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Kölsch: Öh, You’ll Have Another

Far from ordinary, the unassuming Kölsch is a unique beer with its own history and an identity firmly rooted in its city and rituals. Jeff Alworth has the story, with a fresh glass and a tick for your deckel.

Jeff Alworth Sep 5, 2021 - 9 min read

Kölsch: Öh, You’ll Have Another Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves/

Beers that resemble mass-market lagers don’t typically thrill adventurous beer aficionados. They tend to prefer exotica—the further from Bud Light, the better. This is why the humble Kölsch, named after its hometown, is so often overlooked. Yet few styles are more interesting historically and culturally than Kölsch—and even in formulation and profile, it’s a far more interesting beer than the first sip might suggest.

As a tease, let me point out how well altbier—the hometown beer of native Düsseldorf, just 25 miles up the Rhine—is accepted in Köln: not at all.

“We don’t say the name of that town here,” a smiling Kölnisch brewer told me. The opposite is also true: Kölsch is native to Köln (or Cologne), but good luck finding it on tap in Düsseldorf. It’s as odd as it sounds: Imagine if a beer style were omnipresent in Baltimore but couldn’t be found in Washington, D.C.

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