Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tastings: Gaffel Kolsch and Reissdorf Kolsch.

Sometimes it seems that American beer appreciation is just as polarized as the country’s political scene.

Scan the preferences of the Internet beer ratings boards like Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, and you see big beers – Three Floyds Dark Lord and the fairly new Peche Mortel (Canada) to name two – consistently rated the highest. These are examples of the styles that are the most sought after by the aficionados who frequent these web sites, and who are helping to drive big increases in the otherwise small market shares of microbreweries.

Closer to home, the annual success of Gravity Head is prefaced by an anticipation that never would materialize if the festival were dedicated to smaller beers rather than heavyweights like Imperial Stout and Barley Wine.

Yet the American mass market remains the domain of light, lighter and lightest, and this preference isn’t restricted to megabrewing. Sierra Nevada’s smallest and mildest year-round beer (Pale Ale) is its biggest seller, as is Boston Beer’s (Samuel Adams Boston Lager).

This week, I’ve decided to sample two smaller, lighter beers, both versions of Kolsch, which is created and brewed to be mild, but can be quite tasty given the circumstances.

Gaffel Kolsch and Reissdorf Kolsch

Kolsch is a protected appellation of golden ale brewed in Cologne, Germany and defined environs. Kolsch is fermented with ale yeast but conditioned at cold temperatures, which has the effect of muting the extravagant profile of flavors found in other ale styles and rendering them delectably subtle.

Anyone who has been to the city of Cologne and enjoyed this signature treat as served in an undersized cylindrical glass (the “Stange”) will understand why I felt a twinge of dissonance when pouring half-liter bottles of Gaffel and Reissdorf into my war-torn, 1980’s-vintage Slovak handled beer mug.

Gaffel’s nose is suggestive of a mildly sweet fruitiness, and in this respect, the flavor does not disappoint, with hints of marshmallow (a flavor I always associate with the delightful Malzmuhle brand, unfortunately unavailable in America). As expected, the body is light, the palate is crisp, and the overall impact is one of restrained elegance.

My only experience with pork tartare came during the 2002 group Benelux pub crawl. After our tour of the Reissdorf brewery, which dates from the late 1990’s and is located in a suburban Cologne industrial park, we were served an incredible lunch in the sumptuous banquet room, draining a 5-gallon barrel of Reissdorf Kolsch.

Compared with the Gaffel, Reissdorf is drier and less floral in the nose, and in terms of moth-feel, seems more attenuated. The finish is hoppy, short and dry with little lingering aftertaste, and in general terms, more in keeping with the cleanness of a German lager than the gentle fruitiness of Kolsch.

The Gaffel reminds me more closely of the varieties available in Cologne’s old town, near the city’s towering cathedral, but they’re both fine examples of the genre, and differ in the same manner that lighter white wines do – Gaffel a bit sweeter, and Reissdorf a bit drier.

Bring on the blood sausage and marinated cheese … no, wait; that’s Dusseldorf, right?

In terms of availability, Reissdorf comes to us via B. United and has been a staple on the Rich O’s bottled beer menu for quite some time. Gaffel is on the way, should be available soon, and probably will be added to the list when possible.

This summer, I intend to serve both simultaneously on draft so as to facilitate comparison … perhaps in the intended Stange, if some are available from the importers. It won’t be the stand-up tables in the doorway of P.J. Fruh’s, but it’s the best we can do.

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The Home Theater Wizard said...
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