Although we had a master list that included some of the top rated Kolschbier on Ratebeer.com (and I'm still shocked at how few Kölsch biers in the top 50 that are from Cologne, never mind the argument that thay shouldn't be called Kölsch unless they come form a designated area - see notes below) it was tricky to get them readily, even close to Cologne, so we ended up with five fairly popular brands. With eleven volunteers waiting in the office kitchen, the beers were poured in secrecy and labelled A to E. The tasters were enoucouraged to describe the beers as best they could and to then rate them in order of preference. Simple!
The beers for the tasting, in alphabetical order, were:
In the lovely little coffee table book, 500 Great Beers, the late Michael Jackson described this beer has having "a faint frutiness in aroma; a light but firm, dryly nutty palate; and a crisply flower, hoppy finish".
Our guinea pigs described it as "well balanced"; "bitter, hoppy and fresh; easy to drink"; "no beer flavour"; "light and watery".
I reckoned it had a floral, slight butter aroma with a light graininess and resinous finish. A pleasant drink.
Michael Jackson said this beer was malty "with a pear-brandy frutiness and a late hop dryness".
Survey said: "malty; salty"; "watery"; "a weak aroma, slightly bitter with a short finish"; "weak aroma, not refreshing and not to my taste"; "a touch of marzipan".
I thought it had a slightly grainy aroma with hints of strawberry fruitiness; a bit thin, with a disturbing hint of chlorine. It's all in the finish, which is has a nice, slightly sherbety bitterness.
Described as a "very fragrent, firm bodied Kölsch , smooth and slightly oily, with an orangey fruitiness" by Michael Jackson, the reviewing panel had a different opinion.
They said: "nearly no aroma; bitter finish", "very boring, no freshness, slightly sweet", "sweet and fruity"
I reckoned it had a very faint aroma indeed, perhaps a hint of citrus; slightly malty-sweet with a pine-like note. A drying finish despite the relative sweetness. Not much to it really.
Michael Jackson liked this one. He said it has a "minty, hop aroma; sweet, vanilla-like, malt flavours; and a crisp, dry, cedary finish. A delicious Kölsch ."
The panel said "a really bad aroma, but a bit hoppy. A little bitter in the back of the mouth. Salty and sweet"; "a good flavour, less 'herb'. but nearly like a real beer"; "citric, broad variety of aromas, strongest character", "watery, nicht gut"; "dish water, soft and mild".
I really liked this one, describing it as having a slightly citric, carbonic aroma with a lightly sweet, fruity, apple-like middle ground and a pleasantly tingling, crisp hop finish. Flavourful and refreshing.
MJ said the "beer has a faint strawberry fruitiness of aroma; a creamy malt background; and an elegant balancing dryness of hops".
My colleagues though it was "comparable to D, but not so differentiated in layers of flavours"; "musty aroma, very bad flavour"; "good strong aroma, 'herb' and fruity flavour"; "bitter and refreshing, a good summer beer"; "it stinks! Somewhat bitter, but not a good beer".
I could understand the comment that it stank, as I got quite a farmyard-like aroma; manure with a little citrus twist. A lightly fruity flavour, I liked the spicy notes tht sat on a reasonably malty body. Not much bitterness to speak of, but a dry, spicy finish.
So, can you guess what was what from the descriptions? While you thnk about it, here is the overall rating:
In 1st place came D, with 6 first preferences, and despite 3 votes for least preferred. A came 2nd with only 2 first preferences, but a strong showing of 4 for second preference and 2 each for third and fourth preference. E came 3rd, with only one first preference but an equally strong showing as A for second preference. It also received 2 votes for least preferred. B came 4th with one first preference, but a solid showing of 4 votes each for third and fourth preference. It only received 1 vote for least preferred. Finally, C came 5th, with one vote for 1st preference, but 4 for least preferred.
In terms of numerical scores, D and A were very close really, with only a 0.1 score differential. But which beers were they?
- 1st place was D - Reissdorf
- 2nd place was A - Gaffel
- 3rd place was E - Früh
- 4th place was B - Sion
- 5th place was C - Sester
- Sion €0.69
- Reisdorfer €0.68
- Früh €0.66
- Gaffel €0.61
- Sester €0.47
Special thanks to Henning for seeking out Kölsch for the tasting!
Kölsch has the status of a Protected Geographical Indication (not a Protected Designation of Origin as the Wikipedia article on Kölsch suggests), meaning it is a product closely linked to a geographical area within which at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation takes place. So far this is the only German beer published with this designation, but there's a list of other beers registered in the database. If you are interested you can view the application documents for the beers, many of which make interesting reading simply in terms of how the applicants define their product. Interestingly, Rutland Bitter (Ruddles) and Kentish Ale (Sheperd Neame) are the only two registrations from the UK. The rest of the registrations for PGI status are from the Czech Republic.