Monday, February 6, 2012

A winter without icebock

In Kulmbach, Germany, the Bavarian locale said to be the birthplace of eisbock, it's a bitter -2 degrees Fahrenheit today, with a forecast high of 10 degrees. Over the next couple of days it's not going to get much warmer, not breaking out of the teens.

That's perfect weather for turning doppelbock into its richer, bigger alter ego, eisbock: exposing the kegged beer to the elements, letting it partially freeze and drawing off a core of concentrated beer from an outer layer of ice.

Four thousand miles across the Atlantic, here in New Jersey, that's what High Point Brewing, makers of the Ramstein brand, has been doing since the year 2000, turning its 9.5% ABV Winter Wheat Doppelbock into a velvety eisbock, strong but balanced and smooth, a few ticks higher in alcohol.

But not this year.

The uncharacteristically mild winter of 2012 has thawed any hopes this season of having Ramstein Ice Storm, the name of High Point's draft-only eisbock. It's simply been to warm, says High Point owner Greg Zaccardi.

Icestorm is the casualty of a dearth of consecutive days dropping down to the 20-degree temperature range (or colder) needed to produce the beer that the Butler brewery has made annually as gesture of appreciation to its loyal followers.

"It's not a profit-making beer. It's really a beer we do to say thank you to the year-round fans," Greg says.

The weather truly has the final say.

"It's not some phony marketing ploy," he says. "We really have to rely on Mother Nature to get involved in the brewing process and bring us enough cold weather to make the beer possible. We don't use some alternative form of refrigeration. It's done in the real traditional German way."

Ordinarily by now, Ice Storm would be in the sixtels. Last year, a snowy winter with plenty of cold days, High Point took the unprecedented step of brewing 15 barrels of wheat doppelbock specifically for making eisbock.

That was the initial plan for this year, but heavy demand for the doppelbock meant a portion of the final batch of the seasonal run, brewed around Christmas, would be needed to meet draft orders for wheat bock.

By last week, with a continued upswing in temperatures to 50 and even 60 degrees, all bets were off on the eisbock. The remaining Winter Wheat would remain just that – Winter Wheat.

"This year a lot of people are happy they don't have to shovel their driveway out 15 times. The price for that is, we're not able to make eisbock."

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