 60°F I’m not sure any diacetyl rest is necessary. In fact, there are a lot of people who only bring their lagers up to 60°F for their diacetyl rest (I usually try to get mine up to about 68°-70°F). That said, I don’t see any harm in allowing a rest for a couple of days, just make sure you do it before racking to secondary. On another note, I saw several suggestions that people perform iodine tests to determine whether a mash conversion was complete or not. I recently participated in an experiment put together by BYO magazine and Basic Brewing Radio that tested iodine tests. The results seem to indicate that an iodine test shouldn’t be relied upon to determine if the mash is finished. A positive iodine test will show that your mash is not finished, but a negative test does not necessarily mean that the mash is finished. If you haven’t heard it, you should check out the podcast from March 3, 2011 here: http://www.basicbrewing.com/index.php?page=radio

MFT September 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm

So here is a real rookie question. At bottling do I still need to add corn sugar to prime?

Many thanks for any advice you can offer.

Brad Smith September 6, 2011 at 12:09 am

Yes you do!

Brad

Josh September 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Can you clarify how many minutes in you add the hops to the boil? Is it after 30 and boil for 60 minutes or after 60 (“at the 60 minute Mark”) and boil for 30? Also, any recommended sites for lagering in the average household? A well explained approach to Kolsch, I look forward to trying it out!

Brad Smith September 15, 2011 at 9:25 am

Hi,
I believe you add the hops with 60 minutes left to boil (i.e. boil the hops for 60 minutes). For proper laagering you really need a refrigerator or converted freezer with a temperature control to maintain proper fermentation temperatures. Used refrigerators or freezers work well – and they usually do not cost much.

Brad

brett October 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm

you have it backwards. You will boil for 60 minutes before adding the hops. And I quote “Boil the wort for 90 minutes. At the 60 minute mark, add your hops.”

Remember, this is a very distinctive beer with little or no hops flavor. If you add the hops at 30 minutes in a 90 minute boil.. you will kill it. Well, at least as far as what a good kolsch is aiming for.

I have made a few batches of this with several recipes and it is one of my favs. This recipe is next on my list.. oh and by the way, a bit of wheat for head retention and at least 2 weeks “secondary” or “lagering” time definately makes the difference. Hope this helps! Cheers! Bdd

soup67 November 4, 2011 at 11:16 am

brett– if the hops are being added at the 60 minute mark, they boil for 60 minutes. FWIW, boiling them for only 30 mins puts this beer at the bottom of the style range in bitterness; 60 mins right in the middle.

I agree with First Stater– you could do with a pound less base grain and bring this beer in at around 5% ABV.

Nice recipe otherwise– thanks.

Adam December 31, 2011 at 12:59 am

The light DME added at bottling is for priming right? Is light DME the same as corn sugar? I saw one of the posters ask this question and I’m not sure why you would prime with both. What am I missing?

Jason January 6, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Brett — I just brought a keg of this recipe to a holiday party. First kolsch I’ve made. People liked it, and the 5 gallons were gone by the end of the evening.

One question: The only criticism I have is the beer came out amber in color. Most kolsch’s I’ve had were very light in color…I did use irish moss as a clearing agent, but is there something else you’d recommend for making the beer lighter in color? A different base malt perhaps?

Thanks,
J

Brad Smith January 10, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Jason – You have to use very pale (lager or pilsner) malt and brew it all grain to get an authentic light color.

Mike G May 4, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Hoping someone can help with a question or two. I brewed a Kolsch about 12 days ago. Been fermenting (luckily with blow-off tube attached…it IS messy yeast!) in the primary at approx 60-62 degrees in my crawl space. When I check out the carboy I can still see yeast falling. The blow-off tube is producing a bubble approx once every 17-18 seconds. Because of how messy the yeast/krausen was, everything above the beer level is “painted” inside and I cannot see the top of the beer to see how much the krausen has settled/disappeared. I’ve normally moved beers to secondary when the bubbling is closer to once every 60-90 seconds, but in past beers that’s only taken about a week or so to accomplish.

Sooo….Should I move this to secondary? Also, do I need to take it out of the crawl space a day or so before racking to secondary so anything I stir up while moving the carboy high enough to siphon has a chance to settle again?

Thanks for any help!

Darren G May 12, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Mike G I am wondering the same thing. I brewed on Sun 5-6 with an OG of 1.048 and today 5-12 the gravity is at 1.006 @ 67 deg. I still have a big bubble evry 11 seconds in the airlock. I’m wondering if I go too low with the FG if it will be too “thin” or too dry. Do I stop fermentation by cold crashing in primary or rack to secondary and cold crash? thanks for any help.

jim. May 14, 2012 at 8:48 am

Evenin’, is this a 5 gallon boil ?? thanks, Jim

Check your facts January 5, 2013 at 9:57 am

Another article poorly researched. Kolsch is NOT , repeat NOT an ale.Germans do not call their beers ales.And never have done. That appelation has been thrust on them by poorly informed American homebrewers who think that ale is simply a top fermented beer.Ale is one family of brewing and Kolsch comes from another. Legally it’s defined as “obergäriges lagerbier”
It does NOT obey the Reinheitsgebot , it was specifically invented to bypass it.The Reinheitsgebot only applies to bottom fermented beer and when this law was extended to the whole of Germany in the early 1900s the brewers in Koln were forbiddeen to use some of the ingredients they had traditionally used.They overcame this by switching their yeast to a top fermenting variety-a Kolsch yeast NOT an ale yeast by the way- but cool fermenting and-here’s the clue-lagering it.It isn’t an ancient brew at all, but as Kolsch simply means “From Koln” the name will of course have been used to describe any of the local products.
A plea to beer wtiters-do not simply “cut and paste” what you find.Look for articles which provide contemporary references and sources.Check that what you say is based on facts and not on what somebody else ays or writes.

Katherine January 27, 2013 at 8:14 pm

My husband is the brewer in our family and bless his heart, he agreed to brew me a chammomile kolsch if I could find a recipe. A local brewery had some and I have never had a beer that I enjoyed so much. My problem is that I cannot find a recipe that states when or where to add the chammomile–any suggestions? Thank you so much for any help you can offer!

Jenna July 12, 2013 at 2:22 pm

@Katherine-Not sure if you ever got your answer but you typically add flavors such as chammomile after the fementation is complete and you have transferred to a secondary. Depending on what you’re using for the flavoring you can just drop it right in your secondary and let it sit for another couple weeks and then bottle/keg.

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