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November 29, 2018

Germany: Cologne, Kölsch Beer

Filed under: beer, Europe, Germany, Photography, Travel, Travel, Writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — anotherheader @ 12:34 am

Kölsch beer

Though wine grapes are grown on the slopes of the Rhine River valley nearby, Cologne is mostly a beer-drinking town. At the start of World War II Cologne had more than forty breweries; the devastation of the war left only two. After the war many breweries reestablished themselves. Many produce Kölsch beer, the specialty of the city.

Kölsch brewing is a bit unusual. The beer is production by an initial warm fermentation with ale yeast followed by conditioning at cold temperatures like a lager. The result is a bit like a lighter version of a common Pilsner-style beer. Served freshly out of kegs, as it is in Cologne, Kölsch is a thirst-quenching beer perfect for drinking outside on a warm day.

A Köbe brings a partially deplete Kranz of Kölsch to the table.

Marking the coaster

Drinking Kölsch in Cologne comes with its own traditions.

If two people sit at a table at a brauhaus the waiter, a “Köbe”, comes over and asks, “Zwei Kölsch?” There are other beer options available; wine and food can be ordered. But the first business is ordering Kölsch. It is assumed that if you are in Cologne you are going to drink Kölsch.

When the Köbe comes back to the table he carries a specialized holder, a “Kranz”. In contrast to Munich where the beer is preferentially served in one-liter mugs or maß, Kölsch is served in a much smaller 200 mL Stange. Each Stange of beer costs between €1.80 and €2.00 at a center of the city brauhaus. Twelve Stangen fit perfectly in a ring in the Kranz and are easily carried to the table by the Köbe.

As you are served a Kölsch the Köbe makes a tick mark on a coaster left at the table to keep track of how many beers you’ve had. The beers are small by intent but it is not to limit consumption. It is assumed that you are not just having one or two: You sat down to have several. For what other reason would you come to a brauhaus in Cologne?

The storks are part of the minority that doesn’t drink Kölsch in Cologne.

At the table, when your glass is empty the Köbe will typically exchange it with a full stange without asking. It is only when a customer places their coaster on the top of the glass that the flow of replacement beers ends. Overall the process is systematic and efficient. It’s very German that way.

Behind the scenes a brauhaus in Cologne is a well-oiled machine. There’s a dedicated operation keeping the beer flowing. The waiters stand in a queue for their next load as Kölsch from a continuously flowing tap fills rows of stangen. Even served 200 mL at a time, it all adds up to a lot of beer. In the morning the streets are lined with piles of large empty kegs waiting to be picked up for return to the brewery. In Cologne and elsewhere, Germans drink a lot of beer. And the visitors do their best to help out.

The coaster on top of the glass tells the server to not replace the empty glass with a new one.

The brew halls also serve hearty traditional food. It’s just like your grandmother used to make, if your grandmother happens to be German and cooks really well. The fare goes well with the Kölsch. But that’s hardly a surprise in Cologne, is it?


We drank beer in Cologne in October of 2017.

Tallying up the bill


1 Comment »

  1. Kölsch blurs the line between ales and lagers. It is one of my favorite every day beverage beers.

    Comment by Bob — November 29, 2018 @ 1:52 am

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