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Style Studies: German Eisbock, Foreign Stout

Schneider Aventinus Weizen Eisbock

The marketing angle for these beers centers on a process by which the beer is cooled to sub-freezing temperatures after fermentation in order to yield a smoother, “ice-brewed” product. A corollary result of this process – one not missed in frat houses far and wide – is the finished beer also tends to boast a slightly higher alcohol by volume than the typical light lager, thus giving the (not so) discerning imbiber optimal bang for the beer buck...

German Eisbock

...While the ice wars of the 1990’s mega-brewers had more to do with marketing than beer brewing, the notion of freezing beer didn’t originate with some ad agency executive. In fact, some of the science behind the commercial glitz is true – the process commonly known as freeze distillation does indeed yield a smoother, more concentrated beer… and a stronger one to boot. The real issue is the quality of the beer being frozen in the first place. Try it with a light, adjunct-laden lager and you get more of the same, quite literally. Try it with something more substantial – like a rich, malty bockbier, for example – and you’ve got the makings of a legend.  

According to legend in Germany, the Eisbock came about as a result of a simple oversight. Just before the turn of the 19th Century, a brewery worker at the Reichelbräu Brewery in Kulmbach, Bavaria, purportedly left a cask of strong bockbier outside on a particularly frigid Bavarian night. When workers discovered it the next day, the contents were frozen solid. Once the cask was cracked open, they discovered a rather large ice cube with dark liquid suspended within. As punishment for his mistake, the errant brewery worker is said to have been ordered to drink up the remaining beer. Much to his surprise, and assumed delight, the residual beer had extraordinary taste. All of the appealing aspects of the bock were concentrated, including the alcohol content, and a new beer style, of sorts, was born.  

The base beer for Eisbock is a traditional bockbier, often a doppelbock, or in the case of one of the strongest examples, a Weizen-Eisbock, brewed by the G. Schneider & Sohn Brewery under the Aventinus label. Pale, Vienna, Munich or wheat malt provides the lion’s share of the grain bill with varying additions of darker malts such as Carafa for color and more of the rich, caramel-like character for which bockbiers are renowned. German Noble hops are used traditionally but only to adequately balance the sweet malt, not for flavor or aroma. Decoction mashing is also typically employed, which even further accentuates the beer’s sweet attitude. Finally, clean lager yeast and long maturation, including the freeze distillation process, make the Eisbock one of the smoothest slow-sippers you’ll find. 

Expect an Eisbock to pour a deep red-copper color and display excellent clarity due to the lengthy lagering phase and freezing, which it is argued, removes some haze-inducing proteins. Expect a moderate to thin head of sandy foam as a result of the much higher than average alcohol level. On the nose, expect the tell-tale malt forward character intermingled with discernable alcohol notes. Some fruit esters are common as well and are a result of the specialty malts, like Munich or Carafa, rather than a byproduct of fermentation. The palate is initially very sweet with the slow burn of alcohol following and lingering on the tongue. Depending on the base beer, too, strong melanoidins – flavor compounds in malts that produce caramel, toffee and some roasted flavor – can be present and quite prominent.

Eisbock will be full and thick in the mouth and may have an initial cloying effect that is often described as sticky. Moderately low carbonation levels and low bitterness add to the heft of the beer. The finish tends to be exceedingly smooth, warm and long. Although this is often a very sweet beer, high alcohol levels and just enough well hidden hop bitterness keep the beer from weighing too heavily on the palate, although this is undoubtedly a beer to enjoy in leisure and in moderation.

Eisbock is a formidable style and can stand up to aggressively flavored foods like Limburger cheese, roast venison, Katenspek (cured ham) and is a heavenly accompaniment to a rich crème brulee or Black Forest chocolate cake.

Stats – O.G:  1.074 to 1.116, IBUs: 20 to 33, SRM: 18 to 50, ABV: 8.6 to 14.4 percent

Recommended Examples – Kulmbacher Eisbock, Schneider Weizen-Eisbock, Capital Eisphyre, Redhook Eisbock 28

Stats – O.G: 1.047 to 1.056, IBUs: 11 to 23, SRM: 6 to 13, ABV: 5 to 8 percent
Recommended Examples – Cantillon Iris, Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeeckse Kriek, Lindemans Faro Lambic, Oud Beersel Oude Gueuze Vieille 


Foreign Stout

Starting with its evolutionary rise around the mid-1700’s, a new beer taken from strong porters and known as “stout” porters became a distinguishable style amidst the hustle and bustle of London’s Industrial Revolution. Along with the industrial technology that began to expand beyond British borders, the newly established stout beer was also ready for exportation.

The brown porter – and the higher gravity, more assertively hopped “stout” porters – would find a warm welcome in countries like Ireland, of course, where some adaptation and advances in brewing technologies early in the 19th Century would help define the benchmark stout beer – the Classic Irish-style Dry Stout – and truly bring the style into its own. The most prolific and enduring brewer of this new beer style was and is Guinness, Ltd. It’s important to note that the name Guinness isn’t descriptive of a single beer, but rather a brand that has produced nearly two dozen variations of its stout beer during its almost 250 year history! 

As palates began to turn toward beers made with paler, lightly-kilned malts in the style’s original birthplace of London, Ireland’s embrace of stout beer would buck this trend and expand even further into some the most exotic locales around the world. An iteration of the style – a strong, generously hopped beer designated “export” or “extra” stout – would move into territories and interests in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, for example. These beers took full advantage of the robust color, character and deep, full flavors provided by the use of black malts such as roasted barley and black patent.

Eventually many of these countries would later come to brew their own interpretations of this imported stout beer. By blending in their own indigenous ingredients (such as adjunct sugars) and approaches, these “foreign” or “tropical” stouts would continue the evolution of the style and, in fact, gain a following in other parts of the world including England and North America as exported products, bringing the beer full-circle in many ways. Desnoes & Geddes Dragon Stout (a Diageo-owned company) in Jamaica and Lion Stout, from the Ceylon Brewery in Sri Lanka, are two worthy examples. 

Look for the foreign-style stout to appear quite dark – ruddy brown to black – and produce a voluminous head of tan foam with excellent staying power. On the nose, roasted barley malt rules the day, accentuating notes of chocolate, coffee and dark treacle. Hints of fruity sweetness are also appropriate for the style. Hop aromas should not be perceptible, but some vinous alcoholic sharpness may be detected in some examples. The palate will yield a combination of roasted malts and fruity sweetness up front, in varying proportions. Hop flavors serve only a supporting role, while the level of roasted malt and fruit esters dominate the palate.

This is typically one of the ways of differentiating the “export” style stout from the “foreign” stout with foreign stout highlighting sweet, fruity aspects of the flavor range rather than dry, bitter or even mildly astringent characteristics. Foreign stouts tend toward a full-bodied, smooth mouth feel with ample carbonation and some alcohol warmth in the finish. A few examples even use a lager yeast strain to give their beer a cleaner, rounder finish. 

Given that the Foreign (Export) style of Stout falls somewhere between a Sweet Stout and an Imperial Stout in flavor and strength, in addition to accentuating some unique fruit esters, try pairing one with a Stilton cheese, wild game such as venison or a flourless chocolate torte or raspberry cheesecake.

Stats – OG: 1.052 to 1.072, IBUs: 30 to 60, SRM: 40 +, ABV: 5.7 to 9.3 percent

Recommended Examples – D&G Dragon Stout, Ceylon Lion Stout, Archipelago ABC Stout, Coopers Best Extra Stout