TRY AS THEY MIGHT, most American breweries simply cannot do Kölsch correctly. Other provincial styles of Europe—from the vastly interpretive Saison to the precise Wee Heavy—have been copied or even expanded upon with great success from coast to coast. But sometimes the simplest of formulae are the hardest to demonstrate, and in Kölsch the margin for error is virtually nil.
Big Bay’s effort, Wavehopper, does not fail the test in a conspicuous way: its color is light straw, almost clear, with appropriately pilsner malt (a bit of wheat and Carapils were also used) and traditional light floral hop tones. The 4.8% ABV is nowhere to be found and the finish is clear. Its calculus fails is that it’s too non-descript rather than too boastful, as is usually America’s wont, and too painstaking to be easy-drinking. Kölsch should certainly be quaffable (its 200 ml Stange glasses make it almost like a shot) but there’s still a delicate balance of that elevates it beyond mere palate-cleansing. Done correctly, the distinctive tingle of Rheinland water and noble hops interact with hints of fruitiness and malts, bridging the gap between lager’s refreshing clarity and ale’s satisfying layers. Wavehopper, meanwhile, with its extreme paleness (almost transparent instead of alluring gold), light body, higher carbonation, and mild taste, seems to position it merely as a lifestyle lager. Its description coos “If you just opened a Wavehopper, you know what time it is.” True. Time to find a Gaffel.
Served: 12 oz bottle