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.
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.
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.