Gordon Biersch Sommerbrau

June 9, 2010

I seem to have gotten myself into a bit of a German beer mindset after last week’s review. And why not? The weather’s getting warmer and German beers are perfect for one’s thirst when the temperature climbs. Simple ingredients and a bottom-fermentation process designed to deliver a clean-textured citrus-and-herb-flavored lager/pilsner feels much more refreshing than, say, a stout or barleywine.

The Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, of 1516 states that beer can only be made from four ingredients: water, malted grain, hops and yeast. And while using only local materials can make for repetitive and, sometimes, boring beer, a little variation is in order. The city of Cologne signed a decree in 1396 declaring itself an entity of its citizens and not its nobles, thereby freeing it to act independently from certain rules. When the Reinheitsgebot went into law, Cologne was exempt. In 1906, the Sunner Brewery began a style that, in 1918, took on the name Kolsch.

Kolsch is a style of beer that has all but dropped off the map outside of Cologne. The difference with these and the rest of Germany’s beers is fermentation. Kolsch receives top-fermentation like ale and then cold-stored to complete the process. The result: a noticeable, but not overwhelming, hop presence in a clear, golden, lager-looking beer.

Dan Gordon is an American brewer who understands German beer. That’ll happen when one spends eight years studying at the prestigious Weihenstephan Academy in Bavaria. It’s a shrewd decision on his behalf to release a Kolschbier for the summer months as his Sommerbrau is similar to thirst-quenching weizenbier yet has enough hop bitterness to make the mouth tell the brain that it needs more to drink. What better for a hot day?

Sommerbrau is a straw-colored beer with a thick, creamy cap of foam. Light lemon, wood resin, banana peel and grass scents represent most of the aroma with a touch of floral hops at its finish. Upon drinking, the texture gets me before the big, expressive flavors do: creamy and light-bodied. Weizenbier flavors of banana, clove, bubblegum and lemon show up right before those tangy, bitter hops rear their oily heads to create a perfect balance of flavor and texture.

An all-but-extinct type of German beer being brewed in America, Gordon Biersch’s Sommerbrau is a great representation of the best of both worlds.