When last we left our intrepid travelers, they were catching a high speed Thalys train through the Ardennes to Germany. We exited the train under the overcast skies of Cologne.
There are lots of picturesque, stately towns in Germany, and Cologne is not one of them. You’d think any town with the worlds largest gothic cathedral would try to measure up with the rest of its buildings. This is not the case. The Dom (cathedral) is settled on top of a huge concrete slab, across the skateboarder- infested square from the train station. All the surrounding buildings on the south side are squat corporate lego-offices built in the ’60s. North of the church runs the Hohestrasse, a cloned German pedestrian shopping street in which high-end boutiques mingle with kebab stands and lowbrow discount stores. On the Hohestrasse, you could be in any crowded city in Germany.
That’s ok, though. We weren’t there for shopping or architectural wonder. We were there for the Kolsch.
Light in body, light in alcohol, and unique to Cologne, Kolsch is at once a unique beer style and a proud symbol of a city. “We served our Kolsch in .3 liter glasses,” the bartender in an Irish pub told us, “and the locals got mad because they were too big.”
You see, traditionally, Kolsch is served in .2 liter glasses (6.7 fluid ounces). When you finish one, the server doesn’t even ask; he or she simply fills another one and marks it on your coaster. You have to tell them to stop. Because the beers are so small, it takes an army of servers, all running around with their special Kolsch-carrier trays, to keep up with demand.
On the positive side, with such small, regular doses, it’s certainly easier to control your buzz, which is something I had absolutely no interest in doing.
Kolsch is only brewed in Cologne, and several principal brewers vie for market share. Gaffel Kolsch is the biggest, and probably the only brand you’ll find in the USA. There’s also Sion, which is better, Frueh, which is better still, and Peters, which tastes the best. Each of these breweries has a beer hall on premises, where you can eat traditional meat-oriented German food to buffer yourself from the onslaught of beer shots.
Lumps of meat aside, I still woke up with a hangover.
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