The Road to Munich: Cologne – Kölsch from Watts Brewing

Einbeck: Bock - the WA take.

In our previous installment of “the Road to Munich,” we left Einbeck, drove about 300 km west to arrive in the city of Cologne. This marked our third stop on our beer route to Oktoberfest, where we explored the brewing history and traditions of the city, and also took a closer look into the Kölsch style (If you have not yet read that post, you may do so here). We discussed its revolutionary brewing methods for the time in Germany, the uniqueness of drinking Kölsch in Cologne, and the importance of the style to American craft beer.  For this installment, we come back over to Washington State to explore the Kölsch-style ale from the perspective of the 2021 winner of the WA Beer Awards Very Small Brewery of the Year, Watts Brewing.

In most areas of the U.S., including Washington for that matter, many consider Kölsch a golf course beer or something with a slightly more “flavor” than your budget grocery store lager. Head Brewer, Evan Watts, would wholeheartedly disagree with that sentiment. For Watts Brewing, Kölsch is a style near and dear to their hearts. It was the first beer they shared with the public and has since gone on to become the brewery’s flagship beer under the Leafcutter name. Kölsch to Watts Brewing is thought of just the same as it would in Cologne – the right beer for the occasion, not the season. In fact, the original recipe for Leafcutter was drafted in a ski lodge after a long day on the slopes. There, you imagine a brewer would be drawing up recipes for something warming like an Russian Imperial Stout or English Porter, but it goes to show that Kölsch can be a good choice any time of the year under the right circumstances.  

For this installment of “the Road to Munch” we wanted to get to the heart of why Watts Brewing loves brewing their Kölsch even with so many alternatives choices out there to pick from. Evan told us that with every one of their beers, Leafcutter included, that it all starts with a desired flavor profile and experience, then he works backward to create the beer recipe.  From the start, Leafcutter was destined to be a beer that was light, crisp and refreshing, while still being flavorful and interesting. For Watts, the Kölsch yeast stain is what makes this beer style so unique. It allows for a nice clean fermentation, an almost pseudo-like lager in balance, though with more character as it generates some light fruity esters of white wine grapes, and the nearest hint of banana.

Brewing a Kölsch-style ale back in 2015, when Watts was just a starting out, allowed the brewery to bridge the gap between the German tradition of brewing incredibly balanced and subtle beers, and the American style of brewing ales that are punchy and in your face flavorful. Historically, brewers could only rely on the raw materials sourced locally in their own city or a couple of towns away. Long gone are the days where you only have to make do with what is easily available. This meant that Watts could start with a blank canvas and source ingredients native to any part of the world. The Leafcutter recipe is built around three foundational elements: the light, bready flavors of bohemian pilsner malt; the delicate, floral, pine, apricot flavors of Simcoe hops; and a traditional Kölsch yeast strain native to Cologne. Building up from there, Watts continues to layer on  unique flavors from a newer hop variety, Ahtanum, with its sweet, peppery, and mild citrus notes. To round off the beer, a water profile tuned to match the minerality of the Cologne water to keep with historical brewing traditions.  

Clearly this is not just your run of the mill Kölsch clone recipe, but one that is completely unique to Evan Watts and his team at Watts Brewing. What stands out the most, is the use of the Yakima-grown Simcoe hops.  As covered in the last blog post, a Kölsch   would traditionally use a small to moderate amount of noble German hops such as Spalt or Tettnang, which commonly contribute a familiar flowery or spicy flavor and aroma.  Instead, the Simcoe hop, which are more commonly used in hoppier beers, are front and center and are more prominent than a Kölsch found in Germany.  Leafcutter is not overpowered with hop bitterness, instead the Simcoe hops are used in a small dose that brings out particular nuances of pine, apricot, and flowers. You can easily argue that the flavors and aroma of the Leafcutter aren’t traditional or even expected, no one would disagree with you there, but the twist on the classic style works. The best part is that boundaries are being pushed, the risks of recipe development were rewarded with some gold hardware, the beer celebrates WA brewing, and the ingredients grown here in our state are used. 

If you have never tried the Watts Leafcutter Kölsch-style ale, we would highly recommend you seek it out at your local pub that carries it.  Better yet, Watts Brewing can deliver it right to your doorstep (available to most addresses within Seattle and the Eastside) along with its proper drinking vessel, a 12oz Cologne/Kölsch stange drinking glass. All available for purchase from the Watts website

Save money on your initial order of Watts beer and merch, like the stange glass, by using BeerNav.  Visit the site to order your WA Brewery Passport today!

About Watts Brewing

Watts Brewing Company is a small, independent brewery from Bothell, Washington, dedicated to brewing better beer.  We take pride in brewing flavorful, nuanced beers that combine the best of old-world sophistication and American craft beer swagger.  Our brand takes inspiration from the family bee business, started over 50 years ago by Roger Watts, supplying bees to farmers to sustainably pollinate their crops.

About the Watts Leafcutter Kölsch  -style ale

Style: Kölsch   | ABV: 5.1% | IBU: 35 | Malts: Pilsner and Vienna | Hops: Simcoe and Ahtanum 

About the Road to Munich 

Hop into your Bimmer and merge onto the Autobahn (rather your Subie and I-5 since we live in WA), and let BeerNav lead you on an educational beer journey to Oktoberfest

“The Road to Munich” is our new blog and social media series that will run monthly from May until the beginning of October. BeerNav will highlight six of the most influential, historical beer cities and beer styles across Germany, and how Washington Breweries are influenced by tradition but add their own unique twists to each beer style. 

Here is the route: