Raspberry Eisbock | Kuhnhenn Brewing
Breweries follow a unique life cycle. Usually a brewery opens, gets some hype and rides that hype for some time. Then it can just settle in as a reputable and consistent brewing force. Too many times those breweries get overlooked. At the Chicago level that doesn’t seem to have happened naturally (buyouts don’t count), but there are a few breweries nationwide that seem to have achieved that, “They’ve always been there” status. Breweries like Avery, Short’s and Sierra Nevada don’t really get a ton of hype for the things they do but they do them well. Kuhnhenn seems to have become that brewery, even though they release things like their Raspberry Eisbock.
Kuhnhenn opened in 1998 in Warren, Michigan, but the actual place didn’t open until 2001. They have gained recognition for their Summer and Winter Solstice parties, the latter of which features the release of Bourbon Barrel 4D (BB 4D), an old ale and Kuhnhenn’s signature brew. Kuhnhenn doesn’t distribute much outside of Michigan, so it still retains some mystique. I’ve only ever had their beer at bottle shares and at the Great Taste of the Midwest so it was nice to finally visit the taproom. In typical Kuhnhenn fashion, the bartenders didn’t even know they had any BB 4D for sale (“They must’ve dropped some off.”) But I had my eyes on the Eisbock.
Have I had this Eisbock before? Yes, at the Great Taste of the Midwest. Was that the best venue for it? Absolutely not, as having a 15.5% fruit lager among a host of other big beers and being outside in the Madison summer heat isn’t ideal. Due to the nature of the eisbock – where you freeze the beer, get rid of the water and increase the ABV, a process known as freeze distillation – it is rarely brewed (and in some cases illegal) and very expensive. A 12.7 ounce bottle of Kuhnhenn’s Raspberry Eisbock will set you back a cool $35. YOLO!
Raspberry Eisbock pours like an Oud Bruin; brown and red with some crimson highlights. Virtually no head formed even while pouring but a very little forms on the rim of the glass. As a 15.5% ABV beer, I expected some alcohol staining on the glass and, while it was there, the beer moved faster in the glass than I thought it would. A film formed on top of the beer that reminded me of a Fruit Roll-Up when struck by light. I honestly expected something with a syrupy consistency. I also thought it would be a bit more raspberry colored, but Kuhnhenn used raspberry juice instead of raspberry puree, so that might explain it. Kuhnhenn remembers how it was done 10 years ago.
So, um, the Raspberry Eisbock smells like, well, raspberries. It had better! The raspberries do smell fresh but nowhere near what some of the overfruited beers and seltzers are doing today. I can smell other things! Most prominently a small chocolate aroma flutters on by, adding a bit of complexity and depth to everything. Of course at 15.5% ABV some alcohol burns the nostrils.
Subverting more expectations, Raspberry Eisbock really doesn’t pop out at you with oppressive raspberry flavors. While king of the nose flavors, the raspberry moves to the background on the tongue. Oddly enough that fluttery chocolate really takes over on the palate but not in a sweet pastry sort of way; more like the chocolate in a chocolate graham cracker. Alcohol burn is present but never enough to make it prohibitive to drink. At worst it causes the Raspberry Eisbock to move into the sipper category. Most of the burn resides on the lips however.
The Raspberry Eisbock will warm up over time because you’re sipping and the burn seems to get worse. It’s definitely not helped by the low carbonation. It really coats the tongue and makes things feel a lot heavier than it should. Everything on the sip – the chocolate, raspberry and alcohol – stays behind on the tongue. Thankfully the lagered nature of the beer moves a fair amount of everything away fairly quickly.
I can understand why something like Raspberry Eisbock would do well at a festival like Great Taste of the Midwest. It’s big, fruity with some chocolate notes and you only get like two ounces of it. I could possibly see myself going back for another pour but that would be it. The sipping nature of it helps as I managed to finish the 12.7 ounce bottle but over the course of about 2 hours. There’s enough there to keep coming back if desired.
I would’ve liked a bit more raspberry flavor and tartness coming on the palate however. The chocolate notes were a nice surprise as was the beer moving quickly across the tongue. A higher level of carbonation would’ve definitely helped out as well. Thankfully the overall sweetness on the Raspberry Eisbock remains low. The whole beer comes off as a slightly less sweet Fruit Roll-Up with more booze.
But is it worth the $35 for a 12.7 ounce bottle? If it’s your first time, absolutely. After that – unless you’re bringing it to a bottle share – diminishing returns hit hard and quick. I probably wouldn’t be in the market for their other iterations of their Eisbock (strawberry was at the brewery, while I know they make a blueberry one) but definitely will try them at any beer festival they might be pouring at.