Saturday, 30 December 2017

Retro beers at the Golden Cabbage

Kölsch is a frustrating style to taste. I find it difficult to identify precise flavours in it, though I’ve drunk enough of it to be able to say “yeah, that tastes like Kölsch” (or not) when presented with an imitator from elsewhere.

When in Cologne, as I’ve mentioned before, I always like to call in at Früh am Dom, even though it is decried by some as a tourist trap with dreadful beer. There is not much hope for such people, and the beer hall is a classic of its kind, even if you do have to occasionally duck out of the path of tour groups traipsing through the place. 

At its best, Früh Kölsch has a fresh maltiness and elegant, very slightly citrussy hop aroma. Quite by chance we discover it like this in the pub Em Golde Kappes in Nippes in the north of the city (forcing us to stay for an extra couple of glasses). The Golden Cabbage has been a Nippes institution for decades. Früh took it over a couple of years ago and put some cash into it.

The number eleven has a special status in Cologne due to its role in the madness of Karneval, the pre-Lenten debauchery centered on cities along the Rhine. The Karneval season begins at 11.11 on the 11/11 – welcomed with oceans of Kölsch.

For that reason a couple of years ago the P.J. Früh brewery chose to celebrate its 111th anniversary with as much effort as its hundredth. The delightful retro glasses pictured here were part of it. Making it to that age is, after all, an impressive achievement in a city whose breweries were, like the rest of it, almost completely flattened in the war.

Many of Früh’s competitors, too, have long since been swallowed up by larger conglomerates, leaving only a handful of the 20+ Kölsch brands still actually produced by independent breweries: for example, Gilden, Sion, Sester and Küppers now all come from the same facility on the east side of the Rhine, owned by Radeberger/Dr Oetker. But once upon a time you could judge roughly where you were in the city by which local brand the local bars were advertising: Sester Kölsch in Ehrenfeld, Sünner Kölsch in Deutz, Gilden Kölsch in Mülheim, Reissdorf Kölsch in Sülz.

Ironically enough, the full-spectrum dominance enjoyed by Kölsch locally is itself a post-war phenomenon and not nearly as old as the people who write the copy on the back of beer labels would have you think. But there are signs this is beginning to crack at the edges.

In 2009 the Gaffel brewery brought out something they named “Kölsch classic”, less bitter than their standard Kölsch. That doesn’t appear to be made any more, but more recently they have also made an unfiltered golden beer called Sonnenhopfen with Citra hops.

Früh also had a go in its eleventhiversary year, and launched a new beer of its own. “Rude Pitter”, or Red Peter in the local dialect, was a malty bronze beer. It was a bit sweet for my liking – but the problem is that if it were more bitter, it would be dangerously close to a Düsseldorf-type Altbier. Imagine the shame! There are limits to experimentation, after all.


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