For much more on the beer how they like it in Köln, see Where Kölsch Night Is Every Night.
A Question for Köbes Kultur
For all the lore and charm of the köbes, there is a very old-fashioned side to the tradition that many will find unappealing: the near-total lack of female servers. This is also the case within the altbier pubs of Düsseldorf.
When visiting more than 15 pubs and brewhouses between Düsseldorf and Köln over a three-day period, I saw only two female servers—one was delivering food to tables; the other was a zappe, pouring from a barrel. Asking the male köbes about this brings some fairly negative and often outright sexist remarks. Discussing the matter with brewers and owners of establishments proves no better.
Taking their responses at face value, the crux of the matter seems to be a deeply rooted belief that females cannot handle the job’s fast pace and heavy lifting. Some breweries do allow female köbes part-time, while others very openly admit to not even considering their applications.
This is in stark contrast to the legendary, dirndl-clad servers in Bavaria, known for casually gripping a handful of Maßkrüge, mugs that are far heavier and hold five times the volume as a stange.
When I ask brewers and beer people in other parts of Germany about the lack of women servers in the Rhineland, there is often a predictable sort of provincial dismissal: It’s because these cities are outdated or just outright backward. While harsh, they have a point. The pervasive sexism built into the tradition is unfortunate and one of the very few things that I hope change about the Kölsch and altbier cultures of the Rhineland.
They also might wonder whether they’re missing out on a relatively easy way to appeal more to the next generation.
Build Your Own Kranz
Kölsch service has become fashionable Stateside at several breweries and bars around the country, but it’s also something you can do at home. The nature of Kölsch needing to be served fresh and enjoyed among friends makes it the perfect thing to try at home.
Zach Wessel’s employer laid him off at the start of the pandemic. To help make ends meet, he began building custom wood projects for local breweries, including a number of kränze (the traditional serving trays for Kölsch service) made from used barrels. (To see these and other projects, look for Wessel & Daughters Artisans on Instagram [@WesselandDaughtersArtisans]https://www.instagram.com/wesselanddaughtersartisans/.)
Here, he shares a step-by-step guide to how he does it.
First, procure a barrel. Wessel likes to use smaller barrels from the local Talnua Distillery, a single-pot whiskey distiller based in Arvada, Colorado. Clean the barrel head and any staves that you plan to use.
Next, glue together the staves of the barrel head, and clamp them together until dry.
Trim the barrel head to the shape you want, then start to lay out the holes. A dozen spots is typical, and a 2¼-inch (5.7 cm) hole-saw blade will fit a normal stange—though variations exist, so measure your chosen glasses carefully.
Once you’re done cutting the holes, sand, stain, and piece together the kranz. Wessel uses low- or no-smell water-based stains and sealers. He likes to plane the typical one-inch (2.5 cm) barrel head down to a quarter inch (64 mm); otherwise the piece becomes very heavy.
For the handle, he uses one-inch (2.5 cm) dowels. He takes the steel hoops of the barrels and bends them around the handle. He uses a laser engraver to personalize the kranz.
A typical kranz starts at about $100, and it takes Wessel several hours to build. However, amateur wood enthusiasts may want to procure a barrel and build their own. It’s an accessible project that takes only a bit of planning, time, and patience.