While Germans nurse their hangover from Oktoberfest, we Americans are just getting started. There's something about fall weather that begs for the hearty simplicity of German beers. It's a cozy brewing tradition to dive into. And you can usually drink these beers in great quantities, thanks to their relatively low alcohol content. You'll see a big push from American craft brewers this fall to take the German style and — dare they — tinker with beers that many consider the most balanced in the world. (German law prohibits their brewers from using any ingredients beyond barley, hops, water, and yeast.) The result? A sometimes wild, uniquely American, take on German brewing.
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Not all German beers are for Oktoberfest, though — far from it. This style is actually a seasonal beer, also commonly referred to as Märzen (March), which is brewed in the spring and ready in time for the Munich-based festival in late September and early October. One American take on this crisp, clean, and pale lager that we recommend comes from Two Brothers, which ages it in French Oak and ups the alcohol from the usual 5 percent to 8.8 percent. The Eisbock (ice beer), like the Märzen, is often a lager, but one that is richer and higher in alcohol thanks to a complex freezing-and-filtering process. California's Gordon Biersch chooses to try to one-up German brewers rather than give an American twist, by strictly adhering to German brewing laws while coming up with a Weizen Eisbock that we challenge against any in Deutschland. Kolsch is one of the most popular German styles in the States and Captain Lawrence's Captain's Kolsch gives it a kiss of American flavor with Crystal hops that are grown in the United States. And then there's a beer like Schmaltz brewing company's Human Blockhead, which takes a number of German doppelbock styles, mixes them, adds more hops, throws it in a bourbon barrel, and cheerfully stomps all over the rules. Now, ain't that American? Click on the gallery below for more on each of these beers.
Gordon Biersch Weizen Eisbock
In the mid-nineties, the largest breweries in America were tripping over themselves to introduce Eisbock ("Ice Beers"), a 100-plus-year-old German tradition, to beer drinkers. The idea is simple. Since alcohol freezes at a lower temperature than water, breweries can store and filter the beer at sub freezing levels, taking out ice crystals and leaving rich, malty, higher alcohol brew. The result, in the pre-craft era, you might remember, was a slew of beers like Molson "Ice" – flavorless headaches in a can.
Today, Gordon Biersch brewmaster Dan Gordon is showing us what Americans were missing back then. Gordon, the only American to ever graduate from the Brewing Institute of Munich at Weihenstephan, has built his brewery's identity around pitch-perfect executions of classic German beer styles that rigidly adhere to the Reinheitsgebot, Germany's Beer Purity Law of 1516.
With its Braumeister Selekt Weizen Eisbock, Gordon Biersch starts off with a strong, dark, and malty wheat bock that's bursting with caramel, raisin, and banana notes. The "eising" process not only concentrates the alcohol (10 percent), but also the flavor. The result is a hugely full-bodied wheat beer that is silky and dry on the palette, and dangerously easy to drink.
The Weizen Eisebock is a limited release and is available in just 11 states, so snap it up while you can. [gordonbiersch.com]