Tailgate Throwdown: Krispy Kölschs, Pitt vs. UVa, 10/4/14 – @CampWahoo

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There’s little point to having a throwdown if you can’t have a beer theme that allows for actual competition.  And tying that theme to a competitor from another state?  Increased difficulty.  When that state is Pennsylvania, and the city is Pittsburgh, whose flagship beer is…Iron City??  Whoa.  Luckily the Keystone State does have one major item going for it – lots of German heritage.  And among the first beers I’d ever had from there (and the first canned craft beer I ever tried) was Lancaster Brewing’s Kölsch.  Inspiration having been struck, now we had ourselves an interstate intramural!

Tailgate Throwdown:  Krispy Kölschs
Game:  Pittsburgh vs. UVa, October 4, 2014

Featured Beers:  Mother Earth Endless River, Blue Mountain Kölsch 151, Schlafly Kölsch, Kentucky Kölsch, Lancaster Kölsch, Champion Killer Kölsch (with apologies to Parkway as while I had their Majestic Mullet available, we forgot to get it out)
# of Tasters:  8

TT Pitt lineupAs soon as I announced the category for the week, Ben started ripping me for having picked a category where I’d feature only NOVA/DMV breweries again (shameless plug:  Mad Fox has not one but TWO kinds of Kölsch, and their Kellerbier took GABF gold several years back).  Well, the joke was on him as while he was stuck up in Delaware I carefully assembled competitors from only central and SW Virginia.  And in trying to keep things regional, since I struck out trying to turn up a few bottles of Victory’s Kölsch (and I must’ve gotten the last three cans of Lancaster for the season), I settled on nearby Kentucky and North Carolina as well as a final entrant from St. Louis.  As is becoming the trend though, I was not expecting what happened next…

Beer #1:  Mother Earth Endless River
Profile:  Kölsch, but only hints of crispness
Tasting Notes:  “Smooth,” “buttery”
Overall:  There was a hint of a little Belgian style here, with some tartness up front on the nose.  For maybe the first time in any beer we’ve tried over the past several weeks, everyone was in agreement that this was a solid beer overall.
Crowd Score:  8.0
My Score:  7.5

Beer #2:  Blue Mountain Kölsch 151
Profile:  Kölsch, standard
Tasting Notes:  “Tart and crisp”
Overall:  This is much closer to what one would expect with this style.  Most Kölschs run a bit hoppy but not too bitter, with a bit more acidity.  Think of a lager on steroids – sometimes unfiltered – and you’re starting to get the idea.  If one must attribute a flavor to the tartness you find sometimes, the accepted flavor is “grape vines.”  I wouldn’t go that far with the tartness here, but if you wanted to start trying Kölschs this is a good place to begin.
Crowd Score:  6.0
My Score:  6.0

Beer #3:  Schlafly Kölsch
Profile:  Kölsch, standard
Tasting Notes:  “Acidic,” “oaky”
Overall:  Again, fairly typical of the style, but the higher perceived acidity kept this from being a real crowd-pleaser.  Kölschs typically don’t have earthy elements, as darker malts are essentially what separates the style from Altbiers.  As something of a hybrid, this didn’t quite work so well.
Crowd Score:  5.0
My Score:  5.0

Beer #4:  Kentucky Kölsch
Profile:  Kölsch, standard
Tasting Notes:  “Green apples,” “tart,” “not very full”
Overall:  I’d never heard of Lexington Brewing/Distilling, and apparently they do make a thing out of infusing bourbon elements in their beer (note to self for the next time Louisville is in town!)  It was interesting to have the green apples noted here, with the Mother Earth having been called “buttery.”  While both are (wine alert!) steel-aged Chardonnay staples, the buttery aspect was liked and the green apples not.
Crowd Score:  5.0
My Score:  5.0

Beer #5:  Lancaster Kölsch
Profile:  Kölsch, added hops
Tasting Notes:  “crisp,” “bites like an IPA”
Overall:  I used to like this beer.  A lot.  Years on, it’s begun to feel more safe (I imagine it was a refuge against my then-intolerance for IPAs).  Being able to compare to similar beers reveals it as a staple but not as unique.  Good, but not great, and everyone agreed.
Crowd Score:  6.0
My Score:  6.0

Beer #6:  Champion Killer Kölsch
Profile:  Kölsch, added hops
Tasting Notes:  “Too hoppy”
Overall:  This was the only entry which had some disagreement.  About half the crowd dug the extra hoppiness, and the other half asked what they’d done to deserve that surprise.  Personally, I was happy that my initial tango with this beer was in fact an anomaly – the taste out of the can was so metallic/skunky I couldn’t believe a beer would be intentionally crafted like that!  Chalking that up to in fact a skunked can, I did have to agree that the “killer” aspect here was a bit too much bite.  Not bad, but maybe a good candidate for an unfiltered, or Wieß, version.
Crowd Score:  6.0
My Score:  6.0

INTERJECTION:  Although we forgot to put out the Parkway Majestic Mullet, I gave it a few spins later, and it probably would’ve come in at 5-6 for the crowd and a 6 for me.

Winner, Best Standalone Beer:  Mother Earth Endless River Kölsch

TT Pitt food

Food Pairing:  Smoked Sausage
Due to the night game, Camp Wahoo presumed most tailgaters would have already eaten (guilty as charged).  However, they did still set up a potluck so that late arrivers could still have something.  Luckily, I did request that my Pitt neighbor Jeremy bring down some sausage precisely for this occasion.  Not exactly a wurst, but close enough for Government work…  All beers paired with the sausage and then with the BBQ sauce.

Mother Earth:  The aforementioned buttery profile didn’t mesh well with the smoke/vinegar flavors of the meat and sauce, but nor was it a hindrance.

Blue Mountain:  The tartness was a great counter to both the chipotle and sugar tones after the sausage had been dipped in the sauce.

Schlafly:  Although it shares a lot in common with the Blue Mountain, the lesser execution ended up masking rather than complementing the food flavors.

Kentucky:  Not a lot to say, neither good nor bad.

Lancaster:  Didn’t do much for the sausage by itself, but the extra bite brought out the smoky/mesquite elements of the BBQ sauce quite well.

Champion:  Going a bit further than the Lancaster, the smoke really stood out.  Would be great for a Bratwurst or Knockwurst with spicy/ground mustard, but didn’t quite take this sausage all the way.

Winner, Best Food Pairing:  Blue Mountain

Final Thoughts:  This Throwdown basically came down to execution.  Kölschs have generally been a more niche style until recently, with the not-quite-ale flavor and not-quite-lager brewing putting it square between most people’s preferences.  The breweries that took a bit more risk in the flavor arena fared better here.  It was a nice change of pace to focus on some smaller/less known breweries this time around, even if that did mean a non-VA brewer is taking home the prize.  Having had the Mother Earth Endless River before, it felt like they’d done some tinkering over the last few years to good effect.  A pleasant surprise in every way, and this week’s winner.

Overall Winner:  Mother Earth Endless River Kölsch


Former founder and writer for LambethField.com, now Co-Founder and writer for Virginia Brew Review. Life is too short to drink bad beer, but just long enough to write about it.