As we usher in the unofficial start to a new season, and green-light drinking those fall favorites, we thought we would bid farewell to summer with a good ‘ol fashioned showdown between one of our favorite summer beer styles from a few of our favorite Midwest craft brewers.
We rounded up four different Kölsch’s from four different breweries who’s beers are generally accessible in the Midwest, depending on where you live. While three of the four were brewed true to style, all were unique in their own right – particularly the offering out of Marshall, MI.
Our four contestants; Metropolitan Krankshaft Kölsch (Illinois), Schlafly Kölsch (Missouri), Short’s Kölsch 45 (Michigan) and Dark Horse Kmita Kölsch (Michigan). We paired the Kölsch’s with hot Italian sausage and burgers covered in pepper jack cheese, just for good measure.
Now, before we get into the beers, let’s define a Kölsch so we have a base for this faceoff. For that, we turn to Beer Advocate:
“First only brewed in Köln, Germany, now many American brewpubs and a hand full of breweries have created their own version of this obscure style. Light to medium in body with a very pale color, hop bitterness is medium to slightly assertive. A somewhat vinous (grape-y from malts) and dry flavor make up the rest.”
And now, the Kolsch-off:
Dark Horse Kmita Kölsch: While this may be technically, in some parallel universe or Bizarro world, be considered a Kölsch, it’s clear that like the song says, one of these things is not like the other.
This is the darkest damn Kölsch I’ve ever seen, and most definitely a Dark Horse brew. And it’s not a bad beer at all – reddish-brown in color, surprisingly bitter but drinks smooth as hell. It’s got a sticky feel to it with caramel and Dr. Pepper flavors popping up and saying hello amidst all the malt. I award bonus points for a bitchin’ label and the only one I’ve ever seen to have another company’s beer (Black Label) on it. Points deducted for liberal use of the word Kölsch.
Karl’s Ranking: N/A.
Schlafly Kölsch: An inoffensive porch beer, the Schlafly version of a Kölsch is clean and golden and bright like a Kölsch oughtta be, but this one brings some interesting biscuity-yeast flavors on the finish and some refreshing banana tastes to it as well. It doesn’t linger longer than it needs to: as soon as this beer clears the palate it just clean disappears.
Karl’s Ranking: #3
Short’s Kölsch 45: Now we’re getting to the fun stuff. For starters, any beer company willing and clever enough to make reference to Colt 45 and a line of latitude in the same beer label is a beer company for me. If they’re thinking that deeply about the name, it bodes well for the beer within.
Clear and also golden, my notes read “I could drink this forever” and it’s likely one could – it’s what a pure beer should taste like. Without looking at the grain bill, I’d predict that nothing more than water, barley, yeast and hops went into this brew because it just tastes so refined and pure. That doesn’t mean it’s lightly flavored – it’s hearty and the body develops a little more heft as it warms.
Hey, Shorts – if you really want to go crazy, why not follow through on the malt liquor promise and brew a double version of this one? If anyone could make a high-gravity malt Kölsch liquor, you guys could.
Karl’s Ranking: #2
Metropolitan Krankshaft: Call me a homer. Call me a locals first kinda guy. Call me true to one of my neighborhood brewers. None of that matters because I’d still pick the Metro Krankshaft as my favorite of this lineup for one reason: because it’s the best.
Definitely the most carbonated and sparkling, its unfiltered, creamy, flavor-forward, floral, fruity, wild yet with an awesome apple juice finish. Drink this one a little slower on your lawnmower, this one deserves and extra minute or two. Sure, I said I could drink the Shorts forever, but if could only pick one, it’d be this.
Karl’s Ranking #1
Dark Horse Kmita Kölsch: You know what I love about Dark Horse? They usually don’t give an F about beer styles. I don’t mean that in a bad way. On the contrary, I respect and really enjoy the vast majority of their beers because there is a little something extra to each beer they brew. It’s bigger, bolder, sometimes angrier – it’s…a Dark Horse beer.
But a Kölsch is something I want to be true to style. I don’t want a bold beer when I am drinking a Kölsch. I want something soft and sweet and light and crisp. And the Kmita is none of those things.
Creamy, malty with loads of caramel and a light hop finish; if this were an amber ale it would rival the likes of Great Lakes Elliot Ness (a personal favorite). But it’s not. It’s a Kölsch. So for the sake of our faceoff this was my least favorite. However, call this the Kmita Amber, and I’m on board.
Ryan’s Ranking #4
Short’s Kölsch 45: Fragrant, floral, crisp and clean – now this is how a Kölsch should taste.The only knock to this one, and it’s a minor one, is that the slightly bitter aftertaste lingers a bit to long. Overall, though, this is a spot-on version of the style.
The bottle reads, “Historical German style Ale with a Northern Michigan twist,” if that twist is awesomeness – then Short’s nailed it. So why number three then? Well, it wasn’t that Short’s Kölsch was that bad but that the other two were just a little bit better.
Ryan’s Ranking #3
Schlafly Kölsch: Maybe it was the sparkling carbonation? Or the creamier, thicker body? Or maybe it’s because this one is just a little different? Whatever the reason, Schlafly’s Kölsch gets the edge over the Kölsch 45.
A super-sweet nose gives way to a beer with a bit of heft and a creamy body that retains the flavor-profile that makes a Kölsch so drinkable. Sweet and a tad yeasty, the Schlafly Kölsch finishes dry and a little bitter, forcing you to happily go back for another sip.
Ryan’s Ranking #2
Metropolitan Krankshaft: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; you’ll have to go to Munich to find better brewed German lagers. And in Metro’s stable of true-to-style German beers Krankshaft is the stallion.
Touches of citrus and acidity in the nose. Lemon rind, orange peel, a bit of apple skins on the palate with the slightest twinge of funk on the finish brought together by vibrant carbonation.
Dry. Crisp. Clean. Perfect.
Ryan’s Ranking #1
Dark Horse Kmita Kölsch: Quite frankly, this is not a Kölsch. Call it a brown ale, or an amber ale, but this is certainly not a Kölsch. It’s REALLY dark, caramel-y sweet with some nuttiness and a touch of non-bitter hops (this might be the only Kölsch-like characteristic in the beer…)
Andrew’s Ranking: DQ’d
Short’s Kölsch 45: Now we’re talking, a real Kölsch. This was a floral-y sweet, bright, crisp and really smooth beer, much lighter than the Dark Horse with a more traditional yellow but cloudy hue to it.
Andrew’s Ranking: #3
Schlafly Kölsch: Moving right along to Schlafly’s offering – I liked the sharpness of the hops in this one, something that was lacking a bit in the Short’s. I also noticed the heavy malts in this, giving it bit of a biscuit-y taste and smell.
It’s perfectly crystal clear and the carbonation level was extremely pleasing.
Andrew’s Ranking: #2
Metropolitan Krankshaft: The clear winner this day, and by far the lightest of the four beers.
It’s incredibly clean and smooth with hints of citrus, finishes dry with a touch of…apple cider?
Winner, winner chicken dinner.
Andrew’s Ranking: #1
(Editor’s Note:) There you have it; Metropolitan’s Krankshaft is the clear winner of our Kölsch-off. And, while we dug the label and enjoyed the Dark Horse Kmita Kölsch, we liked it better as an amber ale or a brown ale. But really, what’s in a name anyway? Frankly, you can’t go wrong with any of the above. But drink up, we only have a few days left to finish off the lawnmower beers to make way for the Marzen’s, Pumpkin beers and Scotch Ale’s of fall.