What happens when one of the oldest breweries in the world partners with one of the oldest craft beer brewers in the United States? The creation of the first new style of beer in Germany in more than 150 years. Samuel Adams founder and brewmaster Jim Koch and brewers at the Weihenstephan brewery in Germany have collaborated on a brand new beer -- the Infinium.
What happens when one of the oldest breweries in the world partners with one of the oldest craft beer brewers in the United States? The creation of the first new style of beer in Germany in more than 150 years.
Samuel Adams founder and brewmaster Jim Koch and brewers at the Weihenstephan brewery in Germany have collaborated on a brand new beer -- the Infinium.
It's a brand-new kind of beer, Koch said, with a unique style.
"It is a champagne-style of beer," said Koch. "It has the crispness and sort of fruit elegance of a champagne, but it's backed up by the body and mouthfeel you get from a beer. The hops are surprisingly mild, given there's more than a pound of hops per barrel."
Weihenstephan contacted Koch about three years ago to collaborate on a brew. He said they were impressed by how Samuel Adams used older hop varieties to brew beer, as well as the brewery's creativeness in brewing such beers as the Utopia, which until last year was the strongest beer in the world.
"They watched with some interest the rise of America's beer culture, while at the same time Germany's beer culture was losing its appeal to drinkers in Germany who were moving more toward wine and liquors," said Koch. "That kind of got them thinking about new ways of approaching beer. They wanted to take drinkers to new places, but they were struggling with how to do it, despite having the highest degree of technical skill in the brewing world."
When Weihenstephan contacted Koch, he said he jumped at the opportunity to work with them, but with some conditions.
"My goal was to do something that would be the mother of all collaboration beers -- something that would be worthy of the skills each of us brought to the project," said Koch. "I wanted to do something rather than tweak a recipe, or use a new hop variety."
Koch said he wanted to do something that had never been done before. Germany is bound by the Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity laws, to only brew beer with four ingredients -- malt, yeast, water and hops.
So, unlike Belgian-style champagne ales that use sugar to help raise the alcohol by volume level, Koch and Weihenstephan had to create a whole new way to extract the natural sugar from the malts needed to brew the beer he had in his mind.
The process is too technical to describe here, but basically they developed a method where they mimic the natural temperatures malts need if they were still planted in soil in order to release sugars on their own.
"We were just recreating the natural conditions the barley were used to," said Koch. "In retrospect, it was quite simple, but it still took the best brewers in the world to figure it out."
The result is a phenomenal beer, packaged in 750-ml caged and corked bottles. The carbonation is similar to a champagne, and it has a very similar aroma to a champagne. The difference is in the body -- it's much more substantial feeling than a champagne.
The German brewers were shocked that a beer could be brewed like that using only the four acceptable ingredients.
"They certainly have the technical skills and the brewing traditions and the love of great beer that feeds that kind of creativity," said Koch. "The whole project was new to them. The idea that you would create a new style of beer was eye-opening. You could make a beer and present it with this level of elegance."
It took awhile to get the beer brewed because of the challenges presented at Weihenstephan. Not only are they a brewery, but they also have a university at the brewery, and they are run by the German government.
But everyone was happy with the end results.
"They were very happy," said Koch. "Everyone was delighted with it and proud of it."
The other issue was pricing. In Germany, you can get a case or two of beer with how much the Infinium will cost in Europe. In the U.S., the Infinium costs around $20 a bottle.
"Our challenge was making a beer that was worth 15 euros ($20 U.S.), and I think we did that," Koch said.
Infinium is most likely going to be a one-time brew, Koch said. He said the 1,000 barrels (about 31,000 gallons) that will be available in the United States were bottled last week and when it's gone, it's gone.
Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For question, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail email@example.com or call 508-626-3823. Check out The Beer Nut blog at http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut/.