three different color beers in glass on table

If there ever was a headquarters country for beer, it would be Germany, and I’m sure most beer enthusiasts would agree with me. The country is responsible for many of the beer styles we know and love today, and one that stands out is Kolsch. However, because of the beer’s rarity, many have questions about its properties and how it compares to other beer styles, particularly lagers. Let’s address that here, but first, a quick answer.

The primary difference between lagers and Kolsch is the fermentation technique employed. Lagers are brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast, while Koslch, being an ale, is brewed using top-fermenting yeast. However, both beers are similarly stored at cool temperatures after fermentation.

As you would imagine, there’s a lot more to the difference between the two beers than the quick answer shows. This article will duly examine the origin of both beers, as well as their properties, brewing process, ingredients, and common examples. Let’s get started, then!


Reports suggest beers first debuted about 14000 years ago. For long, all beers produced were ales, as they were brewed with top-fermenting yeast. However, that changed in the 15th century in Northern Europe, specifically Bavaria, Germany.

Sometime in the early 1400s, brewers noticed that the brew they obtained while producing beer was different from the conventional beers they were used to, and they were right. While there was not much technology then, it was impossible to detail what had happened, but it was clear that the beer produced was a different style.

Eventually, it became clear to brewers that the yeast strain used during fermentation differed from the one used for brewing ales. Then, all beers were brewed with the top-fermenting yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. However, a new yeast strain made its way into fermentation tanks and was combined with the ale yeast. The yeast strain was Saccharomyces eubayanus. This unlikely combination resulted in a hybrid strain known as Saccharomyces pastorianus, or simply bottom-fermenting yeast.

This hybrid strain is what is still widely used to date for brewing lager beers and is the basis for the distinction of beers as lagers or ales.

Kolsch is a type of ale. As stated, for centuries after beer debuted, it was solely ale. So, ales are much older than lagers. But, long after the debut of lagers, new ales were being developed, and Kolsch was one of them. This beer style originated in Cologne or Koln in Germany.

While the official introduction of Kolsch was in 1750, the origin of the beer dates decades before. Then, Cologne-brewed ale beers were consistently losing out to other beers in Germany. This was because of the rise of lagers, which captivated the hearts of many beer lovers. Cologne was not ready to give up its beer identity, but it also knew it had to find a way to keep up with the competition. The solution to their problem was to develop a hybridized beer brewed with top-fermenting yeast but at cooler temperatures and longer storage periods similar to lagers.

The name Kolsch was first given to the beer in 1918 after the city’s name. Towards the very end of the century, Kolsch became a protected geographical indication (PGI) product, which implies that only beers produced in and within 50 km of Cologne can be labeled Kolsch beers.

Still, many brewers worldwide, especially in the United States, have mimicked the style of the beer, brewing different Kolsch-style beers. The fact that Kolsch is a PGI means it cannot keep up with the popularity of other ales, let alone lagers.


Kolsch beers, like many ales, have a fruity flavor profile. However, the fruitiness is quite mild with Kolsch beers because of the different fermentation conditions compared to traditional ales. Lagers typically have a more rounded flavor than ales. Interestingly, Kolsch beers also have a rounded flavor, giving the beer a dry finish.

The hops for Kolsch beers confer a medium-low to medium bitterness. This beer style has no lingering aftertaste – either bitter or sweet. Kolsch beers have a malty character, but the beer balances hop bitterness, fruitiness, and maltiness perfectly.

It is a lot trickier to ascertain the flavor of lagers because there are just so many lagers out there. However, most lagers have a dry, clean, and crisp finish, with slight or no bitter aftertaste.


Kolsch beers and lagers are rounded well-attenuated beers. While Kolsch beers have their IBU (International Bitterness Units) between 18 and 30, lagers can have a much more diverse IBU range. Again, this is because there are so many different types of lagers.

Moreover, Kolsch beers have medium carbonation, while lagers can range from medium to high carbonation. The higher the beer carbonation, the higher the chance it has a high beer character.


The hops and malt present highly influence the aroma of lagers. Also, the lighter the lager is, the less the intensity of its aroma. Kolsch beers aren’t the most aromatic beers, but they still have a fruity aroma, with hints of herbal hop and sweet malt aromas.

Brewing Process

Lagers are brewed using bottom-fermenting hybrid yeast Saccharomyces pastorianus at temperatures between 35˚and 50˚F. This technique is known as bottom fermentation and is named o because the yeast never rises to the top during fermentation. What’s more, lagers are allowed to age and are stored for longer periods than ales. This is actually the reasoning behind the name lager, as the German word for storing is “lagern.”

Kolsch beers are ales, and like all ales, they are brewed using top-fermenting yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This brewing technique is called top fermentation because the yeast used during fermentation rises to the top of the tank.

However, unlike all ales, Kolsch beers are cold-conditioned and not brewed at the conventional 60˚–70˚F brewing temperature range for top-fermented beers. Also, Kolsch beers are stored for a longer period than regular ales, which is another distinguishing property of lager beers.

The similarity of the brewing process of Kolsch beers and lagers has led many to call the former a hybrid beer. However, Kolsch beers are still ales. This is because the distinction between ales and lagers is a function of the beer’s yeast strain, not fermentation temperature or storage period.


Lagers and ales are brewed with the same basic ingredients. By implication, lagers and Kolsch beers are brewed using the same basic ingredients but not the same type and quality for all ingredients. Let’s explain, highlighting each of the basic ingredients.

Yeast is one main ingredient, and if you have followed up to this point, you will know it is responsible for classifying beer as a lager or ale. Top-fermenting yeast produces ales, while bottom-fermenting yeast produces lagers. This also applies to lagers and Kolsch beers. However, many breweries modify the yeast strain used to give specific beer characteristics.

The second basic ingredient is malt. This is responsible for providing sugar for the yeast strain to feed on for fermentation to take place. The primary grain used for both ales and lagers is barley. However, some breweries add 20% wheat grain to the two-row barley malt used to prepare Kolsch beers.

Another basic ingredient is the hops used during brewing. When ales were first manufactured, they were bittered with gruit. However, brewers soon changed to hops because it was better at preserving beer and imparting flavor. This is more consequential with lagers, as their flavor is mostly derived from malt and hops. But Kolsch beers are close to lagers in many things, and this is one of them.

Unlike most ales where the yeast strain heavily impacts the flavor profile, Kolsch beers have their flavor influenced significantly by aroma hops Tettnang and Hersbrucker. The bittering hops in the beer are Hallertau and Perle. Of these, Tettnang and Hallertau are noble German hops, which are common hops used when brewing lagers. Other noble hops used for lager fermentation include Saaz and Spalt.

The final main ingredient is water. Different breweries use different kinds of water when brewing their beers. This may sound strange, but water from different geographical locations has different mineral compositions, which may affect the beer differently. Many lagers use this technique, selecting water from particular geographical sources or artificially mineralizing the water.

For Kolsch beers, the water used is one with low residual alkalinity. This is because this kind of water ensures the beer has a pale color, as well as affecting the mouthfeel and bitterness of the beer.

Alcohol Content

The alcohol content of beer is measured in alcohol by volume (ABV). Per the regulations of the Beer Judge Certification Program, Kolsch beers have between 4.4 and 5.2% ABV. Lagers are more alcoholic than Kolsch beers, ranging between 4.5 and 6% ABV.

Kolsch beers being lower in alcohol compared to lagers is actually a break from the norm. Naturally, ales are more alcoholic because the warmer brewing conditions mean yeast thrives better and produces more alcohol. However, since Kolsch beers are brewed at cold temperatures, they are generally not as alcoholic as ales and lagers.


Kolsch beers have an SRM between 3.5 and 5, according to the Beer Judge Certification Program. They appear as medium yellow to light golden with brilliant clarity. However, the color range of lagers is much wider. Lagers may have as low as 2 SRM, meaning very light, to about 30 SRM, meaning very dark.

When it comes to appearance, you will have a hard time differentiating a Kolsch beer from a lager, as many lager beers also fall between 3.5 and 5 SRM of Kolsch beers.

Popular Examples Of Each Beer Style

Below are some of the popular examples of lagers and Kolsch beers.


  • Bud Light
  • Coors Light
  • Corona Extra
  • Michelob Ultra
  • Stella Artois


  • Früh Kölsch
  • Gaffel Kölsch
  • Mühlen Kölsch
  • Päffgen Kolsch
  • Reissdorf Kölsch