Brew Master’s Notes: Liquifaction Kölsch Style Ale
Preamble to Seismic’s Brewing Philosophy
At the time of this writing there are more than 7,000 breweries in the United States with another 2,500 expected to open in the next two years. The last two decades have seen an incredible boom of craft brewing prosperity which has gathered momentum and united thousands in the common goal of brewing amazing beer. With that said, it’s now also quite competitive. More than half of the breweries which exist today are less than 3 years old! What this means is that the environment is being flooded with new beers, new ideas, and bold strategies to clamor for attention. Some brewers make world-class beer, others have compelling backstories or enthusiastic teams, and others still are environmentally conscious stewards of their community and planet. Seismic Brewing is one of the rare few that can claim all these attributes. This philosophy is key to standing out among the crowd and staying relevant in an industry of rapid change. Every beer must be a statement and have a purpose, backed by enough quality craftsmanship to ensure it has staying power.
The purpose of these writings is to unveil the creativity behind the beers, the engineering of our state-of-the-art facility, and the incredible team of people that make it all a reality. Over the course of this series, readers will learn more about the key tenets of various Seismic beers and brewing practices, highlighting our ceaseless effort to balance two major aspects of brewing quality beer: tradition and innovation.
We begin with a beautiful and underappreciated style of beer called Kölsch:
Why Kölsch – And What Is It?
To appreciate Kölsch and Kölsch-Style-Ale, we need to have a look at its origins in German tradition, dating back to the early 1600s in a small town called Cologne (or Köln). In that era of brewing, lighter-flavored lagers were just starting to gain in popularity and sweeping the continent. Kölsch, a hybrid style ale with more robust flavor, was being threatened by this new competitor. The people of Cologne dug in their heels and resisted the change to the contemporary trend, proudly backing their beloved Kölsch. In the 20th century, Cologne was nearly lost during World War II as one of the most heavily bombed cities in Germany. Kölsch was very close to extinction, but luckily saw a resurgence after the war and again in the 1980’s when the people of Cologne created a ruling to define and protect the style. The 1986 Kölsch Konvention defined the ingredients and brewing processes of a traditional Kölsch and also dictated that the namesake style could only be produced by breweries proximate to the town of Cologne. This is also why Kölsch brewed in the United States must be called “Kölsch Style Ale” rather than just “Kölsch”.
The hallmark of the Kölsch style is that it somewhat resembles a lager in color and flavor, but is actually an ale (traditionally fermented at higher temperatures). It’s no coincidence that Cologne is one of the warmest cities in Germany, making it the ideal environment to ferment the fruity, estery, malty, and resoundingly unique flavor profile of a classic Kölsch.
With all this heritage in mind, and with respect to the long history of this beautiful style of beer, a brewer must do his or her best to honor the brewing tradition and really do it right. For this reason, Seismic Liquifaction Kölsch Style Ale is brewed with only 100% German malt and German hops. The result is a beer that we’d proudly set in front of any Colognian and I’m confident they’d appreciate our effort to do it justice.
The Importance of Malt
Kölsch is an essay in the balance of sweet round malt, accented by playful fruit esters and bright acidity. Liquifaction is created from a mix of classic Germanic Pilsen malt, Vienna malt, Sauer malt (naturally soured malt), and wheat. These four harmonize to create the bready, biscuity, sourdough flavors that we know and love. Without these elements as a solid foundation, the beer would not shine nearly as bright.
Too often, malt is overlooked or underappreciated, taking a back seat to hops. In the case of Kölsch, malt sits center-stage and cannot be ignored. Historically, each small town in Germany would have its own malthouse, or at least one very close by, meaning that the flavor of the beer was a reflection of the local area. In a way, the beer was a collaboration of Farmer, Maltster, Hop Grower, and Brewer – and very little room for error on anyone’s part.
Normally, Seismic would place extremely high value on sourcing ingredients as locally as possible, but with Liquifaction I decided to make an exception to the rule. With tradition and authenticity in mind, the clear choice was to use a few classic German malts and try to capture the essence of the historical style. The results, I believe, really speak for themselves.
German Hop Growing Trends
Up to this point, we’ve reinforced the point that Kölsch is really about the malt and the yeast profile. Hops play a minor role, but again must be clean and without faults. For generations, hop growers in Germany have produced the same heritage varieties, unchanged for centuries. Modernly, however, a few hop growers have branched out and tried to create interesting new breeds of hops aimed at greater aroma qualities. Following recent trends in American craft brewing, these German hop growers imported Cascade hop rhizomes to hybridize with their own heritage varieties. These new breeds of hops pay homage to their Noble heritage while also incorporating qualities such as citrus, stone fruit, white wine, honeysuckle, and pear. We should all take a moment to appreciate this milestone event. Craft brewing in the US has become successful and influential enough that we’ve made an impact on German (and English) brewing practices as well! This trend has driven the innovation behind some incredible new breeds of hops which are truly special. Such are the hop varieties which I have selected to use in Liquifaction. A blend of three varieties, Ariana, Callista, and Hallertau Blanc are incorporated into the final stage of the brewing process to preserve their delicate qualities.
Hopefully this journey into the history and identity of Kölsch Style Ales has exposed a theme; balance. A good Kölsch (or Kölsch Style Ale) should be compelling and interesting but not distracting or lingering on the palate. It is a natural compliment to a wide variety of food, regardless of cultural origin. It makes a great companion for outdoor activities too. If you’re not the cultural food, outdoor exercise, social type – it’s a pretty solid choice for watching re-runs at home in your underwear. You know, whatever you’re into. I don’t judge.
In all, I hope that this has opened a few eyes to the fascinating and delicious world of Kölsch. I think that Liquifaction is a special beer which honors the spirit of this historic style. Please give it a try!