Hale’s Ales is a brewery out of Seattle, WA. I’ve noticed their kölsch the last few times I’ve been at Lukas Liquors so I finally bit the bullet and bought a 6-pack recently. I’d never had a kölsch style beer until about two years ago (what has since become New Holland Brewing Company’s Lucid), and I remember asking the bartender there, “Is this a fruit beer?” and he replied, “No. I think it tastes like Bud. That stuff sucks.” Not a very glowing review, although I disagreed with him and thought it was a great beer. After that I started seeing kölsch on the shelves and as seasonals all over the place, so I learned a little more about the style and realized I wasn’t too far off when I asked whether it had fruit in it or not.
Kölsch is a once-obscure style of beer that was produced exclusively by breweries in the Cologne, Germany region. They’re ales that are lagered. In other words, they are fermented at cooler temperatures, just like a lager would be, which results in their characteristic flavor profile. Kölsch beers tend to be light, low in alcohol, moderately carbonated, and in many ways like a pilsener, but less bitter. This makes them a veritable German session beer, with all the hallmarks of a refreshing warm weather drinker.
Because of the lagering process, the flavors that are produced by the yeast during fermentation are muted. Many of the compounds that ale yeast produce to create the myriad of flavors they’re known for are not produced at lower temperatures, so despite being an ale kölsch beers are very clean and simple. They do tend to have what most people describe as a “vinious” quality, reminiscent of green grapes. This is the fruit note I tasted when I had my first kölsch, and they all do seem to have that subtle flavor to one degree or another.
The Hale’s Ales example of kölsch is a pretty good beer, but it hasn’t knocked my socks off. It pours a cloudy orange color, not unlike some witbiers, with a relatively small head. Subtle aroma is reminiscent of a pils and I didn’t get much from it. The Hale’s kölsch has a very slight grape flavor, hard to pick out and maybe impossible if you didn’t know it was supposed to be there. The bottles I’ve had have been pretty carbonated, so this is a refreshing, prickly beer on the palate. Because it is such a muted, simple beer I can’t really say much about it, but that’s not uncommon for kölsch beers… they’re supposed to be something to enjoy without having to spend to much time thinking about it, and I think Hale’s accomplishes this nicely.