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There’s a nasty rumor that has been circulating throughout North America for some time.  Astonishingly, certain misinformed people (I’m looking at you, Labatt) have claimed for awhile that ice beer was invented in Canada.  It seems that anything associated with cold, freezing, or ice can nowadays be pinned on the Great White North.  But, how did this particular scuttlebutt come to be?

To find out, let’s turn back the clock to that magical time known as 1993.  Those were heady days, my friend.  The Canadiens were engraving their names on Lord Stanley’s Mug for the last time.  BKS and Don Cherry were making beautiful music together.  And, a Prime Minister was single-handedly ruining her own political party.  It was also the year of the infamous Ice Beer Wars. In the spring of that year, the Canadian beer manufacturer, Labatt, announced that they had “invented” a process which could increase the body and alcohol content of their beer through partially freezing it.  Labatt Ice was born.  Not to be outdone, Labatt’s main Canadian rival, Molson, releases their own version of ice beer sparking a massive marketing war between the two brewers.

I’m sure any German at the time would have viewed this conflict with a good deal of incredulity.  To this day, Labatt claims to have the original patent to the ice beer process despite the fact that Germans have been utilizing the method for 150 years.  Known in Germany as Eisbock, maximizing flavor and alcohol levels through freezing is, in fact, nothing new on the other side of the Atlantic.

The process involved in creating both Eisbock and the Canadian version is essentially identical.  By cooling beer to just below freezing, you separate out a large portion of water from the alcohol, which has a lower freezing point.  You then skim off the ice crystals from the brew leaving behind a beer that is twice as potent as the original.  The major difference between the two is that typical North American ice beers usually have water added back into the beer in order to keep alcohol levels right around 5 to 6% as opposed to the 12 to 15% found in Eisbocks.

The other significant difference is, of course, that Eisbock has been around for over a century longer than Labatt Ice.  The story of the very first Eisbock is surrounded in myth and mystery.  According to the legend, the discovery of Eisbock was not the work of some ingenious brewer but, rather, a stroke of exceedingly good luck.  It all went down in the region of Kulmbach in upper Franconia in the mid-19th century.  During one particularly harsh winter, a lowly brewers apprentice was finishing up a day of grueling work at his master’s brewery.  Instead of rolling kegs of recently brewed Doppelbock from the courtyard to the cellar, the exhausted apprentice decided to knock off early leaving several barrels of the brew outside overnight.  The next morning, the head brewer was furious when he discovered the partially frozen beer left out by his underling.  As punishment, he forced the apprentice to break off the ice and drink the syrupy residue that remained in the barrels.  Far from being punishment, the dark brown, ulta-malty brew turned out to be a landmark development.

It’s unclear how much of this story is purely fictional.  In any case, the accidental discovery soon created a stir throughout Germany making Eisbock an instant classic.  Nowadays, many Bavarian brewers have taken the accident out of the process and have added Eisbocks to their already prodigious offerings.  The original Kulmbacher brewery to which this legend is linked continues to offer their version of Eisbock.  They are one among many that make the brewing of this beer a seasonal event.  But, perhaps the most unusual version in the Eisbock style comes from the wheat beer brewer G. Schneider & Sohn.  Unlike most other Eisbocks, which are made from Doppelbocks, Schneider’s variant is instead a Weizen giving the beer a unique character.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love Schneider’s Aventinus Weizenbock.  So, when I found out that their Eisbock was essentially a concentrated version of the Aventinus, I knew I had to get my hands on this one.  It turned out that Schneider’s offering was one of the few Eisbocks that I was able to find where I’m at.  At any rate, this puppy would definitely make a superb introduction to the Eisbock style.

So, what about the beer?  This delicious brew pours a deep brown, almost black color with effervescent off-white head.  The aroma, which is rich with dried fruits, yeast, and bread, hits the nose immediately.  The taste is huge in dried fruits, plum, raisin with typical Weizen banana and a big cereal malt flavor.  It’s probably an overstatement to call this beer syrup-like, but it is definitely full-bodied giving way to a hefty malt aftertaste.

Phew!  Is it just the room or is my head spinning?  It goes without saying that the alcohol content of this beer is a significant feature.  With 12% ABV, you’d think that it would dominate the flavor.  Although you get a strong rummy taste with the Aventinus Eisbock, it isn’t overpowering.  In fact, the warming alcohol taste balance well with the huge malt character making the beer very drinkable.  You definitely want to take it slow though.  This sucker will mess you up quick.

I suppose that Labatt and Molson can be excused for their claims to originality.  What gets me though is the overreaching boast of ice beer’s potency.  In comparison, Aventinus Eisbock might as well be Absinthe.  Regardless, the likes of Labatt Ice in no way rob the German variety of ice brewing from its authenticity and ingenuity.  Brewers such as Kulmbacher and Schneider’s will continue to produce the world’s best and truly original ice beer.

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