Endless Road Trip Germany: Kölsch
I think when most people (or at least the people I know) think about German bier, they think of huge, liter=sized bier steins being slung by less-than-covered blonde women. I’m here to blow your mind.
I recently visited Cologne (or Köln), where Kölsch is the local (and pretty much only) beer in the city. Kölsch is also the only beer that may not be brewed outside the Cologne region, as determined by the Kölsch convention of 1985. About ten breweries in Germany produce beer in Kölsch style, but do not call it Kölsch because they are not member of the Kölsch convention (what’s is called then? I don’t know). Serious shit, right? The beauty of (or problem with) Kölsch is that it goes down like water; it somehow never makes you full, and you can easily consume 5 (or 15) after a German meal.
The taste, however, is not why I love Kölsch (To me, it most closely resembled Bud Lite. Sorry, every German I’ve just offended.) Anyone who has been to Oktoberfest (or one of these American biergarten wannabes) knows that the second half of any liter is consumed slightly cold at best. Instead, Kölsch is supposed to always be served cold; therefore it is presented in dainty, 1/5-liter (about 6.76-oz.) glasses, so it’s easily consumed before it gets even slightly warm. You’d think this would be a problem considering the server would have to bring these around quickly; no fear, the Germans have that figured out too:
This is me and Holgar, our Köbe (Kölsch server), who apparently has fathered several illegitimate children around Europe. I think he drank as many beers as we did during our dinner there, having chugged a beer each time he served the table next to us another round. He was surprised to find out that in America, drinking is frowned upon at work. In order to let him take this photo, we had to buy him a (or several) beers, and then promise him he’d be famous on the internet (sort of?) In my hand is the beer-serving device, a Kölschkranz (translated: Kölsch wreath). The servers fill these trays, or half-fill the trays, then walks around and distributes the beer. There’s generally no ordering and waiting; when you want a beer, you flag him down, and one is handed to you from the Kölschkranz. Then, the Köbe places a tally mark on your coaster. No restaurant POS system, nothing to remember. Food orders can also be written there, too (see: the numbers on the above photo, taken very, very early in the night). A few numbers, a few tallys, and you’re done. Then when you pay, the server adds up the tally marks and gives you a total.
This is both a wonderful and a dangerous system. Wonderful because you are always staring at the number of ice cold beers you’ve been served (if you can correctly count the tally marks). Dangerous because it’s easy to justify “just one more 7-oz. beer…” and then have it turn into 5 or 10 or 35 (lets see if we can fill up this entire coaster!)
Moral of the story: Germany is beautiful. Germans are alcohol geniuses. Forget my frozen frosty beer mug. Give me a Kölschkranz and forget about it.