STYLE: Ice Bock
ABV: 9.5 % IBU: 25 SRM: 9.5
Vancouver Island Brewing in Victoria, BC has had a great history over its 33 years in operation. It began in 1984 as Island Pacific Brewing and eventually opened a larger location in 1996 while changing its name to Vancouver Island Brewery. Over those years it has only had two brewers: Hermann Hoerterer, from 1984 until 2001, and Ralf Pittroff, who took over and continues to run the show.
Not very often can a brewery, let alone a 33-year-old brewery, produce a limited yearly release, sell out and still have it in production 30 years later! But yet, that is what the Hermannator is all about. What started off as a one time brew in 1987 as a special gift to close friends by the brewmaster at the time, Hermann Hoerterer (and clearly named after him) turned out to be a sought after beer by locals in Victoria. Later on, beer geeks around the world started collecting and trading the beers and cellaring them. The fact that it is an Eisbock, one of very few in Canada, makes it even more unique. As a side note, if you get a chance to get ahold of the red wine barrel-aged version released this year you are in for an extra special treat!
Many years ago, in a year-end article for a wine magazine, I described this as one of the best beers I had sampled over the previous twelve months, and I meant it. A couple of decades have passed since then, though, and I find myself quite anxious to see if it still stands up in this modern era of big and brawny beers. Things start out well with a deep brown, almost purple-ish hue with a lingering ring of beige foam, and continue apace with a rich and concentrated aroma of intense malt and molasses notes accented by burnt cinnamon stick and a whiff of charred wood. On the palate, the intensity eases up not a bit, with a black raisiny front leading to more notes of molasses, roasted and slightly burnt grain and a mix of roasted plum and Christmas cake spices, all finishing in a boozy, warming, though faintly acrid finish. So yes, it does stand up decades after it was first brewed, and even if I might not number it among the very best beers I have tasted this year, I’m still pretty happy to be enjoying it. You should be too.
A strong, dark German style lager, this beer has been matured at subzero temperatures after fermentation; a technique that concentrates the brew, intensifying the flavours and increasing the alcohol. It pours a clear, dark, reddish brown colour with a frothy, tan head that dissipates. Flavours and aromas are similarly malt focused. While the aromas are more subtle, the flavours are intensely malty and complex, evolving on the palate. At first grainy and toasty with notes of caramel, then flavours of dark stone fruit, prunes, figs, followed by licorice and a hint of cocoa. Hop bitterness is low – just enough to offset the sweetness of the malt. The texture is vinous with a full-bodied, chewy mouthfeel, and there is a definite alcohol warming effect. It has a surprisingly dry finish with a slight tannin-like feel on the palate. This beer packs a wallop, both in terms of alcohol strength and malt intensity; a beer to be savoured especially as we enter the season for winter warmers.