Summer is not the time to dive into the deep-end of the weird, experimental beer pool. Not for me, at least. I don’t want to ponder yeast strains and adjuncts. I want something light and refreshing—something I don’t have to think about while I shove whatever sun-soaked plate of food happens to be in front of me into my mouth. Turns out, I want a Kölsch and I want it served in a tiny glass that is magically refilled as soon as the golden liquid runs low.
This is how they do things in Cologne, the birthplace of the hybrid beer known as Kölsch. Kölsch is unique beer style, in that it starts like an ale, made with top-fermenting yeasts, but is finished like a cold-conditioned lager. The resulting beer is clean and crisp with a slight malty sweetness and it takes center stage at Chicago’s Funkenhausen. Here the German-Southern restaurant imports a very nerd-friendly beer list filled with options seldom seen stateside, such as a rare German-brewed IPA from Braufactum in Frankfurt.
In a bold move, considering that Chicago has more craft breweries than any other city in the United States, zero local beers are offered on draft. That is, until last week, when Funkenhausen tapped its first collaboration brew, an unfiltered pilsner made with actual pretzels, brewed by 18th Street Brewing and called Schnitzengiggle. Future collaborations are in the works, including an Oktoberfest with Three Floyds and sauerkraut-spiked gose with 18th Street.
“This is going to be our way of getting into the local stuff,” says chef and owner Mark Steuer. “I don’t want to serve anything we didn’t have a hand in.”
But I’m here for the Kölsch service. The beer is served just like they do in Cologne, in a handy tray with room for eleven 25-centiliter glasses called stanges. The small glass size and pure crushability of the house Sunner Kölsch means that before you know it, the beer is almost gone. But also just like in Cologne, the bartender will keep refilling it (at $4 a pop) until you slide a coaster over the rim of the glass, signaling you’ve had enough.
“I’ve been to Cologne once and I love the service of it. It’s just fun,” Steuer says. “Both times we drank Kölsch in Cologne, I ended up drinking way more than I wanted to and you don’t even realize it. These things are super cold and crushable. Two sips and it’s gone. Next thing you know you’ve have thirteen of them.”
Photo by Jim Vondruska