This is a pretty mild brew and as such it's actually very difficult to make. Without big flavors, you can't easily hide flaws. But the mildness is also what makes it a perfect summer beer. It's refreshing and tinged with a hint of hops -- sometimes more than you might expect, depending on the brewer -- and given to subtle citrus flavors. While it's taken some time to catch on, you can find several fabulous Kölsch-style brews domestically. Which ones should you drink this summer? I have a few recommendations...
Schlafly Kölsch-style Ale
Schlafly, Saint Louis, Missouri
Brewery co-founder, Tom Schlafly is married to Ulrike, a native of Köln. Obviously Ulrike knows Kölsch so this isn't any ordinary Kölsch variation -- it's about as genuine as you can get. Schlafly connected with Gaffel, a brewery in Köln which had been crafting Kölsch for over a century, to fine-tune their own recipe. The result is refreshing and delicious. The aroma reveals a little hoppy bitterness but it's not as noticeable in the flavor. Subtle fruit meets crisp, mineral flavor and the finish is very clean.
Golden Road Brewing, Los Angeles, California
The City of Angels is not typically known for producing high-quality craft beer -- even though the rest of California seem to have it covered (San Diego and San Francisco are brimming with amazing craft breweries). That said, since Golden Road opened in 2011, that hasn't been the case. The largest craft brewery in the city, Angeleno beer lovers have been drinking up their brews. Cabrillo is the result of the brewery's quest to make the perfect summery brew. Their version starts with that clean, fresh backbone but the addition of specially chosen ingredients add a slight peppery hint along with a touch of citrus.
Captain Lawrence Brewing Co., Elmsford, New York
Captain Lawrence was one of the early adopters of Kölsch style in America. It was certainly one of the first that I tried aside from Gaffel. The brewery had been concentrating on brewing ales but the Kölsch was the first beer they made that's not exactly considered an ale. The Captain's variation has only a very mild hop bitterness but the rich malt flavors balance it perfectly. The crispness you'd expect from a Kölsch is certainly there as well, making this a refreshing option. (Especially considering how hot it's been in New York this summer!)
Occidental Brewing, Portland, Oregon
Portland is home to some of the most creative and delicious beers in the country. Occidental is among the breweries producing said beers. They say they're producing traditional brews in the "continental tradition" but I think it's safe to say that they're not particularly tied down by that tradition. And that's a good thing! What they brew as a Kölsch errs more on the side of lager than ale. It's a bit malty, with a mild bready quality to it. But thanks to a touch of hops, there's also some earthy and grassy notes grounding the flavor. It's a nice complexity for a subtle brew.
Endless River Kölsch
Mother Earth Brewing, Kinston, North Carolina
An eco-conscious brewery, Mother Earth is dedicated to garden-grown ingredients and amazing beer. Stephen Hill and Trent Mooring, the founders of the brewery, are also organic farmers who were driven to combine great flavors in beer. That probably accounts for their incredible portfolio of beers. A favorite beer style of Mother Earth's brewmaster, Josh Brewer, the Kölsch-style from this brewery is made from natural ingredients and features floral notes alongside a bready and grainy flavors. The fresh, mineral finish on the end adds to the overall refreshment.