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Monday, November 01, 2010

Redhook Eisbock 28

The Redhook Brewery has been on one of the longest, windiest roads since it was founded nearly 30 years ago. Looked at through a certain lens--the one I'm offering in this blog post, say--Redhook could be described as a brewery forever in search of itself. When it was originally founded back in 1982, the men behind it knew almost nothing about beer. The first beer they released was brewed unintentionally with a mixed Belgian strain that produced a huge amount of banana ester. It was mostly unpopular, except among the serious fans, among whom it was a cult fave. Eventually, of course, they ditched that strain and started over with a regular ale yeast. Then they had to rebuild.

Success in the late 80s led the brewery to expand and, on optimistic hopes of becoming a national brewery, build a second plant in New Hampshire--completed just before the mid-90s reset when craft brewing suffered a hiccup. Along the way, Redhook has had a rotating selection of flagship brands (from the original Redhook Ale to a nice ESB called Ballard Bitter to ESB). Redhook was one of the first big craft breweries, but has never had the kind of clear identities that Widmer (with Hefeweizen), Sierra Nevada (Pale), New Beligium (Fat Tire), or Full Sail (Amber) have had.

Aside from the flagship question, Redhook as made various forays with their lineup, like bringing back their delightful Rye and Double Black for short reappearances, and offering a short-lived diet beer (Slim Chance). This year's beers include a new pilsner and a line of limited releases--shades of the Widmers' Brothers' Reserve series. I received a bottle of the latest Limited Release a couple weeks ago, and it is a great example of how Redhook seems to still be wandering.

Eisbock 28
An eisbock (pn: ice bock) is a beer--traditionally a bock--that has gone through a process of freezing. This separates out the water--in the form of ice--from the alcohol. Remove the ice, and voila!, you have a more concentrated alcoholic beverage behind. Still obscure, the style has been given oblique fame by the Scottish-German arms race to produce the strongest beer. (Although the method isn't as widely discussed, both breweries are eisbocking.)

The goal isn't only to make a strong beer. Eisbocks can range up into liquor-like strengths, but historically they've been brewed at strengths managed through simple brewing--up to 13-14%. Rather, the technique creates different flavors than can be achieved through brewing. Flavor and aroma compounds become concentrated, and what results is a much fruitier beer than other lagers, one denser and richer and sharper with alcohol. It's a lovely style, and one that should be brewed more often.

So in comes Eisbock 28, like a thief under the cover of darkness. The name is damn near as obscure as the style. I over-thought its meaning and assumed it referred to the original gravity. Nope. It refers to the brewery's age (the gravity is actually 25.5P). The bottle isn't particularly useful at revealing these truths, though eventually I pieced it all together.

But the beer is fantastic! The brewery describes the beer as deep gold, but in my mug it looked more cranberry--a beautiful beer, in any case. The nose had little hints of stone fruit and caramel, but they were spirited up on hefty wafts of alcohol. The palate is much the same--creamy and sweet, with layered flavors of what turn out to be darker fruit, lots of caramel, all shot-through with the steel of alcohol. I might have used some roastier malt and/or a hair more hops to spice it up. (Sterlings were used for flavor and aroma--a good choice--but perhaps even more, or another infusion of nobles.) A bit more balance and I'd rate it an A, but this batch gets a solid B+.

I would love to have seen the brewery give this beer a bit more notice, to try to weave it into the narrative of the 28 years of brewing. Instead, it will be on shelves briefly, then follow its many predecessors into the annals of forgotten Redhook beers. In two years, the brewery will celebrate their 30th. It's probably too much to expect, but I'd love to see that celebration mark the start of Redhook' clear identity--a new direction for the brewery's next thirty years.
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Incidentally, I do know that's not a picture of Eisbock. It's a testament to the lack of support this beer has received that I couldn't find one online. It's similar, though, and illustrates how the visual style of Limited Release beers is so opaque.

10 comments:

Kevin said...

Jeff,

I have a poorly-lit lit picture of it in my review: http://beerandcoding.com/review-eisbock-28

Cheers!
Kevin
www.beerandcoding.com

Jeff Alworth said...

Kevin, I did see your post, but I decided not to rip off your photo. I just couldn't believe Redhook hasn't made them available.

Kevin said...

Jeff,

Agreed. Not sure of the motivation behind it, but for their last several releases, Redhook has provided only the cell-shaded looking cartoon graphic of the bottle.

Cheers!
Kevin
www.beerandcoding.com

dr wort said...

Sounds worth a try. I remember the Banana estered, Belgian yeasted, ESB back in the early 80's. Thought it was pretty tasty back then, don't know what I'd think today. My palate was as sophisticated back then... I used to get excited over a decent Porter.... ;-}

dr wort said...

Actually, I was surprised they used "28" in the name. They seem to want to make a mental connection or reference to the classic German Eisenbock EKU 28 brewed by Kulmbacher.

Looking through Ratebeer and Beer Advocate I find some interesting results. EKU was one if not the original Eisenbock and considered the world staple of classic to the style. The pinnacle of what all others are judged by. So why does it get a B+ on Beer Advocate or a 71 on Rate beer? I mean, come one! I know there are plenty of hyped up and fuel injected high Alcohol beers and even a fair share of Eisenbocks being produced... but how does the pinnacle classic of the style get rated a B+?? Maybe an A-, but a B+??? It tastes just the same as did 20 years ago, so it's not a lack of quality...

Alan said...

Those sites rate by level of enjoyment, not style.

Jim said...

"...they were spirited up on hefty wafts of alcohol."

I'm totally going to steal this use of "spirited" in future beer reviews. I will credit you after the first one. After that, no promises.

Jeff Alworth said...

Doc, to echo Alan, those sites aren't useful at assessing a beer's quality, only how well it matches consumers' preferences. Eisbocks, owing to their low BUs and the fact that they're lagers, will never be very popular. If you look at the highest rated beers on those sites, they're all very high alcohol--mostly abbey ales, imperial IPAs and stouts.

Jim, steal away. The Google has my back.

dr wort said...

Yep... You guys are right. I keep forgetting that these RATING sites are just mostly based on Enjoyment factor. I do find some decent evaluations on some of those sites, so I assume some reviewers know something beyond a guttural knee jerk response.

Oh... need to correct a statement in one of my last posts:

"My palate WASN'T as sophisticated back then."

Keith said...

I LOVE THIS BEER! In fact, it has been the only beer I've been drinking for a while until they ran out of it locally. Ahhhhhhhhh! I was originally a wine guy, used to write a column, but lately my palate has changed and all I want is really good beer. Local breweries do a great job, in fact one of them makes a bourbon barrel-aged seasonal that is the best I've ever had. I am so sad that the Red Hook Esibock 28 is gone, at least from here. Here's hoping it'll be back next year as 29! - Helena, Montana

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