Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Niagara Falls, frozen beer and Dave Thrasher's panorama.
Downtown New Albany art store owner Dave Thrasher is a visionary.
He sees art as the vanguard of renewal, and if given free rein, would transform sidewalks and street corners into an open-air urban sculpture park.
Dave also is mobile, accepting work where he finds it, so oftentimes he’s on the road earning a paycheck. Lately he’s been in Ontario, on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, and when he returned home for a weekend visit and dropped by Rich O’s to drain some grain, Dave came bearing a gift.
It’s a 750 ml bottle of Niagara Falls Brewing Company Eisbock, which lays claim to being the first North American brewery to brew and sell beer that has been frozen and its alcohol content concentrated by removing the ice – which freezes first.
It’s an old German trick, still seen today in the Kulmbacher Reichelsbrau Eisbock G’frorns (drink it at Gravity Head 2006).
To me, the most interesting thing about the notion of freezing beer or wine is that prior to the invention of distillation (by Arabs looking to extract essences for the production of perfume), it was the only way to defy the natural limits of fermentation and concentrate the alcohol content. Fermentation occurs in nature, but distillation is a man-made, industrial process.
Removing the ice does more than concentrate the alcohol. It deepens flavors and sometimes does wild things with esters, as in the case of Aventinus Eisbock (from Germany’s Schneider wheat beer brewery), a delicious take on a wheat-based Doppelbock that emerges from freezing with a flavor almost akin to bubble gum, but in a very good way.
Overall, Niagara Falls Eisbock is tame by comparison with its German forebearers, but highly enjoyable just the same. The alcohol content is 8% by volume, a shade higher than conventional Doppelbock, with which it shares characteristics of color brownish copper and malty flavor – perhaps toffee meets Fig Newton, and certainly interesting and with complex, fruity strains that make me curious as to whether this is a top- or bottom-fermented beer, or whether the freezing is entirely the cause.
Either way, it certainly kept me company for a long while on a cool, though far from chilly evening in bizarrely balmy New Albany.
Somewhere in Canada, Dave Thrasher certainly is better placed climactically to enjoy the warming attractions of Eisbock, and I hope he is. Here’s to a great future for New Albany, Dave’s sculpture idea, and our joint project of painting the exterior concrete walls at the senior citizen’s high rise.