The (somewhat accidental) discovery of German Eisbock beer comes with a fun tale, whether it is a tall tale or not is up in the air, but nevertheless it makes learning more fun!
The legend starts on a cold winter evening in the late 1800s at the Reichelbrau Brewery in Kulmbach, Bavaria. A young brewer boy had just finished a hard days work that consisted of shoveling spent grain, lugging barrels into storage, and lots and lots of cleaning. Exhausted the boy waits for permission to go home, but before that is granted, the head brewmaster asks him to bring one last barrel inside. Dragging his body over to the last barrel the boy notices it ust have gained at least 200 pounds, which his weak tired body was not going to be able to move, so instead of trying and failing or worse breaking the barrel, he decided one night outside wouldn't hurt.
The next morning, the boy wakes up extra early to go move in the barrel before any one sees, but he arrives to an unfortunate surprise. The cold night had frozen and expanded the barrel and its contents, popping the head and cracking the weak stave joint. Accepting his fate that he would likely be fired, he awaited the brewmasters arrival.
Angry with the situation and destruction of the barrel and its contents, the brewmaster began whacking away at the barrel in an attempt to get it open. Once he did, he gave the boy two options, either drink all of the beer he ruined, or leave. Hesitant, the boy chose to drink, but that's when the discovery occurred that the beer was not ruined at all, but was rather enhanced with a new fiery sweetness, thick malt, and magnified dark fruit flavor.
Well there you have it, the story of the Eisbock bier, but what actually is an Eisbock? Simply put, an Eisbock is a stronger Bockbier due to the production process it undergoes called freeze distilling. When brewing Eisbock, freeze distilling is used to separate the water from the other components, alcohol and sugars, in order to concentrate them. Since water has a lower freezing point than ethanol, the water freezes, leaving the alcohol as a liquid. Once the water ice is removed, the remaining beer is much stronger than it was before. The freezing process also helps create a nicely warming alcohol, and a smoother deeper, richer complexity of malt flavors.
The alcohol presence of this 9-14% ABV Eisbock overtakes most any hop bitterness and flavor that one would normally experience from a bock, however the alcohol can range from sweet to spicy and fruity to fusel. With a heavy, almost syrupy body, and tons of malt flavors, the tasting notes mainly consist of toast, caramel, and chocolate. The color of Eisbock's can range from near black to a tawny red, and are best consumed out of a snifter glass. Aging Eisbock is also a common part of the process, since it can be aged for typically over five years.
Today, Eisbock is one of the rarest beer styles around due to the expense and effort that goes into producing it. Eisbocks are also rarely found in the United States, since alcohol laws don't allow breweries to use freeze distillation. Interesting how its legal to brew a 20% ABV beer normally, but you can't brew a 9-14% ABV American Eisbock by freezing and concentrating it.
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