Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Beers That Make You Go "Wow."

Beer: Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock
Brewery: G. Schneider and Sohn (Germany)
Type: eisbock
ABV: 12%

Well, it's Christmas Eve-eve, and what better time of year than to sit around and get loaded! And by that, I mean review some more holiday brews. Next on the agenda is the eisbock, a rather unique style that isn't a Christmas beer per se, but traditionally eisbocks were consumed in the Lenten season, and that's good enough for me. This was a rather random pick up for me: I was at the old LCBO, and was a bit disappointed with their Christmas selection, so I decided to pick up a few old favorites for the holiday season. Aventinus' hefeweizen is a pretty great brew, so I snagged this one up, only to discover that this bottle instead contained their eisbock, a beer I've never had the privilege to sample before. I guess their bottles look fairly similar.

A happier Christmas miracle I could not ask for.

So, you're probably wondering, what the hell is an eisbock? Don't you fret now; ol' Matty will set you straight. To begin, a bock is simply a strong lager, darker in colour than their pale lager and pilsner counterparts, and usually with an ABV of at least 6.5%. The style is believed to have originated around the town of Einbeck, Germany, thus giving a possible explanation for the name. (Fun Fact: another possible origin is the fact that 'bock' is similar to the German word for 'goat'. Thus, on many bock labels you will often see images of goats with beer strapped to their backs. Google it!)

As you can see, goats are good people.

These brews are given a little bit of extra malting to allow for heartier flavours, and are stored (lager-ed) for a longer periods of time to smooth and clean things out. Therefore, bocks are almost always darker in colour, and can possess flavours that are more reminiscent of ales, like caramels, dark fruits and spices. Due to their high ABV and thicker bodies, bocks were traditionally consumed in the winter months, both as a means of sustenance and to combat the chill (I'm well aware that alcohol is an ineffective way to "keep warm", but it's a hell of a lot more fun than "bundling up" and "respecting nature.").

There are many variations of the bock style: maibocks are lighter and crisper bocks that are stored over the winter and consumed in the spring (May = Mai auf Deutsch); doppelbocks are the strongest variations of the bock, with notoriously high ABVs. And then there are eisbocks. The eisbock style is one that purportedly came about entirely by accident, a result of laziness and ineptitude: the twin pillars of human innovation. As the story goes, a hapless brewery employee neglected to store some of the kegs properly, exposing them to the frigid elements. When the kegs were eventually tapped, it was discovered that the beer had frozen somewhat. Like the smart lads they were, rather than dump the beer out, they gave it a try, only to discover that this new brew was both stronger and sweeter than it was originally supposed to be. A new style was born! Eisbocks, therefore, are similar to ice wines in their production. Modern brewers will allow their brews to ferment in extra-cold temperatures. The water freezes, but the sugars (and thus the alcohol) remain, albeit in a more concentrated form.

Aventinus is one of the standards of the eisbock style, and damn is it good.

First of all, consider the ABV, a whopping 12%. This makes Aventinus a good three times stronger than your average bottle of beer. This means that lining up several in a row is probably not a good idea (unless it's your intention) and even having one puts you well at risk of being over the alcohol limit, so it's definitely not one for the crowd. Best drink this one safely.

The crazy thing is, 12% isn't anywhere near the high point for eisbocks: 15%, 18% and even 20% are surprisingly common. An excellent way to enjoy a quiet night avoiding wintry weather.

The brew pours a nice, chocolaty brown, very cloudy. Almost like chocolate milk. Leaves about an inch of head, that recedes into a little ring around the glass.

The smell is terrific: dark fruit, spices, nuts, malts, and a bit of alcohol. This is going to be good. The taste is also superb. Similar flavours as detected on the nose, with a bit of banana and cloves to boot (this is, after all, a weizen eisbock, so there is a bit of wheat beer character to it). Very rich and flavourful. The alcohol is certainly present, but it's masked fairly well. Rather than being a stingy, gaggy taste (as some high alcoholic brews can be), Aventinus has just that right bit of strength to give you a warming sensation in your belly. This is what a winter warmer should be like. Nevertheless, this beer is very high in alcohol, so I'll try to finish the review before I get compromised by all the yummyness.

Mouthfeel is thick and chewy, with the carbonation providing just a bit of sting.


This was one incredible beer experience. Flavourful, complex, refreshingly unique. This is a beer I will be drinking a lot of this winter. If you're just coming in from the cold, whether it be shoveling or scraping the steps, sit down with this one and all will be well again. On Beer Advocate, this is the first brew I've given an A+, and that's saying quite a bit (I'm not harsh, but I don't give many brews above an A minus; gotta save the perfect 10's for the perfect beer!). Highly recommend this one! Just promise me you won't drive anywhere afterwards, capisce? (Grade: A+)

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