So you may have noticed—if you were a member of the club in February—that we have selected another beer from the Northern Bavarian town of Kulmbach, Germany. The fact is there are so many amazing beers from this town that we could literally spend an entire year featuring brews from this region of exceptional brewing prowess. Considering the remarkable brewing heritage of Kulmbach, it’s no surprise that so many remarkable beers call this town their home. Archaeological discoveries establish that beer brewing was in practice here as early as 3000 BC, with brewing being a common industry by the mid-1300s! For these reasons, the town of Kulmbach is often said to be the birthplace of Germany’s famous beer industry; a sort of wellspring from which the Bavarian brewing traditions sprang forth.
The town is known for a variety of beer styles, but the most notable style, one indigenous to Kulmbach, is “eisbock”. This unique style of beer is based on a variant of the traditional bock style initially made famous in the town of Einbeck, Germany, located about 175 miles northwest of Kulmbach. At this point, we feel that a review is in order regarding the history of this style of beer… Here goes… The style was not originally known as “bock” beer. As it happens, this malty-sweet, rich Einbeck brew was eventually brought south to Bavaria by the Duke of Brunswick, who wished to have the famous beer of Einbeck available at his wedding in Munich. The beer was so popular there that a master brewer from Einbeck was eventually hired to produce the beer locally. Through years of Bavarians requesting “Einbeck Bier” the name became corrupted to “Ein Bock Bier” (sounding like “one bock beer” in German), and ultimately just “Bock Bier”.
But the Bavarians’ contribution to the style is not limited to coining the name. In 1780 the Elector of Bavaria granted Italian monks from the order of St. Francis of Paula the right to sell beers they had been producing for his court. You couldn’t exactly call the result unexpected, for just as a rule of thumb, any time you invite an order of monks to brew your beer, you’re going to get some pretty stiff sauce, which is exactly what was created when they developed the stronger Doppelbock (meaning double bock). The brothers of St. Francis of Paula named their beer “Salvator” after the Savior, and a direct descendant of this beer is still available today, carrying the same name.
The doppelbock style rose to popularity after the creation of the original, Salvator, and after years of being copied (right down to the actual name), the name was eventually protected. As a result, other brewers began naming their doppelbocks with the suffix “–ator”. Today, anytime you see a beer ending with the letters “ator”, you can be pretty sure you’ve got a doppelbock on your hands. But beware; the name “bock” is used quite liberally. Some so-called “bock biers” do not resemble the true bocks at all… the popular Texas brew ‘Shiner Bock’ is such an example (it’s basically a light-bodied dark lager)…
Now that we’ve reviewed where bock and doppelbock beer came from, we can return to the variant created in Kulmbach—eisbock. According to local lore, a wooden barrel of bock bier (in the 6.5-7.5% ABV range) was accidentally abandoned in the yard of a brewery right smack in the dead of winter. Snowfall covered the barrel and it was forgotten until uncovered by thawing in early spring. By the time it was found, the contents were partially frozen, and the barrel had split open enough to expel some of the original contents, but leaving behind a fair amount of the original brew. The ice that encased it was chipped away, and the residual beer left inside was tasted (crazy brewery staff—they’ll drink anything), whereupon it was discovered to be much richer and more concentrated than the original, yet still possessing an exceptionally clean taste. The reason behind this phenomenal discovery is a matter of simple physics; water freezes before alcohol, thus, some of the beer’s water content was forced out of the brew and froze, eventually being removed as it was chipped away when they discovered it. The contents remaining inside therefore underwent a relative increase in the proportion of alcohol to the remaining beer volume. This “technique” was refined, and today gives us one of the beers the region is famous for: Eisbock (eis means ice in German). Here we have the union of physics and beer history—what an educational newsletter this month, huh?
The Kulmbach beer we featured back in February is the original Bavarian Eisbock, known simply as Kulmbacher Eisbock and brewed by the Kulmbacher Brauerei. A similar beer with an even simpler name is EKU 28, brewed by the Kulmbacher Brewery’s long time nemesis, the EKU Brauerei (also located in Kulmbach). EKU stands for Erste Kulmbacher Union, which translates to “First United Brewery” (read the review of EKU 28 below if you want to know where the “28” comes from). It was founded in 1872 and for nearly 125 years competed fiercely with the Kulmbacher Brauerei, as well other Kulmbach breweries such as Reichelbrau, Sandlerbrau and Mönchshof.
Remarkably, the ‘miracle’ of corporate ownership has helped these breweries reconcile their differences—in 1996, these independent breweries became part of the same company, adopting the title of the simplest among them, the Kulmbacher Brauerei AG (or Kulmbacher Brewery Ltd.). While today united under the same name, each brewery continues to operate independently. That is, the original Kulmbacher Brauerei still makes the beers they built their reputation on, and the EKU Brauerei still makes the EKU 28 and EKU Pils that they’ve been brewing for a combined 170 years!
Interestingly, EKU 28 and Kulmbacher Eisbock competed ferociously for the title of “World’s Strongest Beer” from EKU’s creation the early 1950s through the late 1970s. At that time, each weighed in at roughly 13-14% ABV—alternatively outdoing one another in terms of alcohol content for nearly a decade. However, current brewing technologies have developed far stronger brews, such as Samuel Adams (Boston Beer Company) Utopias MMIII, which usurps Kulminator’s former title, and all others that have claimed to be the strongest beer in the world, at an astronomical 25% ABV! That’s a 50 proof beer! While no longer the world champs, Kulmbach Eisbock and EKU 28 are still exceptionally drinkable. The fact that we have featured them both offers our members a unique opportunity, providing that you took our advice when we offered the Kulmbach Eisbock a couple months ago. Back then, we suggested that you keep a few bottles of the brew to age, as it improves in quality when stored properly (continuing to mature for up to 10 years!) If you’ve still got some left, here’s a unique opportunity for you run a side-by-side taste test of these former rivals to decide for yourself! Prost!!
If you’d like more information about the EKU Brewery (and like spending your time deciphering German-only websites) check out http://www.kulmbacher.de.