Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Eight years and an array of eisbiers, February 27 at Franconia

Image courtesy of Franconia Brewing Co.

It all started back in the winter of 2014. That's when North Texas experienced its 20th-coldest winter on record, along the way seeing more freezes than at any other time in the past 30 years. Long-time locals might not have been thrilled with the extended cold snap, but it was something that gave Franconia Brewing Co. owner Dennis Wehrmann an idea. Drawing on his German roots, he decided to leave a couple of kegs out in the cold in an effort to create an eisbock.

Just to review, eisbocks (or ice bocks) are a German regional specialty made by exposing a beer to freezing temperatures. Since water freezes before alcohol, any ice that forms during the cool down period can be removed, leaving a beer more concentrated in both flavor and alcohol. To get a sense of what that means, just think about it like this...what would a watered-down beer (like say most anything produced by the big three) taste like if you could just take out the water?

For what would be the first Texas Ice Bock, Wehrmann and head brewer Cam Horn decided to start with Winter Wheat, Franconia's existing cold-weather seasonal. It was the logical choice, seeing as how the beer itself is a weizenbock, one of two styles (the other being a doppelbock) traditionally used as starters when making of this type of beer. Kegs were filled and left out overnight to chill, with the extraction of ice taking place the next morning. The result was a stronger, richer version of the original beer, which saw an ABV jump from 9% to somewhere in the teens.

Since then, Wehrmann and head brewer Cam Horn have gone on to produce two other varieties of eisbier. Neither would be considered traditional, since neither uses a bock recipe as the base beer, but come on...when has Franconia ever stuck to tradition (ba dum tss)?!

All jokes aside, the first of these was released in January 2015 and based off the brewery's "amazing" Tripel Dunkel. That choice was driven by a desire to produce one the strongest beers ever sold in Texas (the TABC measured the ABV at 17.02%). Another version, based off Franconia's Double IPA, was produced this past November for North Texas Beer Week. The inspiration for that one? To see what happens when you freeze craft beer's most popular style.

Of course, you may be wondering how the brewery has gone about creating its eisbiers considering that North Texas hasn't had much in the way of a cold spell since 2014. Well, thanks to modern refrigeration that hasn't been a problem. If anything, the use of technology has allowed Wehrmann and Horn to exercise more control in the process, since they can experiment with different temperatures on different batches to see how it affects the strength and flavor concentration in the finished beers.

The result of that work comes to fruition later this month, when Franconia celebrates its eighth anniversary with a party on Saturday, February 27. New batches of all three incarnations of Texas Ice Bock are expected to be served, along with the brewery's year-round beers, its Irish Red and the inaugural offering in the new World Tour series, English Stout. Food will also be available in the form of a crawfish boil provided by Backyard Bayou Co. of Fort Worth, and a beer and beef jerky pairing featuring the products of Van Cleave Dry Goods. Tickets for the event are $30, and are on sale now on Eventbrite at the following link:


In the meantime, just to provide a taste of what's in store for those looking to take the eisbock challenge, here are a few tasting notes from samples provided by the brewery. Cheers and remember to drink responsibly!

Ice Bock incarnations (left-to-right): Winter Wheat, Tripel Dunkel, Double IPA (Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Winter Wheat: Made for the first time since the original Texas Ice Bock in 2014, this new batch shows the least amount of ice-induced alteration among the three renditions. The beer is sweeter, with a little more fruit and spice than it had going in, but overall it's not a drastically different beer. Still, to provide a means for comparison in what follows, let's attach the phrase "sweet and boozy" to this particular variety.

Tripel Dunkel: Considering I referred to the 2015 batch as beer everclear, I think "boozy and boozy" is probably the right way to describe Tripel Dunkel after being iced down. While the beer's chocolate and roasted malt flavors are noticeably more intense, what's most prevalent is the presence of alcohol. There's a certain rawness to it that Horn thinks makes the beer seem like it's barrel-aged. As for other complexities that have emerged, Wehrmann noted the beer now has a more concentrated malt sugar character, while I felt like I was picking up a smoky component beyond anything I've ever noticed in the standard beer.

Double IPA: In almost perfect contrast to the flavor profile of the Winter Wheat version, the phrase that best fits Double IPA Ice Bock is "bitter and boozy." In a world that's gone from single, to double, to now triple IPAs, this beer might qualify as something along the lines of a quintuple. Still, even with its burly build, strangely enough the beer comes across a little bit like a fresh hop IPA. Though, that's not because the beer seems brighter, but more how the earthy and resinous hop notes are nudged firmly into the foreground.

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