German Kolsch and How to Brew It

Overview

Our next favorite summer beer style is the German Kolsch. The German Kolsch is well known for being a delicious, delicate beer. It is very light in color and malt character with a dry, crisp finish. The BJCP guidelines are listed below.

  • Original Gravity: 1.042 – 1.048
  • Final Gravity: 1.006 – 1.010
  • Alcohol by Volume: 4.8% – 5.3%
  • Bitterness: 22 – 30 IBU
  • Color (SRM): 3 – 6

German Kolsch Ingredients

Malt

Since the German Kolsch is known for being light and crisp, I would recommend keeping it simple and using a German Pilsner malt as the bulk of your grain bill. You can add some Munich malt to add to the mouthfeel and malty flavor, Vienna malt to increase body and fullness, and Carapils malt to enhance the mouthfeel and head retention without adding any color. I would caution against much else. Some brewers use a small amount of wheat for mouthfeel and head retention, but purists scoff at it.

Hops

The hops for a German Kolsch are pretty standard with any German Noble hop working well. These include Hallertau, Spalt, Tettnang, and Saaz. If you don’t have any of these available, Mt. Hood, Liberty, or Vanguard can work. The perceived hop aroma and flavor should be low, so I would strongly caution against citrusy hop styles. The German Kolsch is not known for being a bitter beer, so don’t go overboard on the bittering hop addition.

Yeast

For the German Kolsch, you want a yeast that has a clean, dry finish. Some of our favorite strains for this style are below

  • Kolsch – 2565 (Wyeast)
    • This yeast is a top cropping strain from a brewery in Cologne, Germany. This strain will produce a clean, lager-like character and produces low to no detectable levels of diacetyl.
  • German/Kolsch Ale Yeast – WLP029
    • This strain produces clean flavors and accentuates hop bitterness while creating crisp, clean lager-like characteristics.

Water

Last but not least, the water. For all beers we brew, we use a reverse osmosis filtration system and build up our water profile from scratch. Our water profile is below.

  • Calcium: 50 ppm
  • Sodium: 5 ppm
  • Sulfates: 75 ppm
  • Chloride: 60 ppm

Recipe

The following is a 5-gallon version of a sample German Kolsch. As with all of my beer recipes, none of the numbers (listed below) are too extreme one way or the other.

  • Original Gravity: 1.048
  • Final Gravity: 1.006 – 1.010
  • Alcohol by Volume: 4.7%
  • Bitterness: 23.6 IBU
  • Color (SRM): 3.8

Grain Bill

  • German Pilsner – 7 lbs 6 oz (81.9%)
  • Vienna – 10 oz (6.9%)
  • Munich – 8 oz (5.6%)
  • Carapils/Dextrine – 8 oz (5.6%)

The majority of the grain bill, as mentioned above, is German Pilsner. For this recipe, I added Vienna and Munich malts to help with mouthfeel, body, and a slightly bready character. I chose to add the Carapils/Dextrine to further improve head retention and mouthfeel.

Hops

Bittering

  • 1.15 oz of Tettnang at 60 minutes (18.3 IBU)

Flavor/Aroma

  • 0.5 oz of Saaz at 15 minutes (3.3 IBU)
  • 0.75 oz of Saaz at 5 minutes (2.0 IBU)

Yeast

German/Kolsch Ale Yeast – WLP029

Mash

I actually like the way adding Calcium Chloride and Calcium Sulfate (gypsum) at a 1/0.25 ratio tastes, but feel free to add the salts to your preference. Add enough acid, if needed, to get mash pH to 5.4. I use 10% phosphoric acid. Traditionally, the Kolsch is brewed as a decoction or step mash, but I have found that simply mashing at 149 degrees Fahrenheit works great. Have your strike water at the required volume and temperature for your system to have the mash drop to 149 degrees. For me, it is 2.8 gallons at 161 degrees. Mash for 75 minutes at this temperature and proceed to mash out. Sparge with 5.0 gallons of water. Pre-boil gravity should be around 1.042.

Boil

For this style of beer in particular, it is important to really boil the wort. Beers with a grain bill of primarily pilsner grain have a higher risk of having DMS in the beer. This, however, is easily prevented by having a vigorous boil and a healthy fermentation. Boil the wort for 90 minutes and add the hops in at the given times. At 10 minutes, I added yeast nutrients and at 5 minutes I added whirlfloc tablets as my clarifying agent. Once the boil is complete, whirlpool the wort for 10 minutes and then let it wind down for 10 minutes.

Fermentation

Knock the wort out in your heat exchanger so that the pitching temperature is 64 degrees and then measure the gravity/pitch the yeast. Initial gravity should be around 1.048. I let this free rise to 67 degrees as fermentation starts. Hold the temperature at 67 degrees for 5-7 days until the primary fermentation is complete, and then let the temperature free-rise up to 72 degrees to really finish off fermentation. Once your fermentation is fully complete, cold crash to 33 degrees for at least a day and then transfer to the brite tank to carbonate it to 2.6 vols. After 3 days in the brite tank, keg it, and enjoy it during the (hopefully) last few miserably hot weeks of the summer!

If you decide to try this recipe, or another German Kolsch recipe, feel free to send us a comment and let us know how it went! And if you want to see more recipes like this, sign up for our newsletter below to be notified when a new post is released. Cheers!

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