My decision to brew another Kölsch had roughly two sources of inspiration: first, I have a sort of standing desire to keep something light and drinkable on draft at all times, even if I don't always follow through on that desire; second – and more acutely – I had been to visit the new outfit Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte, N.C., and when I tasted their delicious, authentic-style German "lagered ales," I knew I had to make some of my own.
A chat with John, one of Olde Meck's very friendly and gracious co-owners, revealed that their Kölsner (a Kölsch with a little extra, Pilsener-style hopping) and Copper (a Düsseldorf-style Altbier) are both fermented with White Labs 029, a strain reputedly sourced "from a small brewpub in Cologne, Germany."
This was good news to me, for among homebrewing circles, the two styles are typically associated with distinct, if similar, yeast strains. Wyeast 2565 is seen as the paradigm of Kölsch yeasts, while for Altbier the choice is usually Wyeast 1007. I had worked with 2565 previously, and while it made an adequate Kölsch on my first and only prior attempt at the style, it did impart a bit more of a fruitiness than I prefer, even in a style that makes allowances for this character.
Given also my fondness for reusing the same yeast strain in a series of beers, I was further pleased to hear that a commercial brewery, in addition to the homebrewers who gave their own endorsement of the idea, had no trouble at all making delicious Kölsch and Alt with WLP029.
With plans already hatching to follow this up with an Altbier, and a Sticke Alt, and possibly the even the likes of a Foreign Extra Stout and a Baltic Porter, I set about designing my Kölsch recipe*:
OG 1.050 FG 1.009
ABV 5.4% AA 82%
IBUs 25 SRM 3
8.75 lbs. / 92% North American Pilsner
0.75 lbs. / 8% German Munich
0.63 oz. / 22 IBUs Magnum – 60 mins
0.38 oz. / 3 IBUs Santium – 10 mins
White Labs 029 "German Ale/Kölsch Yeast"
* The ingredients here actually represent 50% of what was used during this brew session; this was part of a double batch, the other half of which became a Belgian Blonde Ale following a simple-sugar addition.
The Kölsch was fermented at a wort temperature of around 63°, with a primary fermentation length of 20 days. It tasted great already following only around 2.5 weeks of lagering/carbonating, and at nearly three months old the beer still tastes great even if I fear it must certainly be nearing the end of its life.
The nose offers some light fruit esters including perhaps faint berries and even a whiff of mead-like fruitiness. The flavor is crisp and clean with apple-like fruit, a decidedly unobtrusive bitterness, and easy malt on the dry finish. It's pale gold and brilliantly clear.
Given the inherent difficulties with brewing a delicate style like Kölsch, and my inexperience with this particular yeast strain, I can't help but be pleased overall with how the beer turned out. Moreover, I remain very excited about my future adventures with this yeast – as I type 10 gallons of Alt are carbonating and I can't wait to see how that one turned out.