Alright, better late than never. Summit’s new Unchained Series has been on the shelves for about two weeks now, and I was just today able to pick some up after striking out at a few of my usual beer haunts…I’m guessing a testament to the palpable buzz that preceded it in the local Twin Cities beer community.

As many already know, this is Summit’s first beer out of the gates for their new series, an attempt to give their brewers complete freedom in selecting a style they’d like to bring out to the market. For more background, Heavy Table recently provided a nice overview, as well as a solid review from fellow beer blogger Stu at Friday Night Beer.

Overall, I think a pretty cool move for the brewery, even despite some of the negative banter coming from some folks that a kolsch was a fairly underwhelming choice, of course assuming the goal was to “show the hop heads what we’re made of” and distance the staid brewery from its relatively stable portfolio of rather traditional English- and German-style beers like the EPA or Maibock. But I don’t think that’s what they’re really up to.

While I admit I had a couple nagging doubts of my own, I know from my own home brewing experience, at least, that it’s certainly alot easier to pull off a massively overhopped double IPA than it is to brew a delicate and balanced German-style ale like this. There’s much to be appreciated in masterful subtlety, and for the naysayers that wanted to see something a little more extreme, I’d say Summit (at least with the kolsch) has successfully innovated within the sandbox they’ve built for themselves over the last 25 years. They’re never going to be a Surly, it’s not in their nature. On the flipside of that coin, it’s not in Surly’s DNA to do a traditional kolsch. So in the end, I’d say I’m pretty impressed with what Summit has gone with for the first offering in the series.

Kolsch is an interesting style, because you get a little of both the ale and lager worlds in one. A little fruity, yet very crisp with a well-attenuated mouthfeel. I brewed my own version recently, which I think turned out well aside from the lack of clarity (a common issue with some homebrews). Compared to Summit’s version, however, it’s pedestrian at best.  

The beer poured very clean with a great billowing head and pils-like clarity. A nice hybrid quality in the nose…you get a very subtle hint of fruity esters from the top fermenting yeast, maybe tart apple, but it’s quickly overtaken by a sulfuric quality more commonly experienced in crisp lagers along with some very light Hallertau hops. The taste was also pleasing. Soft, rounded graininess presumably from the pilsner and Kolsch malts used in the grain bill, leading to a whisper of bitterness in the finish. It’s only 4.7% ABV, so clearly a session beer if the mood struck.   

Paired extraordinarily well with a fantastic green chile and sweet corn macaroni and cheese dish I whipped up, inspired by a recipe which I grabbed from Twin Cities food blog A Good Appetite. The green chile played surprisingly well with the kolsch, accentuated by the beer’s prickly crispness. Thanks for the great recipe, guys.

Having never been to Cologne, my knowledge of Kolsch-style ales is relatively limited. But this certainly appears to be a faithful representation of what you might get sitting down at a German kaffe or biergarten. Very pleasant.

Rating: A-