Friday, April 06, 2012

In Falls Church, a Kölsch convergence

With the anticipated opening of spacebar —a 24-tap good beer bar and cafe— the self-called 'Little City' of Falls Church, Virginia —a mere 2.2 square miles in area— seems unexpectedly poised to become a good beer mecca in northern Virginia, and by extension, the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

On the southeast edge of town — in Seven Corners— there is the Dogfish Head Alehouse; catty-corner across Route 7 is Public House No. 7, with a solid draft selection, English food, and occasional cask tappings.

In the heart of town, at the intersection of Broad Street (Rt. 7) and Washington Street (Lee Highway), there is Red, White, & Bleu, a small but very well-stocked beer shop (and wine and cheese); Argia's —its sister establishment on Washington Street— has a small but solid draft selection and an award-winning Italian-American menu.

Two blocks further northwest along Broad Street is Dogwood Tavern, with American-fare, a Virginia theme, and an American-micro draft menu. Just up the road, at 444 W. Broad, is Mad Fox Brewing Company, a nearly 10,000 square-foot restaurant and brewery. Owner/brewer Bill Madden is the doyen of area brewers; he began his Washington, D.C. career in 1996 at Capitol City Brewing. spacebar will open two blocks further northwest along Broad Street, just above the popular CD Cellar music shop.

spacebar ... under wraps

While we wait for that, Falls Church is playing informal host to a spring beer thing. Right now, during the month of April, it's a Kölsch convergence.

Four thousand miles distant, the nation of Germany is well-known for lagers. Kölsch, however, is one of the ale exceptions. (Another being hefe-weizen, wheat beer.) Kölsch is a warm-fermented ale that is cold-aged like a lager. Its grist is all-barley malt (with no corn or rice, such as in American mainstream lagers) but it may contain a small percentage of wheat malt. European hops —often called noble hops for their elegant character— provide a drying finish of about 30 International Bittering Units, or IBUs. (Budweiser, in comparison, finishes with fewer than 10 IBUs.) Kölsch is golden in hue, with about 4.5% alcohol-by-volume (abv). Flavor-wise, it has hints of floral hops, sprouted grain, and the fruitiness of ale yeast.

Seen through a Kölsch, brightly

True Kölsch beer is only found in Cologne (Köln) in the Nord-Rhein-Westphalian state of Germany, where it is one of the few protected beer appellations (similar to how sparkling wine should only be labeled Champagne if it is made according to specified procedures and made only in Champagne, France).

Many breweries outside of Cologne pay homage (or flatter with imitation) by making similar Kölsch-style ales. During April, here in Falls Church, Virginia, four thousand miles from Cologne, a dedicated Kölsch-hound could find three pubs, within four blocks of each other, all pouring draft Kölsch.

Course #1: Kolsch

Mad Fox Brewing won a gold medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival for its unfiltered Kölsch, called Kellerbier. It's a staple at the brewpub, which serves it year-round alongside the filtered version.

Karnival Kosch at Argia's (03)

On draft at Argia's, it's Karnival Kölsch, a seasonal beer from Stoudt's Brewing of Adamstown, Pennsylvania. And, at Dogwood Tavern, it's Gaffel Kölsch, imported from the source, from Cologne, Germany.

The flavors of Kölsch are subtle: a drinker needs to take the time to contemplate them. Hopheads and big alcohol seekers may be too impatient for the style. And, that leaves more for us who are not. Kölsch is a delightful outdoor sipper. All three pubs have outdoor patios. A Falls Church Kölsch pub crawl anyone?

  • In German, one would pronounce Kölsch as curl-sh (withouth the 'r'). In the U.S., saying coal-sh would be okay. I culled details on the Kölsch style from the book Kölsch, written by Eric Warner (former brewer/prsident of Maryland brewery Flying Dog).
  • Lary Hoffman —proprietor of spacebar (and Galaxy Hut in Clarendon, Virginia)— has not announced an opening date, but says to expect it soon.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virgina— I sell the beers of Stoudt's and Gaffel.

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