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Thirsty Thursday: River Horse Brewing Company’s Wuddermelon Kölsch

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Photo By Ed Miller

Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.

Judging by the sound of all the air conditioners running in my neighborhood, summer has officially arrived and with it comes the craving for a much lighter style of beer.  Sure, I’ll still drink my fair share of IPAs and Double IPAs, but it’s time to switch to a Hefeweizen or Kölsch and while there might not be a vast market saturation of these two styles, there’s typically still plenty of local efforts to choose from at your favorite store.  I had no problem picking out this week’s effort, since it’s one I’ve wanted to try: River Horse Brewing Company’s Wuddermelon Kölsch.

Originally founded back in 1996, River Horse came under new ownership in 2007 when Glenn Bernabeo and Chris Walsh purchased the company and it has continued to blossom in the New Jersey craft beer scene.  Located a stone’s throw from the Delaware River and the state’s capital city of Trenton, it’s one of New Jersey’s largest breweries, pumping out an average of more than 13,000 barrels every year, according to its Wikipedia page.  There’s always a focus of quality over quantity at the brewery’s 25,000-square-foot location, creating efforts that feature subtle flavors to keep drinkers wanting more, which has even helped River Horse receive some attention at the Great American Beer Festival.  In 2017, one of the brewery’s staples, Tripel Horse, took home a bronze medal in the Belgian-Style Tripel category at the country’s biggest brewing competition.

And if you’re wondering where the name and hippo idea originate, it dates back to the Egyptians who considered the creature a sign of sustenance and fertility.

There are four year-round beers in River Horse’s arsenal and a bunch of seasonal and limited efforts, one of which is Wuddermelon Kölsch.  This traditional Kölsch is 4.1 percent ABV, brewed with Lemondrop, Chinook and Hallertau hops and highlights a watermelon puree, added during fermentation.  It comes in six-packs of 12-ounce cans – this one was packaged on June 3, so I knew it was incredibly fresh. 

River Horse claims it’s the perfect summer beer.  I’ll be the judge of that.

Right off the bat, the label is fun and simple, yet fairly enticing.  It features almost a polkadot watermelon look, with a large slice in the middle and the company’s hippo logo eating it.  There’s a blue and green color combination as well as some of the information you’d want about what’s inside.  I would’ve liked to see the ingredients, specifically the hops, highlighted somewhere.

I cracked this open, fully expecting a pungent watermelon theme in most aspects but what I got was very subtle flavoring – but it was one that worked well with this specific style.  I started with the nose, leaving it in the can to get the full effect.  What I noticed was a hint of watermelon with a more powering aroma of yeast that’s pretty consistent for the German-based style.  It wasn’t anything that blew my socks off but it was in the ballpark of what I’d expect in a Kölsch.

When I poured it into the appropriate River Horse glass, which I got at the brewery a few years back, Wuddermelon Kölsch poured a straw-like color, with a little bit of haze and no more than two fingers worth of white head, which dissipated quickly.  That’s exactly what you want and it was done without sacrificing any of the carbonation on this lighter-bodied effort.

But the real test was the taste.  Let me first say that this might be considered sacrilegious, to add watermelon flavoring to this German-rooted style, but it works – and works fairly well.  The sip starts with a hint of that watermelon, sort of like a super light Dum-Dum lollipop, and moves to a bready flavor, one brought about by the yeast before finishing with a dry finish, with no lingering bitterness from the hops.  The ending was abundantly crisp and very refreshing.  The one qualm I have here is that I would’ve maybe liked a little more of that watermelon flavor to shine through.

I thought this was an excellent example of a crisp and clean Kölsch, one that I’d continue to sip on throughout the entirety of a summer day.  It’s not the most difficult style to mimic but River Horse proved that it can nail a beer of this caliber.  While I would’ve liked more watermelon, I thought the subtle hint made this already crushable style even more so and I probably finished off the entire beer, which I remind you was a 12-ounce, in a record time for these reviews – there’s just not a ton to it! And the fact that it was only $9 for a six-pack is a sweet bonus.

As per usual, I jumped on to BeerAdvocate to see the score, though this particular River Horse effort doesn’t have too much of a footprint on the site.  There’s no site score and it received an average score of 3.41 based on just seven ratings.  I would go a little higher here based on conversion, giving Wuddermelon Kölsch an 7.9 out of 10.  It was a pretty solid representation of a flavorful Kölsch which was just amplified a little bit by the watermelon.  The only thing setting it back is the aroma and a little of that flavor but sit me outback on my patio on a sweltering day and I could quickly polish off these horses.

Stay tuned next week, because I might try something from your favorite brewery.