The Stories Behind the Four Beers at Kölsch Fest This Weekend

Every beer has a story. But the beers at Prost's first annual Kölsch Fest are older than most.

By Marty Patail July 17, 2015

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Cologne, Germany

Image: S. Borisov

It's fair to say that the Kölsch is a fashionable style of beer right now. Indeed, drinking our way through the abundance of excellent Oregon offering while we compiled our list of Oregon's 25 Best Beers proved more challenging than we expected. (In case you're wondering, Occidental and Double Mountain eventually came out on top.) And that's a good problem to have. It's golden, smooth, and a perfect warm weather sipper. No wonder that Kölsch is so hot right now. 

But technically, Kölsch—like Champagne—can only be made in the region where it originated, in this case the city of Cologne (Köln in German). That narrow classification includes only 13 breweries in the world.

Lucky for us, starting Saturday at noon, Prost! is holding its first annual Kölsch Fest to celebrate four of these very old German beers. True to tradition, the beers will served in small 0.2l Stange glasses from a wreath-like serving tray called a Kölner Kranz.

Let us introduce you to what you'll be drinking:

Sünner is not only the oldest of the four, it is the oldest Kölsch brewery in the world, coming into being in 1830 (29 years before Oregon even became a state). Indeed, the term Kölsch was first applied to Sünner's beer, which used top-fermenting ale yeast instead of the more popular, bottom-fermenting lager yeast. Originally positioned at the foot of a busy wooden bridge across the Rhein, the brewery served a near constant stream of workers who crossed it. In the 1920s, the brewery moved further east, where it can still be found today. It is currently operated by the sixth generation of the Sünner family. 

This brewery was founded in 1894 in the Severin Quarter by Heinrich Reissdorf, whose farming family had had fallen on hard times. Reissdorf came into being during a time when Cologne was exploding with breweries. Between 1890 and 1910, the city saw 33 new breweries (most of which do not exist anymore). It was one of the few breweries to reemerge from the harsh post-WWII economy. After moving its operations to a new location in the city in 1996, Reissdorf is still owned and operated by the fourth generation of Reissdorf family. 

Another fourth generation brewery, this brewery was founded in 1900 just outside of Cologne by a man named Ernst Kind, who learned his craft at Weihenstephaner in Bavaria. (Incidentally, you can frequently find Weihenstephaner's excellent Hefeweizen in bottle shops around Portland). The brewery has undergone several confusing name changes but since 1976 has been known as Erzquell. While Kind's first beer was a Pils, these days Zunft (meaning "guild") is Erzquell's flagship Kölsch. Fun fact: the current owner (Kind's great-grandson) has a fantastic name: Axel Haas

The youngest brewery of the four, Früh was founded in 1904 by an already-successful brewer Peter Josef Früh. After the brewery's production facility somehow escaped the destruction of WWII (which leveled about 90 percent of the inner city), the brewery helped other less-fortunate breweries recover by brewing so-called Dünnbier for them to sell ("thin bier" which contains less than 2 percent ABV) —in addition to their own Kölsch. As with the other breweries, Früh is still operated by the original family. 

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