Brew Blog: Schneider & Sohn Aventinus (Eisbock)
Back in March, I very nearly created an international incident over this very beer. It was all an accident, merely a case of mistaken identity. You see, I've been a fan of Schneider and Sohn Aventinus for a long time, favoring it as a delicious "dessert beer." All the while, I was blissfully unaware of its stronger, rarer cousin, Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock.
When I saw a few breathless comments concerning the imminent appearance of Aventinus Eisbock in the American market, I jumped in with both feet, blithely declaring that I'd had it many times. I calmly declared the beer readily available at a number of major retailers, and was surprised to be met with shock and incredulity. "Where did you get that Aventinus Eisbock?" inquired Justin Vann, Central Market booze guru, via direct message. "The Manneken-Brussel guys are telling me they have no idea how it came to the U.S." Turns out, I was just thinking of the standard Aventinus. My bad; I make no bones about being a novice beer nerd.
I like to imagine that conspiracy theories erupted, distributors were shaken down, and answers were demanded all around. More than likely, though, Justin just as quickly figured out that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. Fast-forward to about a month ago, and the stuff actually appeared on shelves. Of course, I went right out and grabbed a bottle, along with one of the original, for comparison.
In theory, it's an easy assumption that Aventinus Eisbock will be a pretty straightforward comparison to the standard stuff. Essentially, an Eisbock is a beer that's been frozen, and the water-ice removed. The result is a more concentrated version of the original beer, with higher alcohol content by volume, and a more intense manifestation of all the components apparent in the original. In practice, well, it's not quite that simple.
Aventinus Eisbock pours a vaguely purple, root-beer hued brown. A one-finger, fluffy off-white head fades quickly to thin cap, but replenishes throughout the glass. By comparison, standard Aventinus is lighter, thinner, and slightly more translucent. It produces a thinner, fluffier head, which recedes even more quickly and leaves virtually no trace of itself behind, despite considerable carbonation.
The Eisbock has a saturated aroma, full of dark roasted fruits, brown sugar, and warm baking spices. Whiffs of grapes and coffee commingle with a slightly medicinal whiff at the outer edge. You know how you're supposed to pick fruit that feels "heavy for its size?" That's kind of how I think about the smell of Eisbock. It smells more than you think it will, seeming to pack several beers' worth of aroma into one bottle. The original focuses more on banana and clove aromas, picking up the coffee but abandoning the medicinal element. It's lighter, cleaner, and focuses more on "high note" aromas than the Eisbock.
Aventinus Eisbock is spicy and prickly on the palate, both flavor-wise and as a result of the significant carbonation. Partially due to this tingling intro, the beer comes across as lighter than the nose would have you believe. It tastes ripe and fruity, with a sweet profile that avoids the saccharine trap. The alcohol is fairly apparent, but pretty well masked for a 12 percent beer. Grape and subtle cocoa flavors come on first, providing simultaneous high and low notes. Bubblegum and clove esters, a hint of rummy molasses, dried dark fruits, and subtly warming vanilla round out the profile.
The standard stuff is similar, but there are differences. There's more banana and bubblegum than I remember, providing the lion's share of the character. There's a hint of dark fruit, a bit raisiny. Where the dark sugars of the Eisbock come through rum-like, they're merely reminiscent of brown-sugar, here. At the very end, there's a subtle nuttiness, calling to mind hazelnut liqueur, which is not apparent in the more concentrated Eisbock. It's subtle enough that the more strident flavors simply swallow it up.
While it's easy enough to write this one off as a simple matter of more being better, I think that misses the point. Sure, Aventinus Eisbock amplifies pretty much everything in Aventinus. Sure, it's almost 50 percent more alcohol by volume. That doesn't necessarily mean the one is interchangeable for the other. Side by side, the differences are more obvious.
Aventinus is a beer surprisingly defined by its yeast profile. Bananas, bubblegum, and cloves define the brew, with the darker elements of malt and fruit providing an anchoring counterpoint. The more concentrated Eisbock is almost the direct inverse. Dark fruits and deep, rounded malty sweetness define this one, with the yeast playing definite second fiddle. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing (I'm leaning toward good), but Aventinus Eisbock does not constitute a Pandora Effect.
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