Eau de Cologne is not the only magical liquid that Germany’s fourth biggest city is famous for producing, as anyone who has tried Kölsch will tell you. It’s not a brand of beer but a variety served throughout the city. It makes the top ten for its great taste, history and drinking ritual.
Served in 0.2 litre test-tube like glasses called Stangen, a Kölsch crawl through the bars of Cologne’s old town is great fun. There’s no need to queue at a bar – Kölsch waiters (called Köbes) circulate with fresh glasses of beer on dedicated Kölsch trays known as Kränze.
If you want a beer, call a waiter over – he will put a tally mark on a beer mat every time you order one. When you’ve had enough, simply put the beer mat on top of your glass, pay up and move to the next bar. It’s a pale, almost see through “top-fermented” beer – i.e. – the yeast rises rather than sinks. Kölsch is a very easy drinking beer anyway, but because the glasses are so small it’s ideal for a quick crawl.
Drinkers in these parts take their Kölsch seriously, as you might have guessed by the special words for the glasses, waiters and trays. In fact, the 1986 Kölsch Convention decrees that Kölsch cannot be brewed outside of Cologne. I can’t recall which brand of Kölsch I drank on my visit, but have seen 0.50 litre bottles of Früh sold in off-licences in the UK – although drinking it from a bottle surely defeats the object?
For anyone wondering about the name, Cologne is known as Köln in Germany. Kölsch is not only the seventh best beer in the world, but also the name of the local Cologne dialect.