Ice Ice Beer

by: BeerAdvocate on 03-20-2002
If someone wants cheap beer that has strength, such a drinker is obviously looking for a cheap buzz. Some go for the same dull and cheap American-style lager that has that extra kick to it. The American Ice Lager is just that. Ice beers did not fill any void in the market; the style pretty much pushed its way into an over-bloated market of same style, different-worded beer brands. Drinkers are buying them basically to just go home and get shitty. This is a similar market as malt liquor. You generally don’t see ice beers at bars because the people who buy these beers are too cheap to go out, or bars don’t want to put up with cheap drunks—to put it bluntly. We’re not saying ice beers are evil, we’re just saying they’re in the same category as malt liquors. So what is the point of even buying ice beer? Is it beer for people who like slumming it when it comes to quality, yet don’t want to look too trashy with a 40 of Colt 45 in their hand? We prefer malt liquor, of course. Hell, if you are going to slum it, you may as well go all the way.

Ice beers are only slightly higher in alcohol than your average American lager counterpart. Most ice beers are anywhere from 5.0 to 6.5% alcohol by volume compared to the average American lager that has around 4.5 to 5.0%. So there really isn’t that much difference between a regular beer and an ice beer. Hell, the average micro-brew has 5.0-7.0% abv in a typical Pale Ale, IPA or Lager.

Here is a run down on what to expect from ice beers: They have a low-to-moderate body with a trace of residual sweetness, perhaps because the beer is a bit more condensed. Hop and malt flavor are the same as any run of the mill American macro lager—very clean palate with no fruitiness or other off flavors. So all in all, just as bland as its counterpart. All of the big brewers have an ice beer or two, but if you are drinking Miller Light Ice then maybe you should take a good look at yourself and wonder why you even drink beer in the first place. But why pay more than you have to? If you’re drinking these types of beers, you don’t care too much about taste, right? Go for the Natural Ice (5.9% alcohol by volume) a.k.a. Natty Ice, at around $1.25 for a 22-ounce bottle or $2.99-$3.99 a six pack.

The method of making ice beer is quite easy. It’s all about bringing the beer down to a low enough temperature to slowly form ice crystals, without totally freezing the beer. This process is usually done in the conditioning tank before the beer is ultra-filtered. To get that extra fraction of a percent of alcohol from the beer, producers simply remove the ice crystals from the beer. Molson Breweries of Canada was the first to do it with the American Style Lager. In our opinion, they brew a half-decent one called—you guessed it—Molson Ice.

Funny that something so close to the icing method used in breweries is so easily done—and happens in—pretty much half the bars out there. Go to a bar that serves their beer in ice-cold mugs; as soon as you get the beer a mini iceberg will form and ice will cling to the glass, depending on how cold it is. Bam! You have your ice beer. Now you have to chug it down without swallowing the ice, fast enough so it doesn’t melt. If you can do this you are sure to look like a real winner. Not.

The Real Ice
Now for the real stuff. Eisbocks and American Ice Beers are like night and day. With ice beers, it’s all about the slightly increased amount of alcohol, and brewers of these beers care little about changing the flavor. Eisbocks, on the other hand, are all about flavor—alcohol is just one of the extras. They are the big brother to German Doppelbocks (Sam Adams Double Bock, Celebrator, etc.). With increased body, flavor and alcohol, these beers are to be taken with much respect. They can range from 9 to 14% alcohol by volume and are nearly black in color, although some can be as light as tawny red. Hop bitterness and flavor are mostly cast aside with a big alcohol presence, which can go from sweet to spicy, fruity to sometimes fusel. Pretty much the same process is involved as in ice beers but lower temperatures are needed due to the higher alcohol strength that this beer begins with.

Unfortunately you are going to have a hell of a time finding this style in the US, let alone Boston. Look to our Drinky Drink—this is a spin-off of the style from a strong wheat bock. Even though it is an ale, it runs pretty much down the same profile as an Eisbock, just with a wheat character to it. Boston Beer Works will occasionally have their Eisbock around 11% alcohol by volume and served in a 10-ounce glass. Most of the servers will warn you before they serve it to you to let you know how strong it is, which is a good thing for people who usually don’t drink beer or never drink at all. There’s nothing like seeing someone get drunk off of one beer, and the nickname “One Pint Joey" will stick for a long time.
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