Three Tallies, Three Kölsch
Just inside the door, Köbes, Kölsch bartenders in Köln, accumulated in the stone-lined sallyport leading to the beer garden. They turned in unison beginning an exaggerated process of grouchy inspection, head-to-toe. Suffering mild humiliation in a similar Kölsch beer hall (Malzmühle) a few hours before, we walked confidently past the aproned guardians of Päffgen towards the beer garden, masking our anxiety with scowls and grunts of salutation.
Chestnuts grew from breaks in the flagstones. Yellow-cream plaster and stucco walls contained the crowd, softening the hum of voices. Simple wooden chairs dotted the perimeter of linoleum tabletops. Opposite our table, a red, brick wall from next door rose above the stucco. Drooping, yellowed glass separated the garden from inside the beer hall. Rustic scenes of Germanic life decorated the upper panes: thatched roofs, stone walls, carts pulled by mule through a cobbled town square, red dresses, blue skies, and feathered hats. Back in the beer garden, a canopy of teardrop chestnut leaves cloaked us in green, evening light.
Getting your fill of Päffgen Kölsch is an extremely enjoyable process. Köbes float through the beer garden wielding circular, metal trays carrying 10 to 15 Stanges (German for stick and what they call the small glasses Kölsch is served in). Alternating between the tables and the wooden casks dispensing Kölsch, they continuously serve patrons until a coaster is placed on the rim of the glass. For the newcomer this is a welcomed surprise. Simply saying, “Kölsch bitte” ensures you participate in the party. Following this request, the Köbe places a seven ounce Stange carrying beer onto a coaster and marks one, terse tally in pencil.
Kölsch remains one of the few German Ales to survive the uncompromising Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law). In fact, the word Kölsch is an appellation, allowing only brewers in Köln to use the word (the protection doesn’t extend to the United States). A creamy head persisted during all seven ounces of the cold, straw-colored drink. Fine bubbles vigorously climbed up the center and accumulated in the cloud atop. Subtle citrus, fruity ester, and baked bread aromas assembled in the bouquet. The palate started dry with citrus notes, rounded out by fresh sourdough. The finish exhibited excellent hopping with dry floral notes over a background of sourdough, both of which lingered and balanced pleasantly between crisp and creamy. Holding the tiny Stange up, I looked through the layers of lace stuck to the glass’s interior. I returned it to the coaster and glanced at Sara: “I think I could do this all night.” Turning back to my glass I watched the Köbe effortlessly exchange empty for full with one hand, snatch the pencil from his bartender’s apron, mark my coaster with a second tally, and continue down the line.
At the bottom of the second I decided to finish the session; setting the glass down I briefly looked away. Reaching for the coaster to place it on top of the Stange, indicating we were done drinking, I saw a fresh glass of Kölsch patiently awaiting. Fortunately the Köbe beat me to the punch: three tallies, three Kölsch.