Beer Review: Eis Maker from Jack’s Abby Craft Lager

Name: Eis Maker
Brewing Company: Jacks Abby Craft Lagers
Location: Framingham, MA
Style: Barleywine – Other (untappd) / Lager Wine (label) / Eisbock (Web site)
ABV: 13%

“A delicious, inventive interpretation of a beloved style through a new lens. A beer that truly defines Craft Brewing.”

From Jack’s Abby’s page for beers:

Eis is the German word for Ice. A former distillation process in making Eis Beer would be to freeze it, remove the ice, and collect what remained.

While today’s beer, like Eis Maker, is no longer produced this way, it is used as a connotation that the beer is very strong.

You will find this Eis Bock to be sweet, malty and boozy with notes of raisin, dark fruit and similar profile of a barley wine.

This beer is not part of the 20 Years 20 Beers series, nor it is a NJ beer. However, Jack’s Abby entered the NJ market last year and as much as I love my local breweries, I want to support the “new to the area breweries,” especially when they are independent and are known primarily for Lagers. This all brings me to a style I’ve never seen, at least as Jack’s Abby names it: Lager Wine. Because of that, and the echoes of the rarest of lagers, the Eisbock, I was very drawn to this boozy concoction.

From the bottle into the glass, this beer looks the part of a Barleywine (leaning more on the English side rather than the hoppier American variety) with the toffee-like color. The aroma is of figs and other dark fruits. So far so, good.

The first sip is….wow. Just wow. The aroma of the aforementioned fruits is strong in the profile at the outset. While this is 13%, I took a couple of big sips because it was so tasty. Once I get beyond the initial sip, the complexity of this beer unfolds. The barrel notes are not overpowering to the overall flavor, but I’m sure they add to the overall booziness. On the other hand, as noted above and in my Bock overview, traditional Eisbocks are partially distilled – the frozen water is removed from the process, leaving more alcohol in the final liquid. Thus we have a beer at 13%…but it isn’t overpowering. The beer isn’t too hot or strong with alcohol or the barrel element, but both the barrel and high alcohol are noticeable elements in the overall taste profile. In other words, pleasant components of the overall taste of the beer.

The barrel notes blend fabulously with the raisin/date/fig elements in Eis Maker. I’ve had only two Eisbocks (at least since joining untappd 6 years ago) and a handful of traditional Barleywines over the years. This beer marries the best elements of both styles (and frankly, both styles are wonderful on their own), into a delightful and unique beer. What makes this beer so special is how even in sticking to a Lager yeast/Lager style, Jack’s Abby managed to craft a beer so evocative of a style not typically brewed as a Lager. Jacks’ Abby has a series of Barrel-Aged beers, many of which are their “Framinghammer” Baltic Porters (yes, Baltic Porters are traditionally Lagers) and other beers that are Lager interpretations of beers that are traditionally in the dark range of the Ale family of beers. Eis Maker is the second in this barrel-aged series I’ve had, but it only has me eager to try more. This beer is the definition of delicious, inventive, out-of-the-box thinking that once defined Craft Brewing and from what I’ve had from the fine folks at Jack’s Abby, defines them.

Highly recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Styles in Focus: Bock Beers

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Bock, it sounds cool. Also, “Bock” rhymes with the Rock and he’s cool. However, not many people gravitate to the style, in today’s IPA-centric beer world. Could it be the goat? You’ll often see a goat on the bottle, label, or associated with some bocks. The goat is associated with the style because the brewers who came up with the style in Einbeck, Bavaria had a thick accent. As such, citizens of Munich pronounced “Einbeck” as “ein Bock” (“a billy goat”), and thus the beer became known as “bock”. To this day, as a visual pun, a goat often appears on bock labels. (Wikipedia)  But what *is* a bock beer?

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons

The simple answer is: A lager, but more so. Like stouts or IPAs, styles of Ales which themselves have several varieties, a Bock is a style of Lager which has several varieties (general from lowest in alcohol to highest in alcohol): Bock, Helles Bock/Maibock, Dopplebock, Weizenbock, and Eisbock. I’ll give a little highlight/overview of each variation and some example beers, including some I’ve had as well as some I hope to have some day.

Bock (List Bocks on Beer Advocate)

Image courtesy of Shiner

Bocks are a lagered style of beer that are heavier on malt than a standard Lager. A straightforward Bock will generally be sweeter than the standard lager, too. That malt and sweet profile often present in a caramel-like flavor that can also evoke nutty flavors. Perhaps the most widely known straight-up Bock is Shiner Bock the flagship lager from Spoetzl Brewery, one of the largest Texas breweries [distributed to 49 states] and the Lone Star State’s oldest. I’ve had it a few times and thought it was OK. Of the beers considered a standard Bock the one I’ve enjoyed the most is Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, which for me is always a highlight beer in their Winter/Holiday pack. The sweetness level is increased by aging the beer on cocoa nibs to produce a sweet, tasty beer that makes for a nice dessert beer. They also brewed a Cherry Chocolate Bock in the past, which I hope returns. Typical ABV for Bocks is in the 5% range

Maibock / Helles Bock (List of Maibocks / Helles Bocks on Beer Advocate)

From my most recent untappd check in of Dead Guy

From the beers I’ve enjoyed, I don’t notice too much of a difference between a Bock and a Helles/Maibock, except for an increase in maltiness. Traditionally, a Maibock is a spring lager, but usually what differentiates the Helles or Maibock from the Bock is a slightly stronger hop presence. I called out the classic German Hofbräu Maibock in my Spring beer post, but perhaps the most widely know Maibock/Helles Bock from an American brewer is the iconic Dead Guy from Rogue Ales. Abita, Louisiana’s biggest craft brewery, celebrates Mardi Gras by producing Mardi Gras Bock every year. Summit Brewing, one of the larger breweries in Minnesota, produces a MaiBock, too. With a slightly stronger hop presence, the ABV can be a little higher. For example, Rogue’s Dead Guy ABV clocks in at 6.8%.

Dopplebock (List of Dopplebocks on Beer Advocate)

Image courtesy of Ayinger

As the sound of the name may lead you to believe, a dopplebock is an amped up, or doubled, version of a standard Bock. Even maltier and sweeter than a Bock, the beer evokes more of a bready taste and flavor with the ABV up to 12% range. Of the varieties of Bocks being brewed, Dopplebocks seem to be the most prevalent/popular.

Some of the darker Dopplebocks may have hints of fruit or chocolate in the flavor profile or even use chocolate and/or fruit in the brewing process.  Like the traditional association of goats with bocks, there is a tradition of adding the suffix “-ator” to Dopplebocks. This is because one of the first Dopplebocks was called “Salvator” (or Savior) and most breweries who brew a Dopplebock as part of their brewing portfolio use “-ator” in the name. One of the best in the world is Ayinger’s Celebrator, which I had once and need to have again. Unsurprisingly, Wehenstephaner’s Korbinian is an outstanding example of the style and New Jersey’s own Ramstein Winter Wheat is one of the most coveted American interpretations of the style (and probably one of the 10 best beers I ever had). I reviewed one of the more widely available (at least along the East Coast of America) Dopplebocks, Troegantor Doublebock.

Weizenbock (List of Weizenbocks on Beer Advocate)

Perhaps my favorite of the bock styles is the weizenbock, or as translated, “wheat bock.” The description, as untappd suggests, can be considered a “bigger and beefier version of a dunkelweizen.” When crafted well, a Weizenbock can evoke the best of two beers – the malt and stone fruits evoked by Dopplebocks coupled with the clove and banana evocations of a Dunkelweizen or Hefeweizen. Some say (actually, All About Beer, specifically) that a Weizenbock is a “perfect marriage of styles.”

It would probably be expected that German brewers excel in this style. The aforementioned Weihenstephaner brews a great one in Vitus (pictured above, borrowed from their website is probably my favorite) and Schneider Weisse (who brew mostly wheat beers) have a few excellent Weizenbocks in their portfolio, including Mein Aventinus (TAP 6), Marie’s Rendezvous (TAP X), and a collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery called Meine Hopfenweisse. Of the US breweries, Victory’s Moonglow Weizenbock is one of my annual fall favorites and Neshaminy Creek’s Neshaminator is also quite good.

Eisbock (List of Eisbocks on Beer Advocate)

From my untappd check-in, September 2015

Lastly, we have the mistake beer, if beer lore and legend are to be believed and perhaps the rarest style of beer. According to the legend, a young brewery worker fell asleep during a brew and part of the water froze leaving a much stronger Bock than the young brewer or his boss could ever imagine. The resulting Eisbock is one of the richest, most sumptuous beers brewed.

Image courtesy of Founders

The “Eis” in the name is from partially freezing a dopple and extracting the H2O ice, which allows the alcohol to have a much more noticeable presence and a deeper brownish/reddish hue and an overall thicker beer. You could also say a Belgian Quadrupel is similar to an Eisbock, in some ways. Like a Quadrupel, an Eisbock possesses a much stronger stone fruit/plum and sugary taste. Some may potentially find it cloying if they aren’t expecting it, but the sole Eisbock I had from the great aforementioned Schneider Weisse, Aventinus, is also one of the 10 or so best beers I ever had. Ramstein brews one (as recently as January 2018 at 16.5%), they call Eis Storm Eisbock while Tank Bender is the occasional Eisbock (aged in bourbon barrels!) produced by Founders which I would absolutely love to try, but I think the most recent brewing of it was a brewery-only release. Another well regarded Eisbock from Germany is Kulmbacher Eisbock which I want yesterday. The style is also supposedly illegal in some ways…

freezing a beer and removing more than 0.5% of its volume is illegal without a license. There’s an email exchange between someone at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and a brewer, posted in a Reddit r/homebrewing discussion that makes this pretty clear.

So, making Eisbock by removing more than 0.5% water volume is basically illegal. But, it is also openly brewed by several craft breweries, and it seems the TTB knows about this craft beer level production, but has chosen not to act on said knowledge.

So there you have it, 5 varieties of one style – the Bock Beer. More popular (I assume) in Europe, especially Germany and its neighbors, but a style with a wealth of flavor profiles that illustrates how much can be done even with a less popular (not-quite-obscure) brewing style.