(10.3% German and American make from a 750ml bottle) In a unique combination between the oldest existing brewery in the world and the largest American owned brewery (not to mention the largest craft brewer too), Infinium Ale was born from two years of collaborative work between the Weihenstephan Brauerei and the Boston Brewery Company.
To Infinium and beyond
As this beer was brewed to be sipped like a Champagne, it was duly enjoyed from .20 cl fluted glasses. On the pour there are big bubbles within the light copper coloured body which has a glass-filling head that was thick, white, and effervescent. On the nose it has a mild malt flavour which presented itself as refined. While on the sip, it has a Champagne bubble with a mild but high alcohol malt flavour, and little hop bitterness. It manages the high alcohol content brilliantly without leaving any sugar behind on the lips, rather its fills you with a slight bubble and an overall well-balanced light, sweet, crisp flavour. While having the body of a Campagne, its taste was more akin to light barley wine.
The two years of research and development that went into making this beer certainly paid off. Within this unique ale, there are four different types of hops: Hallertau, Spalt, Tettnang, and Hersbrucker. These noble hops are all German in origin and traditionally add more to the aroma than to the bitterness of a beer. The malts were also a mixture of varieties including barley, wheat and oat. There were two different yeast strains used; the first was from the Samuel Adam’s brewery, while the second (which accompanies the beer in the bottle) is a traditional Belgian yeast. The beer was developed as a collaboration between the two breweries while Samuel Adams was responsible for production. In brewing the beer, they played around a bit with the processes, as per the Samuel Adam’s website:
Our brewers rearranged the brewing process to create this ground-breaking beer, reintroducing the mash process into the brew kettle and the fermenter. The process used to brew Infinium is patent pending, and allowed our brewers to create a beer unlike any ever brewed under the Reinheitsgebot. Infinium is dry-hopped with Bavarian Noble hops for a light citrus flavor. Its then bottle-conditioned with a traditional Belgian yeast and fermented in the champagne-method to add another layer of flavor complexity, a bright clarity, and a fine carbonation to the beer.
This brewery (Brauerei in German) sits atop the Nährberg overlooking the picturesque Bavarian town of Freising which is about forty kilometres north of München. In 725, Saint Corbinian established a Benedictine monastery on the site. His saintly symbol is the ever inviting saddled bear (picture a bear literally wearing a saddle). As the story goes, on his way to Rome his horse was killed by a bear which the Saint Corbinian then promptly commanded to become his pack animal and carry his pack. The unusually obedient and compromising bear evidently agreed, and the two merrily crossed the Alps on their way to Rome whereupon Saint Corbinian released him from his duty. Mythology is curious thing isn’t it? The saddled bear become the symbol of both the saint himself as well as the city of Freising. A famous former resident, Pope Benedict XVI, also carries the saddled bear within his papal coat of arms. He was the Archbishop of Freising-Munich and adopted it at that point, and then retained the symbol along his route to becoming pope. Whether he enjoyed any brews from the Weihenstephan Brauerei one can only hope.
The brewery was founded in 1040 after acquiring a license from the town of Freising. However, unofficially the brewery can make claims to have been brewing as far back as 768 when tax records show the presence of a hop garden on-site. The owner of the garden had to pay a tithe, or tax, to the monastery, and the brewery argues that this could prove the brewing of beer on the premises with the hops. The site was sacked and destroyed by the invading Huns in 955, but this was unfortunately not the last time the area would be destroyed. To make a list of who over the lifetime of the monastery sacked it would include a Bavarian emperor, the Swedes, French, Austrians, French…might be easier to say who didn’t sack it. From the period of 1085 to 1463, ‘the Weihenstephan Monastery burned down completely four times, was destroyed or depopulated by three plagues, various famines and a great earthquake’. So a picture is thus being painted of a very determined set of monks who were constantly brewing but also rebuilding their home.
Following on to 1516 when the Reinheitsgebot, or German Purity Law, was passed, the brewery had to adhere to this state law. As reported recently in my post on Uerige’s Alt Bier, the Reiheitsgebot was less a recipe for beer and more an act of protectionism for bread. Originally, the law called for beer to be brewed with 3 ingredients (contrary to popular opinion): water, hops and barley. The final ingredient, yeast, which was added later to the law, was a mystery to brewers at the time. They would shovel out the bottom of the last brew and put it into the awaiting wort thereby adding the yeast needed to interact with the sugars and create alcohol (along with CO2). Or some brewers left the tanks open and allowed for what is now known as spontaneous fermentation to take place which is still used in Belgian Lambic style ales. The Weihenstephan Brewery still brews to these strict restrictions to this day, and the Infinium Ale is no exception. However, as the beer uses not only malted barley but also wheat and oat, it is a modern understanding of the ancient law applied here for in 1516 the use of wheat and oat would not have been allowed.
Shortly before the foundation of the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1806, in a wave of secularisation the monastery was dissolved in 1803 with the stroke of a pen. The property and its rights were absorbed at that point, and have since been owned and operated by what is now the modern free state of Bavaria. While the brewery continued, the monastery was successfully disbanded after enduring for over a thousand years. This period in Bavarian history was a tumultuous time which after Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire in 1802, the Kingdom of Bavaria was founded and sustained up until after WWI, when under the Anif Declaration, 738 years of rule by the House of Wittelsbach came to an end. This marked the end of the German Empire and the transition from monarchy to republic, and interestingly enough the adoption of the Reinheitsgebot as a federal provision. The law was not applied outside of Bavaria until German Unification in 1871, and it wasn’t until 1919 that it became part of the tax law when Bavaria refused to join the Weimar Republic without it.
In 1852, the Central Agricultural School was moved to the Weihenstephan grounds, and this school would become a university renowned for brewing excellence. Since 1930 it has been a part of the Technical University of Munich, and today at Weihenstephan they can claim to have the oldest still existing brewery along with a centre for academic excellence and training for the world’s brewers.
Boston Brewing Company a.k.a. Samuel Adams
Comparatively, The Boston Brewery Company (better known as Samuel Adams) is a relative newcomer in light of the 1000 year history of Weihenstephan. But in the world of American breweries it is not only the largest craft brewery, but also the largest independent American owned brewery. At less than 1% of the overall beer market, the fact that they are the biggest is more a statement on the industry, while still a comment on the strength of the organisation. It became the largest after the sale of Anheuser Busch to InBev which formed the largest brewing company in the world, AB InBev. This Bud’s for you, says the massive multi-national faceless conglomerate! Moving on…
The story of Samuel Adams begins in the mid 19th c, when founder Jim Koch’s great-great grandfather was brewing in St. Louis, Missouri. During the 1870s, Louis Koch sold his own brand of lager which continued up until the American Prohibition and then slightly after. Brewing stayed in the family, and Jim’s father Charles, was also a brewer. He, like many other brewers in the mid 20th c, saw great consolidations within the market and a narrowing of variety. After Harvard and a short stint in management consultancy, Jim set out to begin his own brewery. First, he needed a beer to brew, so he went to his father who rummaged about the family’s attic to discover an old family recipe which Louis Koch first penned in 1860. This recipe is what would become Samuel Adam’s Boston Lager.
The name Koch chose for his first beer is an homage to the American patriot and statesmen, Samuel Adams. Both Koch and Adams were graduates from Harvard, lovers of Boston, and each had ties to the beer industry in their families. Adams’ family operated a malthouse which produced the malt necessary for brewing. There are arguments as to whether or not Adams ever actually brewed himself, but safe to say he was involved in the business. He played a prominent role in the lead up to and throughout the American Revolution, and as a member of the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence.
At the time of Samuel Adams Boston Lager’s inception, beer in America was at an all-time low. Considering the impressive array of breweries currently operating within the ever-expanding field of craft brewing in the States, it was dire-straights for beer lovers in the early 1980’s. Jim Koch sought to offer a ‘better beer’ than what was available from any of the giant beer breweries, i.e. something with taste and character. He hit the road with samples of his beer and began going door to door at bars and restaurants in and around Boston trying to prove that beer could be good again. The success of the company in the brewing industry can be proven by the fact that Samuel Adams has been awarded more awards for its varieties of beers than any other beer brand ever. Samuel Adams was leading the way in the beer revolution, and yet again proving an honour to its namesake.
Aside from the success of the brewery, there are also some important points to note about The Boston Brewing Company which speak more to who they are than what they brew. Every year, the brewery holds two different competitions which both culminate at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). The first is an open submission for all home brewers to submit 3 of their best brews to be judged according to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and then by the brewery itself. After the finalists are chosen, they are flown to the GABF where two winners are announced. A second parallel competition takes place amongst the Brewery’s staff where they can submit beers to compete against other staff members as well. The beers are served at the festival and voted upon. The three winners then work with the Brewery to bring the beers to life on a larger scale where two bottles of each are packed for a mixed six-pack to be sold by Sam Adams.
Another programme is called the ‘Brewery the American Dream‘ which was set up in 2008 as a philanthropic endeavour to help small food and beverage companies get that crucial first loan. This was set up through an initial endowment by The Boston Brewing Company of $250k and is run with the help of ACCION USA, who are a non-profit microfinance organisation specialising in small business loans. By giving micro-credit along with advice to small businesses, the programmes seeks to help entrepreneurial individuals who, akin to founder Jim Koch, have a dream of making a prosperous enterprise spring from their passion. To date, the partnership claims to have created or saved 524 jobs and continues to supply the necessary start-up capital in terms of both cash and knowledge to help other small businesses succeed.
The last word…
This beer embodies many things, one of which is the spirit of community. Through a partnership between the two brewers, and their prominent roles both within the brewing industry as well as their communities, this beer acts as a delicious example of what we can achieve together rather than apart.