Usually, Red Hook is one of my in-a-pinch beers. I'll drink it if the next best offering is Shiner, maybe, but rarely on other occasions. I don't even have that much familiarity with the stuff, having only had the ESB prior to this bottle. It's just that my beer-drinking dollars are precious to me, and I'd rather spend them on something a little more interesting, or that I can't pick up at any neighborhood grocery store.
I was swayed to try this one in the wake of a torrid summer romance with Schneider & Sohn Aventinus Eisbock, my attention grabbed entirely by that enticing bit of German marketing and the memory of that deep yet beguilingly vibrant brew. I think I set my expectations too high, but I imagine that comes as no surprise.
Eisbock 28 pours a slightly brownish orange, reminiscent of caramel and chestnuts. It looks a bit viscous and syrupy, seeming to run slowly out of the bottle rather than pouring freely. A very thin head dissipates quickly, turning into a cap that moves and separates like continental drift, with little pockets of carbonation as island builders of thin foam.
As expected, the nose is saturated with caramel and dark fruit; deep, sweet, and malty. Lots of brown bread and a slight gingery bite are rounded out by molasses and a cashew nuttiness.
A dark, woody, malty intro hits the palate first, burnt off quickly by a hot and heavy alcohol bite. Red Hook Eisbock 28 shows every bit of its 11 percent ABV. For a minute, it seems that the boozy swagger has killed everything else, but then burnt caramel and a slight spiciness comes slinking back in like a beaten dog, eyes cast to the floor and nervous. Things get interesting as the molasses and dried fruit repeat from the nose, encouraged by a pleasantly salty sparkle.
For a long time, I wrestled with a very specific sense memory this one called up, and finally it hit me. It tastes like muesli or granola, toasted and dark, with lots of dried dates and figs, caramelized sugar providing a slightly acrid sweetness. That said, though, it's still thinner and wanner than I was hoping for, and it's still somewhat unpleasantly dominated by that big, boozy bite.
This bottle was dated Fall 2010, though I picked it up sometime last summer. I can't say definitively, but I'm guessing that its bit of time did this brew some good, rounding out flavors, and allowing it to stretch into its sense of depth. It still didn't come close to that first furtive sip of Eisbock, but it wasn't bad.
I imagine that, had I opened it sooner, it would have been even more dominated by alcohol, scrubbed clean of any nuance. As it is, I bet it would have done better six months or even a year from now. All that has me wondering, though, what a bit of age would do to my first icy love. I'll let you know in about a year.