Serious Beer: American-Brewed Kölsch

Beer Reviews

Seeking out the best in malty, hoppy refreshment.


[Photo: Nick Leiby]

Our Favorites

Schlafly Kölsch
Metropolitan Brewing Krankshaft
Uinta Solstice
Cape Ann Fisherman's Ale



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The name Kölsch is an appellation controlée, meaning that by law only beers brewed in and around Köln can carry the name. While the US-brewed beers we tasted in this roundup are merely 'Kölsch-style', a number of them compare favorably to their German brethren.

These delicate and refreshing ales are similar to pilsners in flavor, though usually less bitter and a little sweeter and fruitier. The result is a light brew ideal for summer afternoons.

Serious Beer Ratings

5/5 Mindblowing; a new favorite
4/5 Awesome, stock up on this
3/5 Around average for the style
2/5 There are probably better options
1/5 No, thanks, I'll have water.

Schlafly Kölsch, Missouri 4.5% ABV Pepper stands out in the faint, grainy sweetness of the aroma. The flavor is short and to the point—rye spiciness and lemon zest cut off raw grain, pears, and popcorn. The crispness is underlined by zippy carbonation. This is an excellent summer refresher. 4/5

Uinta Solstice, Utah 4.0% ABV We smelled citrus, wine grapes, and sweet corn. Mild notes of lemon and spicy bitterness fade to sweet bread in the finish. The yeast contributes a touch of pleasant cellar character. A creamy, smooth mouthfeel rounds out this quaffable kolsch. 3.75/5

Metropolitan Brewing Krankshaft, Illinois 5.0% ABV Floral and spicy aromas mingle with white wine. Wheat and grapes make up most of the flavor, and Krankshaft's sweet finish fades away to cellar must. Big, puffy carbonation livens up the mouthfeel. 3.75/5

Cape Ann Fisherman's Ale, Massachusetts 5.0% ABV Sweet, floral perfume fills the nose. Despite high carbonation, this beer feels smooth and soft. It's fairly dry, with a lingering mint and grass bitterness that highlight the similarities between a kölsch and a pilsner. 3.75/5

Sam Adams East-West Kölsch, Massachusetts 5.0% ABV We were pleasantly surprised by the scents of rich jasmine, nutmeg, and banana bread in East-West. The flavor was less bold and interesting—simply a mild, fruity malt and pepper bitterness, but this was still a memorable brew. 3.5/5

Stoudts Karnival Kölsch, Pennsylvania 4.8% ABV Honey, lemon, and dandelion make up the nose. Sulfur, lemon, and pepper flavors are punched up by intense carbonation, and twang through white-bread malts. The bitterness lingers and coats the tongue, much like the intense hops you find in an IPA. 3.25/5

Harpoon Summer Beer, Massachusetts 5.5% ABV The aroma is full of grassy hops and wheat. This is a dry and crisp kölsch with a lemon sourness and gentle hop bite that doesn't let go. 3.25/5

RJ Rockers Light Rock, South Carolina 3.5% ABV The nose of Light Rock is full of golden raisins, spice, and cotton candy. Its flavor is all about the yeasty cellar funk and white wine sourness, and the finish tastes of grape nuts. 3/5

High and Mighty Beer of the Gods, Massachusetts 4.5% ABV Grass and lemon in the nose foreshadow similar flavors. Intense, prickly carbonation quickly whisks away tangy sours and rye spice, leaving plum to linger in the finish. 3/5

COAST 32/50, South Carolina 4.8% ABV Sour lemon, lilac, and white wine fill the aroma. The flavor is soft and mild, with sweet wheat notes wrapped up nicely by a gentle, lingering citrus bitterness. 3/5

August Schell Zommerfest, Minnesota 5.0% ABV Hay and light lemon twang through Zommerfest's aroma. Sour acidity and sweet malt grains make up most of the flavor in this thin and refreshing lawnmower beer. 3/5

Alaskan Brewing Summer Ale, Alaska 5.3% ABV The aroma here is subtle honey and white wine. Grape, apple, and biscuit build a sweet and gentle flavor, playing off an understated grassy bitterness. 3/5

Steamworks Colorado Kölsch, Colorado 5.5% ABV The nose of Colorado Kölsch is reminiscent of faint Honey Nut Cheerios, and it has flavors of raw grain and straw. This is a very lightly-flavored, crisp beer. It reminded us of an upgraded macrobrew lager that might please your grandfather. 2.75/5

New Holland Full Circle, Michigan 5.25% ABV We smelled pleasant yeast and toffee, but were put off by a tar-like phenolic note. This beer is sour and tangy up front, leaving behind a long, bready-malt finish and mild, grassy bitterness. 2.5/5

Josephs Brau Summer Brew, California 4.8% ABV Trader Joe's house-brand kölsch has a nose of vanilla, caramel, and honeydew. Some citrus and rising bread are all we tasted in this bland beer. 2/5

Disclosure: All beers except for Cape Ann, Harpoon, Josephs Brau, and High and Mighty were provided as samples for review.

About the Author: Nick Leiby is a Boston-based scientist and homebrewer. When he's not drinking yeast, he's probably studying it in lab.