Was Eisbock an Accident?

17 02 2012

While researching the traditions of Eisbocks for my lastest post “Hot Rocks to make Eisbocks: Hofstettner’s Granitbock ICE“, I came across an interesting history from the German Beer Institute.  This article discusses the accidental origins of the unusual brew – and much like Silly Putty, Coca-Cola, and Microwaves, it was invented by accident.  The story starts around 1890 in the Barvarian town of Kulmback.

“The First Eisbock Was an Accident” – by the German Beer Institute


A Real Eisbock

Though some ice beer advertisements insinuate otherwise, the freezing process for beer was not invented in Canada, but in Germany. It is not entirely clear, however, where and when the Eisbock originated, but there is one persistent legend that places the invention into the Reichelbräu brew yard in the city of Kulmbach, at around 1890. The legend may not be true, but it sounds plausible. Besides, it is a good yarn! According to that (tall?) tale, on a wintery day, a brewery lad had been instructed by the brewmaster to roll the casks of finished Bockbier from the brewery yard back into the cellar and then close shop. But after a long day of toil in front of the mash tun the lad was just too tired in the evening to carry out his master’s orders. Instead, he figured that there would be no harm in leaving them outside until morning. That night, however, turned out to be bitter cold, and the beer inside the casks froze solid. By the time the brew crew returned the following morning, the staves of the casks had burst open. It appeared to all that the entire lot of wonderful Bockbier had been ruined. As the brewers inspected the frozen brew more closely, they discovered that a small pool of murky, brownish liquid had collected at the very center of each cask. The brewers were unaware that alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water, and that it became concentrated as the beer froze in the casks from the outside in. As the water froze, the alcohol also transported with it all the essence of the Bockbier’s malty flavor to the center. The irate brewmaster, bent on meting out severe punishment, ordered the hapless lad to crack open the icy casks and drink the awful brownish stuff. The frightened lad, of course, did as he was told, taking mere tentative sips at first, but then imbibing with ever increasing gusto. In the center of each cask-size lump of ice was the most delicious, malty-sweet, and heavy beer imaginable. Punishment, indeed! The lad was the first human ever to taste…Eisbock; and being a kind and generous sort, he let the others share in his “punishment.” Subsequently, the Kulmbach brewers made it a practice, during severe cold spells, to roll out into the open a few casks of Bockbier or Doppelbock, leave them overnight, and collect the cold nectar in the center, the essence of Bock, as a heart-warming sipping beer. Thus was born, allegedly, the Eisbock, a beer style that is still made today according to the principles that operated on that bitter cold wintry night in Kulmbach. In Kulmbach, the Reichelbräu eventually became part of the Kulmbacher AG brew conglomerate, and the original Eisbock is now called G’frorns — local vernacular for “something frozen.”




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