Put Away Your Pilsners and Wheats, and Hand Me a Kolsch or Dortmunder
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate nearly every style of beer and drink many of them on occasions monthly. But as big of a fan of beer, as I am, there is certainly a beer for every season. From time to time during the hot months, I’ve been known to down a porter or some leftover festive Christmas ales, but it is the light, refreshing craft lagers I find most appealing during this time of year. Helles, pilsners, and Hefeweizen aside, I cannot imagine a better summer beer than the Kolsch or Dortmunder!
Crafted originally in the respective German cities of Koln(Cologne) and Dortmund, the Kolsch and Dortmunder are summer lagers through and through. Both styles have a light quaffability that is enhanced with a crisp subtle hop finish. I have been fortunate enough to visit Germany and try these styles in their homeland, and now I’m happy that many American breweries are offering these beers, so I want to focus on some of the better examples, including the ones made in Indiana, in particular.
Starting with Kolsch, it is traditionally a light smooth lager that finishes very crisply. It is refreshing, and the subtle hops at the end are very pleasant! I remember drinking one at the Broad Ripple Brewpub back in the summer of 2006. I was already a fan, but most of the ones available were still German made and I tried a few bottles when Hot Shots was still open on 96th Street. Now, there is a plethora made locally including a few creative twists on the style.
So, for good straight up Kolsch, Bier’s Special K is an excellent choice, as is Daredevil’s Vacation. Both are excellent on tap or out of a can. I have liked the Special K for a long time and pick up a growler of it whenever I am near the brewery. Another excellent Indianapolis Kolsch is Indiana City’s Sister City. It is crisp and does the style justice. Indianapolis is a sister city of Cologne, and I like this beer being a tribute to that!
There are two other Indiana Kolsch’s that I would like to discuss. Flat12 has been doing their Cucumber Kolsch for several years now, and this year I really feel they’re making a top-notch product. The cucumber is smooth and does not detract from the crisp finish at all. It is a unique approach to the Kolsch style, but they are doing it very well. Metazoa has Kuma Kolsch, a standard Kolsch, but the last time I was at the brewery, Release the Monkey, a banana Kolsch, was on tap. The banana smelled heavy on the aroma, but only pleasantly subtle in the taste, and it drank very smooth and crisp.
3 Floyds makes the Calumet Queen, and it is a big Kolsch. Like every beer they make, it is robust and you definitely get the hops on the end. There are a few other good Kolsch’s made in Indiana, but I would like to also mention a few of my favorite from other states. Should you get to Massachusetts, Trillium Brewery has an Indiana connection since one of the brewers grew up in Mooresville. Their Sprang, and Big Sprang are very good representations. Clown Shoes is also from Massachusetts, and their Mango is available here in Indiana.
Schlafly, Founders, and Victory all make great Kolsch’s, and I have seen them locally. Short’s makes one too, as does New York’s Captain Lawrence. Stoudts and Lancaster in Pennsylvania are two of my favorite breweries and make excellent Kolsch. And since I have family in southwest Michigan, I get to Holland, Michigan frequently. Last weekend I was there and returned with a growler of New Holland’s delicious Full Circle.
For the second part of my article, I feel I need to explain what Dortmunders are, as they are not quite as popular yet. Also called Dortmunder Export, the style evolved in the 19th century around the city of Dortmund, and it rapidly became the beer of choice for Germany’s industrial workforce situated in the Ruhr Valley. It is a blond lager with medium bitterness, moderate body, and crisp carbonation. The local water supply contained sulfate which aided in bringing out the hop flavor.
Several Indiana breweries make good Dortmunders. 3 Floyds offers Jinx Proof, and Iechyd Da and Mad Anthony also make beers in the style. This summer, Tin Man made Hoop Pole Dortmunder Export to commemorate Indiana’s bicentennial. It is excellent, and a good introduction to the style.
Hopefully, more breweries in Indiana will get around to making Dortmunders, but in my travels, I found the Labrador Lager from Thirsty Dog to be excellent. Two Brothers is available in Indiana, and their Dog Days is also a very good Dortmunder. These beers definitely have quaffability, and they tend to go down very smoothly.
Recently, I took a trip to northern Ohio and purchased a six pack of the Dortmunder Gold from Great Lakes in Cleveland. As I drank a few bottles that night, I thought about the first time I purchased this beer when it was still available in Central Indiana. I fell in love with it instantly, and this time, the crisp hop finish reminded me of what I enjoy in a beer. Dortmunder Gold is award winning, and it is definitely Great Lakes’ flagship beer. And if you live in northern Indiana, you have access to all of the Dortmunders I have mentioned in this article.
So while the Dortmunder style is still growing in popularity, is it definitely an excellent beer, and a good choice for summer drinking. All the beers I mentioned are excellent choices, and if you find a German made one such as DAB, you won’t be disappointed.
Kolsch and Dortmunders are two of my favorite styles of lager beer. If you haven’t tried any of them, I hope you found this article informative in helping you decide where to start. And if you already know about these styles, I hope I mentioned one you haven’t tried yet. I enjoy traveling as much as I love beer, and perhaps that’s why these styles are so dear to my heart.