Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Study in Contrasts - Beer Pairing

Beer Pairing Flavors:
Stir-fried mushrooms, scallions, bamboo shoots, tofu and peppery baby bok choy floating in a richly thick, hot & sour vegetable broth, flavored with chili oil, white pepper, black vinegar and soy sauce.

Want the recipe?
Here’s a link back to the Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup

Want the wine pair?
The post, A Study in Contrasts – Wine Pairing will take you there.

Want the beer pair?
You've come to the right place.


It was a great call to arms.

The Pilsners are coming!  The Pilsners are coming!

No “one if by land.”  No "two if by sea."  The attack was on all fronts and the wild hordes were now pounding at the gates.  Old style ales were about to be swept clean away – washed out in a surging flood of the new.

The Pilsners were invading from the east.  Merciless.  Unquenchable.  Unstoppable.

Pale colored and with swords of crisp, bitter hops, they were slashing their way through the old late 19th century world order, tearing up the countryside and threatening every city, village and hamlet that crossed their paths.  And there was no stopping them, as their foamy, white heads flooded over bridges, rooftops and ramparts.  Relentless.  Unyielding.  And inescapable.

That is, until they reached the gates of Cologne where the fair citizens of this great German city took a final and historic stand.  A stand, ironically, named after themselves – Kölsch.

Part Ale.  Part Lager.  Some might say, it's the ale that wants to be a lager, and calling it a “Frankenbrew” would probably be going a bit too far, but Kölsch, the Colognians evolutionary beer hybrid, became their weapon of innovation, and with it, they not only survived, but thrived.

And it's probably more than just a coincidence that Kölsch not only refers to their style of beer, but is also the name of the German dialect spoken in Cologne.  And in this dialect, when Kölsch is used as an adjective, it also means someone or something "from Cologne." 

So, calling it a Kölsch may not only be an expression of pride, but also happens to be one very clever bit of advertising.  For when you ask for the beer, you may not know it, but you're also saying, "Hey, give me the one from Cologne."

But getting back to our fair citizens in their moment of need.  It was the late 1800s and imported pale lager from Bohemia was taking the world by storm.  And lagers were everything that ales were not.  Crisp, golden and hoppy, lagers used a different yeast that fermented slowly under cooler temperatures at the bottom of the fermentation tank.  And lagers, unlike ales, required storage or lagering (from the German “lagern” meaning "to rest") to fully develop their flavors.

While ales, on the other hand, were old-school, with their top fermenting yeasts. Cozy at warmer temperatures, they produced a different set of flavors.  Darker, sweeter and fuller-bodied, with a soft touch of fruit, it was a style that was going out of style.  And as the bigger, darker and heavier German beers were pushed out, in rushed the light, crisp and bitter hopped Czech pilsners, eager and ready to fill the void.

But, what could the good citizens of Cologne do to stop this onslaught?  Well, “if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em,” so the saying goes, and that's what they did, but they did it their own way.  They would make their beer like a lager, golden and hoppy, but continue to use their warm fermenting ale yeasts. 

And so, the beers continued to be top fermented, but now at cooler temperatures, and then lagered (stored or aged) for another 2 to 6 weeks. And with this fairly long and cold maturation, one not found in ale production, they were able to accomplish what they’d set out to do.  Create an ale that drinks like a lager, crisp and clean but yet with a malt backbone in place of all that bitter, Czech hops.

And their gamble appears to have paid off handsomely, for today, the city of Cologne has more breweries than any other in Germany, along with a law that controls (just like the French do for Champagne) how and where Kölsch can be made.  According to this law, that's known as the Kölsch Convention, a beer can be called Kölsch only if, among other requirements, it is pale in color, top fermented, hop accented and brewed within the Cologne Metropolitan area.

Very light yellow in color and with a pearl white head, the Reissdorf Kölsch, that was suggested to me by Raul Torres at Silverlake Liquor Shop, drank more like a subtle and delicate version of a pilsner, which is exactly the way it should be.  Medium-light in body, with the biscuity, grainy and lightly fruity flavors and aromas of an ale, it’s yet, crisp, dry and refreshing, just like a lager. And that pleasant puckery tang in the finish, I'm told, is a signature feature that's found in a Kölsch.

With its rounded mouthfeel, I found that the Reissdorf Kölsch softly supported and surrounded the Vegetarian Hot & Sour soup’s sharply contrasting spicy and sour flavors.  And the highly carbonated Kölsch, which also has a pleasant soft maltiness, additionally enhances the soup's complexity by adding a new flavor dimension (maltiness) to the soup's hot and sour.

Softening, and at the same time, refreshing, is what this beer pairing is able to achieve.  First, its rounded mid-palate engulfs and tones down the soup’s spicy sourness, and then, with its subtle puckery tang finish, the beer refreshes with each mouthful, clearing away any lingering sour aftertastes found in the soup.

In comparing the Loimer “Lois” Grüner Veltliner pairing with that of the Reissdorf Kölsch, you have a choice of experiencing either the Grüner's lean, minerally bright and peppery citrus or the Kölsch’s soft and bready maltiness with a moderate tang of hops.  The beer’s grain driven approach tends more to harmonize with the soup by softening its contrasting and angular flavors, while the Grüner performs an aggressive high wire act by balancing the soup's heat and sourness with a strong, refreshing, citric mineral acidity.

So, it's totally up to you which pairing partner you may prefer to choose, either a strong, deliberate leader or a more subtle supporter.  It may come down to your personality, or maybe, even your mood, for there's no one right answer, but only one simple question.

Which flavors do you prefer to savor?

Now, here’s a peek at the pairing that’s coming up next –

1 comment:

  1. Had never heard of a kolsch but thanks for the tip. I'll have to give it a try. Sounds interesting with the soup.