I was fortunate to be able to take in a handful of Milwaukee Brewers spring training games in March. While Miller Park offers a modestly diverse menu of craft beer selections, Maryvale Baseball Park -- the team's home field in Phoenix -- is dominated by MillerCoors taps. I'd heard that Leinenkugel's was coming out with a new Kölsch-style beer named Canoe Paddler, but hadn't yet seen it here in Madison. Sure enough, it made the roster in the Cactus League, and in the heat of watching spring training, it became my beer of choice. Canoe Paddler makes my starting line-up for the 2013 baseball season for one reason -- it's an early taste of the lighter summer brews.
What is it? Canoe Paddler by the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
Style: Originating in city of Köln, located on the lower Rhine River in Germany, the Kölsch style of beer is made with ale yeast and fermented warm, yet commonly aged at colder temperatures. Expect this beer to be golden to straw color and effervescent. The flavor offers some subtle sweetness, but with a slight dryness that adds to an overall crisp impression. Its texture or mouthfeel is light to medium. While there is some hoppiness, a traditional Kölsch should be clean and not too bitter. The style will range in alcohol from 4.8% to 5.3% ABV.
The Kölsch name, in German law and tradition, applies only to beer from Köln, and it is brewed to strict standards, with 10% to 20% wheat. American versions of Kölsch commonly skirt the naming issue by using the phrase "Kölsch style" on their label. Leinenkugel's Canoe Paddler uses rye malt, which breaks tradition.
Background: The Leinenkugel family originally came from Mechenheim, Germany, a small town about 20 miles south of Köln. John Leinenkugel is the fifth generation of Leinenkugels to call the Wisconsin home. He says making a Kölsch is important to him and his family because it represents the company's Germanic roots with brewing and malting. "This is the first of several beers we plan to introduce that will be tied to our family's heritage," he says.
Canoe Paddler is actually the first Kölsch-style beer that Leinenkugel's (now owned by MillerCoors) has produced in its 146 years of brewing in Chippewa Falls. It's part of the special Leinie's heritage series, which will emphasize its German roots. Leinenkugel says consumers can expect more heritage brews as early as this fall, when the brewery will introduce its new Hoppin' Helles into that series.
Canoe Paddle doesn't fit into the exact definitions or traditions of the Kölsch. Leinenkugel explains that he was looking to put an American twist on the German style by using rye malt for a distinctive dryness and a fuller body than what one finds in a traditional Kölsch. "When my brothers, Jake and Dick, and I were trying Kölschs, we felt there wasn't too much to the style, and we weren't too excited about it," he explains, "but when we introduced malted rye into it and three different hops that we don't use in any of our other beers, it became pretty interesting." Those three hops are Czech Saaz, Sterling and Styrian Goldings.
Canoe Paddler ends up at around 5% ABV and 11 IBUs. It sells in six-packs for $7-$9. The beer's name was coined thanks to a company-wide request for suggestions. John Leinenkugel says he doesn't know which employee offered the winning entry, but laughs that his own idea, Spring Time Rye, wasn't selected.
If you like rye beers, Leinenkugel's is adding an even bigger one to its Big Eddy series. It's Ryewine is expected to be released in early summer. Made with five different hops, it's is expected to be quite strong at 9% ABV.
- Aroma: Light floral sweetness, with a faint earthy yeastiness; otherwise clean.
- Appearance: Clear light yellow, golden with a medium soft and long-lasting head of foam.
- Texture: Light, bubbly, with a subtle creamy-softness.
- Taste: Begins with a light but firm crisp touch of hops that gives ways to the spicy rye background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The light spicy dryness lingers.
Glassware: Traditionally the Kölsch is served in a glass called a stick or stange, which is a tall, clear cylinder with no taper and a rather small capacity of about 7 ounces.
Pairs well with: Canoe Paddler has an overall light flavor that can be easily overwhelmed by most foods. A mild smoked Gouda cheese is nice. However, it's really just an easy drinking summer beer, and goes good with a hot dog on a hot day at the ballpark . Don't overthink this one.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Kölsch can be a little bland, but Leinenkugel's version, with its touch of rye malt, spices it up a bit. I realize that purists looking for the German standards in Kölsch with brews like Graffel (PrivatbrauereiGaffel Becker & Company, Köln, Deutschland) or Reissdorf (Privatbrauerei Heinrich Reissdorf, Köln, Deutschland) will likely be disappointed. But before the beer style police sound their sirens, I will say that this is a brew that deserves some attention as an early entry into the light, thirst-quenching beers of summer. I appreciate Canoe Paddler for what it is, a light-bodied, mostly clean golden ale with an accent of rye and dryness in the finish.