Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Cold as Ice—An Exploration of Ice Wines, Ciders and Beers

Illustration of bottles of wine, cider and beer covered in snow and positioned in snow-covered mountains.
Illustration by Rachel Joan Wallis

While winter across the U.S. might be unwelcome for those who prefer sunshine and warmth, for others, the frosty conditions present a unique world of drinks.

For our three guests this week—Dave Breeden from Sheldrake Point Winery, Karlton Graham from KC Bier Co., and Eleanor Leger from Eden Specialty Ciders—the polar temperatures mean the perfect conditions for creating ice beverages like ice wine, cider and beer.

With the help and expertise of our guests, Contributing Editor John Holl leads a curious exploration into this frost-loving category, including talking about the process, history, innovation and flavors.

So grab a glass of your favorite cold-weather pour and listen up to learn more about the magic of ice drinks of all types.

You can also discover recommendations of the best ice wine producers from around the globe or learn more about ice wine production in the Midwest.

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Episode Transcript

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

Speakers: Lauren Buzzeo, John Holl, Dave Breeden, Eleanor Ledger, Karlton Graham

Lauren Buzzeo 0:08
Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of drinks culture and the people who drive it. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the executive editor at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, we’re taking a chilly look at ice drinks. Sure, winter across America might be unwelcome by some who prefer sunshine and warmth. But for our three guests this week, the polar temperatures mean the perfect conditions for creating ice beverages. Contributing Editor John Holl leads a curious exploration into this frost loving category, including talking about the processes, history, innovations and flavors with producers across three beverage worlds, ice wine, ice beer and ice cider. So grab a glass of your favorite cold weather pour and listen up to learn more about the magic of iced drinks of all types.

John Holl 1:04
Dave, let’s start with you. Can you tell me who you are and what you do?

Dave Breeden 1:08
Sure. My name is Dave Breeden and I am the head winemaker at Sheldrake Point Winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

John Holl 1:15
Carlton, what about you?

Karlton Graham 1:17
My name is Karlton Graham. I’m the head brewer at Kansas City Beer Company in Kansas City, Missouri.

John Holl 1:23
And that leaves Eleanor.

Eleanor Leger 1:25
My name is Eleanor Leger. I’m the co founder of Eden Specialty Ciders in far northern Vermont, and we produce ice cider.

John Holl 1:32
I looked this up before we started recording. And I’m going to go by temperature-wise. So it’s six degrees Fahrenheit right now where you are Eleanor in northern Vermont. Where are you right now in the ice cider production cycle?

Eleanor Leger 1:47
We have thousands of gallons of juice freezing outside on a concrete pad right now.

John Holl 1:54
How important is the concrete pad?

Eleanor Leger 1:56
It’s important to be able to use a forklift to move them around. Yes, we spent a lot of time shoveling it.

John Holl 2:07
So let’s back up then. So you have apples freezing right now.

Eleanor Leger 2:12
Juice.

John Holl 2:12
I’m sorry, the juice is freezing right now. What are the steps that gets you to where you are right now?

Eleanor Leger 2:20
Well, you know, most of the apples we work with are harvested in October. They sit if they’re more fragile in cold storage. If they’re something like golden russet, which is pretty hardy and continues to sweeten off of the tree, they’re just in the barn. And we’re just waiting every year for temperatures that allow us to press the juice and get them outside and get the juice frozen before any fermentation happens. And at Christmas, I was not sure that was going to happen this year. But fortunately, it’s been cooperating.

John Holl 2:57
Dave, where you are at 17 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Where are you in the ice wine production cycle right now.

Dave Breeden 3:06
We have three ice wines going this year. One of them is not only harvested and pressed but finished fermenting. The other two are in sort of initial stages of fermentation. But we are done harvesting for the year, which always is a good feeling.

Eleanor Leger 3:24
I bet.

John Holl 3:26
Carlton, you don’t necessarily have to harvest but you need it to be cold if you’re producing icebox. It’s 22 degrees, according to the National Weather Service right now in Kansas City. Where are your thoughts on Eisbock?

Karlton Graham 3:39
Well, I’m going to surprise you with the answer. We do not freeze beer outside we freeze beer inside in our in our cellar with a special glycol chiller that is engineered to run at extremely low temperatures. And so we just freeze it right inside a conical tank, like a regular beer fermentation tank.

John Holl 4:02
So you don’t even need it to be winter to do this. Could you make an Eisbock in July?

Karlton Graham 4:08
I think we could. Although we don’t, simply because it takes a long time to freeze the beer inside the tank. It can take over two weeks. And I think in the summer because the brewery is much warmer in the summer, I think it would take even longer. I think the steel of the tank acts as like a heat sink of sorts. And so I’ve only tried it when the brewery is quite cool in the wintertime. I think it’ll work better.

John Holl 4:39
So I jumped ahead a little bit. For those who are unfamiliar with what we’ve been talking about for the last few minutes. Dave, I want to start with you. For the uninitiated or those who might only know it just by name, can you tell us what icewine is?

Dave Breeden 4:58
Sure. Icewine is a product made by at least in this country, allowing the grapes to freeze on the vine, harvesting them generally at night when it’s between 12 and 18 Fahrenheit, bringing them in putting them directly in the press and pressing them. And the pressing, you know, normal press cycle for Riesling grapes is on the order of two to three hours. Press cycle for ice wine can be anywhere from three days to seven days. So you press over a long period of time, because the water of the grapes is frozen, it doesn’t press out, so you’re getting sort of pure, concentrated grape essence. So instead of grape juice at 21 or 22% sugar, you get grape juice at 39 or 40% sugar.

John Holl 5:45
Is there a significance to harvesting at night?

Dave Breeden 5:48
Yeah, there is actually. This here, it was cold enough that we didn’t have to do that. But you generally want to harvest at night because you don’t want the sunlight to get on the grapes and warm them up and melt them. So again, the temperature range I gave was 12 to 18. That’s 12 to 18 in the dark. This year, it was so cold on the day that we decided to pick icewine grapes, it was more like six to eight Fahrenheit that we can do it during the day. The sunlight actually helped get the grapes to an appropriate squishiness for pressing. If they’re too cold when you put them in the press, it just breaks the press. That’s not good for anybody.

John Holl 6:27
No, Eleanor, I hear you laughing. Does this sound familiar for you? And can you also just sort of give us a little bit of what ice cider is?

Eleanor Leger 6:37
Right. So ice cider and icewine are very similar, but apples and grapes are not. And so the process is a little different. I don’t have to worry about breaking my press because I’m not pressing frozen apples. It is possible to make ice cider from frozen apples and people do do that for various reasons. 90-some percent of the ice that’s produced in southern Quebec and Vermont is made by freezing the juice outside rather than waiting for apples to freeze on the tree. It’s a very different fruit. The flesh is very woody and has a lot of cellulose in it. When that breaks because of freezing, you get decomposition happening in ways that don’t happen in a grape, which is—it’s just a different fruit. So we are freezing the juice and it’s basically like making a very large grape with a plastic skin, waiting for it to be frozen at that key temperature where there’s just a little bit that’s not frozen that becomes super sweet. Because, you know, h2o molecules, that’s ice that floats, those molecules are heading up in the container, and all the sugars and the acids and things that make flavor and all that are heavier and descending to the bottom of the container. So we can open the valve at the bottom and drain off 20% that has the correct sugar level. Or we’ll eventually have the correct sugar level once we blend it with all the stuff that’s draining off from all the different containers. It’s a very complicated process at that point. But hopefully we end up with tanks full of juice with the varieties we want and the sugar level we want before we kick off fermentation.

John Holl 8:20
Dave was talking about ideal temperatures and ideal times of day. If you’re picking apples earlier, is there an ideal time during the harvest for you to get the apples that will eventually become ice cider as opposed to some of the other products that you’re making?

Eleanor Leger 8:37
No. This is again where apples and grapes are different. Grapes are much more fragile as a fruit than apples, and harvesting apples, what I care about most is just peak ripeness, so I’m getting max flavor and sugar. And so we pick them the same way for ice ciders we do for hard cider. You know, just being very careful that they don’t get bruised. And because they’re going to have to store for a while before we press them for ice cider.

John Holl 9:04
What’s the typical storage time?

Eleanor Leger 9:07
So, you know, if we harvest second third week of October—here’s where we’re going to talk about climate change. We used to get weather cold enough to start the ice cider process routinely in December, sometimes early December. And now it’s second or third week in January. So we’re having to store them longer. And that means there are a few varieties that we don’t really use as much as we used to because they don’t store as well.

John Holl 9:34
So, Carlton, you’ve heard this now from Dave and Eleanor. For those unfamiliar with Eisbocks, can you give us a little bit on what they are? And then we can talk about your conical and glycol. But what is an Eisbock?

Karlton Graham 9:51
Yeah, so an Eisbock is a beer. It’s usually just normal beer of some variety and then you freeze it. You freeze that beer and ice crystals will formed inside the tank of beer that generally don’t have in them all of the constituent parts of the beer. It’s close to pure ice, but it’s not pure ice. And also, there’s some precipitation of some of the stuff in beer that carries a lot of the flavor that you associate with the with the husk from the grain. So if you draw out what’s in the tank, what doesn’t freeze, it’s a higher alcohol level and a higher concentration of sugar than the initial beer that you put in the tank to freeze. And then once you get that ready, and packaged then you can drink it. And so it’s a way of making a higher alcohol somewhat changed in flavor version of the beer that you froze.

John Holl 10:57
So you said, you know, it’s some type of beer. My experience has usually been that it’s been a doppelbock. So a stronger, more malt-forward beer, that goes through the process that you were talking about. But does this work for any style of beer?

Karlton Graham 11:17
You could freeze any kind of beer. I have had no Eisbocks that I can think of that were made from like the big American hoppy beers.

John Holl 11:27
Right. Like an IPA. Yeah.

Karlton Graham 11:29
But in our experimentation phase, where we were going through freezing different types of beer and trying to figure out how much the gravity was changing in relation to the alcohol content and what kind of flavors we were getting. We did try freezing, like a farmhouse ale, like a just a clean saison-type beer and that came out quite nice. I did have a conversation with an ex-brewmaster in the city of Kulmbach, in Germany, and this guy had made quite a bit of Eisbach in Germany in his career, and he was of the opinion that you can’t make a good Eisbach out of a dark beer because of all those maillard reactions that occur with the malt to make it darker. They get concentrated when you freeze the beer and that flavor does not taste very good concentrated. So we did try it with our dunkel, our number one selling beer, dunkel. It was our first attempt at freezing beer and we didn’t do it very well. We didn’t wait long enough and get it concentrated enough. But it did have kind of a strange off-putting character and we never actually tried it with a dark beer again.

John Holl 12:42
So the base beer now that you’re using is?

Karlton Graham 12:47
So our most successful I think flavor wise is, like you said, it’s a doppelbock, 100% Pilsner malt,. So nothing in it but just pale malt brewed to 18 plato, the minimum standard for it to be a doppelbock, and fermented, you know, low and slow and lagered for a long time until it becomes a really clean, nice pale doppelbock. And then that beer, frozen, is very good. It picks up a little bit of what I recall a wine character, but it still has all the malt flavors from that beer, and then it definitely has a little bit of booziness to it. All in all very balanced. And I think people really like it. We call that that product Konig Eisbock or King Eisbock and sell it at Easter-time.

John Holl 13:39
Dave, I imagine that when you’re making icewine, it doesn’t necessarily pick up beer characteristics. What have you found are grapes that work best when you’re making an icewine?

Dave Breeden 13:56
We’ve only ever used three different grapes. We’ve done Riesling icewines, which is 99 or 95% of the icewines we’ve ever done. There were four or five years that we did a Cabernet Franc icewine. And then just once, and again this year, we have done Gewurztraminer icewine. But Riesling is the traditional grape for icewines, and it really is the best suited. It works really nicely because it’s got high acid anyway. And when you concentrate it, you’re not only concentrating the sugar and the sweetness, but you’re also concentrating that acid, and it lends itself to a more balanced final product.

John Holl 14:40
If you had a traditional press of Riesling in the bottle and then the icewine next to it, how would the flavors and aromas differ? Would it just be a more concentrated version or are there are there new characteristics that come?

Dave Breeden 14:58
There are some new characteristics that come. There’s also different ways of fermenting ice wines. And those two different ways that I know of, at least, also lend themselves to different characters in the final product. The way we ferment our icewines is we don’t ever just pitch the yeast into the concentrated juice, because the juice is, like I said, 38–40% sugar, and you throw the yeast in there and the yeast throws up its little hands and freaks out and dies. It’s just like too much. It’s the osmotic pressure of the sugar trying to get—or the liquid and the yeast trying to get out and sugar trying to get in and they all explode, and it’s just unpleasant for everybody. So what we do instead is we take a small amount of juice, and we dilute it with water to about 25 or 26% sugar, and pitch the yeast into that, and then ferment over the course of weeks to months by adding unfermented juice into that fermentation, always keeping the brix of the fermentation between 20 and 30. And it keeps the yeast happier and it also lends itself to the flavors we want, which are sort of big, ebullient—I’m probably pronouncing that wrong—big, expressive tropical fruit flavors in Riesling. Lots of pineapple, lots of mango, those sorts of characters. So the difference between the table Riesling, and the icewine Riesling next to it, is different fruit flavors and, of course, you know, way different levels of sweetness, right? We’ll sell an icewine that ends up at 23 or 24 or even 25% residual sugar. Whereas the Riesling next to it didn’t even start out with 25% residual sugar before we fermented it, right? So it’s really just a very different beast. I hope that answers your question.

John Holl 16:56
It does. And it sort of dovetails into what I wanted to ask Eleanor. You mentioned before some of the apple varieties that that seemed to lend itself better to ice cider. Can you go a little bit more into what those are and what ultimately winds up in the bottle? And how that might differ from, you know, traditional hard ciders in aroma and taste?

Eleanor Leger 17:21
Yeah, exactly. You know, ice cider is a relatively recent thing. It was developed in southern Quebec in the ’90s. And it was developed from the point of view of people who are trying to figure out a good value added product that would bring in additional income for orchards who were growing basic grocery store varieties, like particularly Macintosh, some Spartan, a little bit of Golden Russet, which is not something you see in the grocery stores. But really a lot of Macintosh, a lot of Rome, a lot of Liberty. And the good news is that those varieties make a pretty great ice cider. They have a nice balance of sweetness and acidity, and when you concentrate the flavors through the freezing process, that balance carries through. What I like about ice ciders is that there is a little more acidity in relation to sweetness, which I think is what makes sweet wines particularly successful and they have a nice backbone of acidity. We don’t hit the sugar levels that Dave is talking about. Most ice ciders will be, you know, 13 to 16% residual sugar, and about 10 to 13% alcohol. If you get a really nicely made one, you get just a lot of really intense beautiful apple flavor that has both a lot of sweetness, but also a lot of nice acidity. We were excited, being on the other just on the other side of the border back in 2007, to bring all the wonderful heirloom and interesting apple varieties that are grown in Vermont that are not grown in Quebec, to the ice cider process. Greater complexity of flavor, just having having more and different varieties involved. And to your question, how does that compare to hard ciders? Grocery variety apples don’t typically make great hard ciders. Although, if they’re pressed once a year at harvest, and properly mature, they can. What’s fun to have, at least in hard ciders, at least the way we make them—and we don’t even use the word hard anymore, it’s just cider—is apples that have some tannic quality to it as well. I don’t tend to use those in ice cider because you don’t really want bitterness in your dessert drink.

John Holl 19:36
And that’s really the setting for these, right? It’s after dinner or, you know, when the situation calls for something sweet, I imagine.

Eleanor Leger 19:46
After dinner, with cheese or foie gras.

John Holl 19:51
Carlton, for an Eisbock, where do you find the correct setting for services?

Karlton Graham 19:59
Wow, you know, it’s such a novelty. There’s very little, especially fresh Eisbock that anybody could find to buy, I think, on the beer market. I believe it’s kind of a special occasion type thing. At least that’s what I’ve used my bottles for that I’ve taken home from our Eisbock experiments. If my football team wins the game, I might open one of my bottles. It’s just because there’s not very many of them. And you know, we’re not making a lot of it. So it did kind of fall into that category of it’s a special occasion, I’m going to do something nice. But we sold them for the week leading up to Easter, thinking that people would buy these six packs and have them as something unique and special to have with their, you know, Easter Sunday meals.

John Holl 20:52
In thinking about this conversation, ice and beer, I think there’s a lot of confusion a lot of the time. Because, you know, if you hear like Coors Light, where they’ll talk about Frost brewed, or you know, there is like a Budweiser Bud Ice back in the day, which were all just sort of marketing or it’s a lagering in some ways, but there’s not actual freezing that takes place. Do you find that when you’re talking to curious beer consumers or just curious drinkers, and you might mention an ice beer that people think about the mountains turning blue on it on a can of lager? Or is there a little bit of understanding? Is there a lot of education that you have to do?

Karlton Graham 21:37
Well, I think because especially because you know, we’re a German centered brewery and we spell the word Eisbock E-I-S-B-O-C-K, I think their curiosity is piqued already. I don’t think that a lot of people look at that word and assume they know what’s in the bottle. So I think we do get a lot of questions, but it explains it on a label as well, that this beer, you know, was a pale doppelbock beer and was frozen to concentrate the flavors and the alcohol, and now you have this special product. So yeah, we did get a lot of questions. We do get a lot of questions. But I think it’s easy enough to understand. And just to go back one step to something you said, it’s my understanding that there is beer made by freezing it slightly. And Bud Ice is an example. I believe that they did make Bud Ice as a higher alcohol version of Budweiser. And how they did it was they brought it to a very specific temperature where ice crystals were forming in the beer, and then they filtered out those ice crystals. And this was just a little bit of freezing, not like a real Eisbock freezing, but that I believe that there are some malt liquors made that way right now as well.

John Holl 22:45
Yeah, you’re right. And that’s probably a topic for another podcast. Dave, when people come to visit you, and they’re curious about ice wine, where do those questions usually start? Or where do you find yourself following up on the most, you know, curious questions?

Dave Breeden 23:05
I mean, people are mainly interested in the process, I think, right? Do you freeze the grapes? Or do you freeze them on the vine? What is it like to press a frozen grape? People don’t have an intuitive understanding of what we’re doing, because it’s a really weird, stupid thing to do, right? So they don’t they don’t have it in their head, that that’s a normal thing that one might do of a January afternoon. So I think that’s where most of the interest lies. And then after that, it’s like, okay, what is the wine like? How is it possible to drink something with that much residual sugar? And we talk about the fact that the acid is concentrated along with the sugar and that makes it, even though sweet, balanced. Or so we hope. That’s the goal, anyway.

John Holl 23:58
I asked Eleanor and Karlton, but where do you see ice wines fitting into a drinking experience to service or to the right occasion to open up a bottle?

Dave Breeden 24:10
Yeah, a combination really, of what Karlton and Eleanor said. Really what Eleanor said that those pairings, cheeses or foie gras are exactly the right pairings. And as with what Karlton said, I mean, it’s not an inexpensive product. We charge $60 for 375ml bottle. So most people aren’t breaking them out, you know, every third evening, right? It’s something that you break out for a special occasion, and probably when you have people over because it’s hard to knock back a five ounce glass of this stuff, right? You really want a small glass after dinner and once it’s opened, lots of people should have a small glass. So, you know, you do it when you have friends over for dinner kind of thing.

John Holl 24:59
After a bottle is opened, can it be resealed and stored?

Dave Breeden 25:03
Icewine lasts remarkably well once opened, and I, as a former recovering chemist, I should be able to tell you why that is. But I can’t. But it does, it lasts considerably longer than other wines once opened. Yes.

John Holl 25:19
Eleanor, how about with cider?

Eleanor Leger 25:21
Same thing. You’ve got high acid, alcohol and high sugar. And so it keeps really nicely once the bottle is open, just keep the cork in and keep it in the fridge. We started this business when our kids were teenagers and they get so frustrated every time they open the refrigerator door at all the leftover tasting bottles that were in there.

John Holl 25:43
Getting in the way of the ketchup.

Eleanor Leger 25:45
Yeah. And and of course, you know, they were not allowed to have any, which was double the frustration.

John Holl 25:50
Well, sure. And Karlton, I imagine that once the bottle of beer is open, it’s passed around, and…

Karlton Graham 25:58
Yeah, it’s carbonated. Once you open the bottle, you got to get to business and get it consumed. And I think ours is used very similarly to what was mentioned earlier with, it’s a sharing bottle. You know, it’s the Konig Eisbach is 11% alcohol, it’s got a lot of flavor. It’s not something you just sit down and just chug 12 ounces of, you know, it’s something you pour four ounces for different people.

John Holl 26:29
Yeah, I mean, you don’t chug it unless the Chiefs lose in the run up on the playoffs.

Karlton Graham 26:33
I’m a 49er fan, so I’m not gonna drink for that. I hope that Chiefs win too.

John Holl 26:44
As you think about this is sort of a jump ball for anybody as you think about how consumer reception is for what you’re making and what you’re doing, has demand grown over the years? Has it stayed steady? What does the presence and the potential future look like? And that’s for whoever wants to jump in.

Karlton Graham 27:06
Well, I guess I have something I can say about that. We just bought a new tank. Simply because there was this desire to do more of it. More Eisbock production, but it ties up our one smaller tank. We have a lot of 60 barrel tanks, but only one 15 barrel tank. And so in order to do more experimentation and to have other stuff going on in the brewery that isn’t our normal production of our big flagship beers, we actually just bought another tank and as soon as I can get back to work, I’m going to be plumbing that for this glycol machine so we can make bigger batches of Eisbock. The last run that we had that we released last Easter was the fastest selling product that we sold through our own tasting room ever since we opened our doors. So people really responded to the availability of it and came in and bought the entire amount that we had for sale. I think in one day, or it might have been a day and a half. But it was amazing. Fast.

Dave Breeden 28:10
That’s really cool.

Karlton Graham 28:12
So yeah, so we spent some money, and I got to get to work. And we’re going to try to make bigger batches, and see if we could sell, you know, more than we did last year and of different varieties. So we’re kind of getting into it right now.

John Holl 28:29
Eleanor? Dave? Are you seeing a larger reason or more reasons in sales to dedicate more of each year’s harvest to ice production?

Eleanor Leger 28:41
I’d like to answer that question because, you know, when the pandemic hit and distributions took a dive and online sales exploded, we decided to sort of really focus on the online channel in a way we hadn’t before. It was more sort of just off the side of our desk as a reactive business strategy as opposed to a proactive one. And we’ve just have found a cider is what people are coming for. The single most frequently purchased item from our website, not including our cider club, is the trio of three different ice ciders. And it tells us that there are lots of people out there who love this kind of stuff, and have a hard time finding it at, you know, stores in their neighborhood. And I sometimes feel like the biggest obstacle to the sales of dessert wines is the trade. It’s not the consumer. I don’t know if you share that, Dave, at all, but it’s been our experience.

Dave Breeden 29:49
I mean for us I do think it’s—so our stales, our sales, not sales, nothing’s stale. Our sales are steady, and it’s been about 100 cases a year for some number of years now. And I think part of that is about the price point. I mean, it’s really expensive here, right? It’s, it’s $60 for a half bottle of wine. And that’s a big deterrent to a lot of people We can’t justify to ourselves selling it at a lower cost, because it’s incredibly expensive to make. You can’t harvest it for, you know, two or three months after the regular harvest. And even with good netting and all sorts of protection, you lose a lot of the grapes, if you net six tons in December, you end up harvesting two to three tons for icewine. So you’ve lost half your crop. And then instead of getting 170 or 180 gallons a ton, you’re getting 80 gallons a ton. So by the time you do out that math, it’s actually cheaper per ounce. Icewine is actually cheaper per ounce produced than the regular Riesling is, but it’s still $60 a half bottle, so it’s never going to be a huge seller for us.

John Holl 31:04
Are there dedicated fans? Are there people who look forward to what you’re releasing every year, Dave?

Dave Breeden 31:10
That’s a good question. And I’m afraid I can’t even pretend to know the answer. I’m far enough separated from the tasting room that what goes on down there is not entirely in my view.

John Holl 31:22
Eleanor, what about for you? I mean, we’re hearing, Karlton, that they’re selling out in a day when the stuff goes when when his beers go on. Is there something similar in the ice cider world?

Eleanor Leger 31:33
Well, we make a lot of different ice ciders. And we have a few that are, you know, super small batch, really special. We have been releasing either every year, close to every year, every other year an ice cider that is aged for seven, eight years in one barrel.

John Holl 31:53
Wow.

Eleanor Leger 31:53
And, you know, one barrel is like 600 bottles. And when that goes up, it goes. It disappears. So yeah, and then, you know, we’ll have other special cellar series that are one-offs. And when we’re down to, you know, less than 100 bottles, we’ll put a special thing out on social media or whatever, and then it goes. So there’s the scarcity sale factor helps with things like that.

John Holl 32:25
Once something is bottled, when is it at its peak?

Eleanor Leger 32:28
It depends on the kinds of things that normally apply to wine, right? It’s sort of, if you’ve got a lot of complexity and acid and maybe a little bit of barrel tannin there, you know, it will develop and age beautifully over a long time. If it’s, you know, a single variety made from Macintosh, it’ll be great for, you know, a certain period of time, and then it probably will kind of lose its zing. I will say, when we first started producing ice cider, we wanted to, you know, we wanted to take the product from the 2007 harvest and release it in the summer of 2008. And that just was too early. I mean, there are things you can do with various treatments to sort of speed up the development of, you know, smoothness and roundness, which we don’t like to do, so we pretty much age ours two years at the minimum before releasing them.

John Holl 33:25
Dave, what about for you? After you buy a bottle, when is the appropriate time to drink it? Is it right away? Is it aging it for a bit?

Dave Breeden 33:33
Not dissimilar to what Eleanor said, we are now selling the 2019. And we like to have the ice wine available that is appropriate to drink when we release it. So we’ve also got the 2020 in bottle, aging in bottle, and by the time we run out of the 2019, the 2020 will be good to go. In terms of ageability beyond that though, we’ve been developing a wine library ever since Sheldrake started in ’97. Our first Riesling icewine was 2000. And we’ve done, sort of, you know, 10 year verticals, tasting through them. And they last a good long time. Easily 10, 15 years without it being a problem.

John Holl 34:21
Karlton, I am best versed in beer in this conversation. And I know that some of the higher ABV beers, if you cellar them for a bit, they’re going to evolve over time. They’re going to take on some some fun flavors. Have you seen that with your Eisbocks? If you’re buying a six pack and putting three away for a couple years, are they maturing and aging and changing?

Karlton Graham 34:21
Yeah, I mean, they will definitely change. And that change is happening primarily because they’re staling a little bit over time. But with a big, big malty beer with a lot of alcohol in it, some people prefer that flavor that it develops over time. For some reason, there’s a lot of beer enthusiasts that believe that these big beers that you would cellar or get better over time. They definitely do not get better, they just become different. My feeling on the matter is that it’s best fresh. I don’t like the sort of ripe fruit flavors that develop over time. I like it the more pure malt character that you can get from a fresh beer, including an Eisbock. But I’m sure that there are people out there cellaring our Eisbach right now waiting to see what it tastes like in year two, year three, year four.

John Holl 35:37
When Eleanor was mentioning some of the barrels that she was putting specialty cider in, I started thinking, “Boy, would it be fun to sort of try to combine your three worlds.” And the best I could come up with at first was having a previously used ice cider barrel and then filling it with Eisbock. Would there be a way to incorporate wine into this as well, from any of you smart makers? Is there a way to bring your three worlds together into into a final product?

Eleanor Leger 36:11
Let’s say we could age an ice cider in an icewine barrel, and then pass it on to the Eisbock folks. That would probably be the right direction.

Dave Breeden 36:21
It would be if I use barrels, but I don’t.

Eleanor Leger 36:26
Right, right, right. Okay, got it. Yep.

John Holl 36:30
Could there be, Karlton? Are you are you doing the math in your head right now?

Karlton Graham 36:34
Yeah, no, I don’t think I know enough about how the icewine is made. Although I have learned a lot on this podcast. The only the only thing I can think of is some sort of blend, actually.

John Holl 36:52
Yeah, some people do that.

Karlton Graham 36:54
But standing that the that both the icewine and the ice cider are made in a very different way than the the Eisbock is made. They’re just starting with a very high gravity wort or must or whatever.

Dave Breeden 37:07
Yeah, so Karlton, are you the only producer of Eisbock? I’ve never heard of it before. In this country, sorry, in this country?

Karlton Graham 37:16
No, I’m sure there are others that that have done it somewhere. I mean, there’s 9,500 breweries now in the United States. So I don’t know the names of them, but if you punched up something in Google, or Untappd or something, I’m sure you would find some others somewhere.

Dave Breeden 37:33
Yeah, now I really want to do ship yours? I desperately want to try this.

Karlton Graham 37:37
John, didn’t I send you a bottle?

John Holl 37:39
You did last year.

Karlton Graham 37:41
I did. I sent you a bottle of it. Yeah. Okay, so you did get one?

John Holl 37:44
I did.

Karlton Graham 37:46
Yeah. So it’ll be coming out again soon, that same product. And then after I get this new tank installed, we will probably have a few other experiments. But, do we ship it? No, but I hear that there’s some law that might be changing soon. I’m not well versed on this, but that might allow breweries like us to ship in ways that we haven’t before. So I think the only thing that you could do right now is have a friend buy you a six pack and mail it to you or something, you know, find a mule of some kind.

Dave Breeden 38:22
And you produce it multiple times per year—no, you said you only do it in the winter, so you only do it once per year?

Karlton Graham 38:30
I’m going to try doing more and bigger batches soon. But the first thing that we’ll probably do is make this Konig Eisbock again, just like we did last year, and then they’ll probably will be some other things that we’re going to play with.

John Holl 38:45
When you hear about Karlton using his conical tanks with the glycol to freeze the Eisbock, is that something, Dave her Eleanor, that you think you could ever do with your products? Or is the natural way the best way?

Eleanor Leger 39:02
I think I would be incredibly sad if we had to use a commercial freezer or something like that. I mean, from an environmental perspective, the fact that we don’t use energy to do all this freezing, I think is great. And it’s also just a reflection of our terroir. We have the cold weather to do it. You know, there’s a bunch of people in Spain making ice cider by freezing it, which those of us from Sweden and Canada and Vermont are saying, “That’s not real ice cider.”

Dave Breeden 39:34
So there are people in New York doing it the real way, though. There are people here doing it.

Eleanor Leger 39:38
Yes.

Dave Breeden 39:40
But in terms of freezing, I mean, I could freeze juice rather than freezing grapes. That would not be from the TTB’s point of view an ice product it would be an iced product. And freezing wine is a whole different ball game. You need a really good chiller to freeze something that starts out at like 12% alcohol. So it would be a technological challenge, and then I’d end up with something that’s high enough alcohol that I don’t know that it still counts as wine. I’d be up in the, you know, sort of distilled beverage area.

Eleanor Leger 40:22
Yeah, actually, that’s a really good thing to point out, which is what Dave and I make is different, right, from Eisbock, which is freezing after fermentation. We’re freezing before fermentation to concentrate sugar.

Karlton Graham 40:32
Have you ever considered freezing something after fermentation outside?

Eleanor Leger 40:37
In point of fact, freeze distilling is prohibited.

Dave Breeden 40:42
Oh, well, there’s that too.

John Holl 40:44
Yeah, that’s the TTB, right?

Eleanor Leger 40:46
And the reason behind that is because, if you’re familiar with heat distilling, you know that you’re cutting the heads and the tails.

Karlton Graham 40:52
Oh, right.

Eleanor Leger 40:54
And because fermentation, particularly if it’s not particularly clean, produces all these other sort of, you know, there’s butane and methanol and all this other stuff. And if you’re heat distilling, you can cut that stuff out. But if you’re freeze distilling, it’s all in there. This is why, you know, rural folks who cider and froze their already fermented cider out in the back and drank that stuff because it was high alcohol, you know, went blind and died.

Dave Breeden 41:25
Not to put too fine a point on it.

John Holl 41:29
Yeah, that’s not necessarily a great marketing campaign.

Dave Breeden 41:34
Yeah, so Eleanor answered that question. I’m willing to just rest with that answer.

Karlton Graham 41:40
No, I think I think the methanol would be at the same level as it was in the original beer, in relationship to how much alcohol you’re consuming per pour, if you know what I mean. So one bottle of Konig Eisbock would have the same amount of methanol as two bottles of the doppelbock.

Eleanor Leger 41:59
Still, your concentration ratio as much is not as intense as ours, I think.

Karlton Graham 42:05
Yeah, so there’s very, very little methanol in beer to begin with. So that’s the key. That’s the key. Okay.

Dave Breeden 42:12
And I believe that the medical treatment for methanol poisoning is to administer ethanol. No, seriously, I mean, because it, I can’t go through the chemistry anymore. But so as long as your ethanol totally outweighs your methanol, percentage-wise, you’re in good shape. Just generally in life, actually, you can just take that. Well, I killed that conversation.

John Holl 42:39
I’m just, I’m trying to find a graceful way of transitioning into this.

Eleanor Leger 42:46
Away from this.

John Holl 42:48
So Karlton threw out a question to the group. I’m happy to open it up if Dav or Eleanor, you wanted to ask something your peers.

Dave Breeden 43:00
I have something for Eleanor if I could? So the people in Quebec, what do they do with frozen apples? Does one press it directly? Does one grind it and press it? And if you grind it, doesn’t that thaw it? What does one do?

Eleanor Leger 43:15
It’s a basket press. So they’re just throwing the frozen apples in there and pressing and they’re kind of funny looking when they come out. It’s like all these little like square blocks of crushed apples. Beg your pardon?

Dave Breeden 43:31
Do you know what kind of pressures one needs?

Eleanor Leger 43:33
Oh, very, very high. Yeah, that’s why basket press will work.

Dave Breeden 43:37
Oh, like a hydraulic basket press? Not a pneumatic?

Eleanor Leger 43:40
Yeah, yeah.

Dave Breeden 43:41
Oh, okay. Everything is making sense now. Okay. Thank you. I’ve wondered all these years. We used to do an ice cider. We were one of the first producers in New York along with Eve Cidery.

Eleanor Leger 43:52
I think I’ve had a bottle of your ice cider.

Dave Breeden 43:55
We have since left it to the people who are really good at it like you. And the folks that Eve’s. When we first started producing it, there weren’t any. And it just seemed like, it was back in 2005, and it was sort of an unfulfilled market niche. But the longer we did it, the better other people got at it. So we stopped doing it.

John Holl 44:12
Know thyself. I like that. Eleanor, I feel it’s only fair if you had a question for the other panelists. You don’t have to.

Dave Breeden 44:23
Way to put her on the spot there.

John Holl 44:26
She didn’t know it was coming.

Eleanor Leger 44:30
I guess my struggle is just how to get the word out that this thing exists and I’m interested in, you know, do you sell it beyond your own tasting rooms? And if so, how?

Dave Breeden 44:46
We do sell it on distribution, but not a lot again, because $60 for a half bottle. Maybe move, you know, five or six cases a year through distribution, so almost nothing.

John Holl 44:58
Do you think this would do well on shelves or at retail accounts, Karlton, your Eisbocks?

Karlton Graham 45:04
We’re going to try to find out, not on shelves, but just sort of what you would call a one off drop in business where you just get like, half of the end of an aisle, and you just get to pile up some cases there. The tank that we’ve been making it in isn’t big enough to support sending it out. We have, I think, over 20 distributors now. So in order to make some available to everyone, that’s another reason why we got this new, larger tank. We can we can make enough Eisbach in that to give some to all of our distributors and see how it goes. So we’re gonna find out.

Eleanor Leger 45:38
Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of the best opportunities are often on premise rather than off premise. That’s a place where people can discover new things. And I think the other message we’ve tried to convey to restaurants is—and this is pre-pandemic, because restaurants are in a world of hurt right now—but dessert wine is an add on sale. You’re getting people at the end of a great meal. And they can have dessert and then you can pour them a teeny taste of an ice cider, an ice wine or, whatever late harvest and they’ll go, “Oh, yeah, that’s great add it on.” So you’re not kicking something else out. It’s just additional profit opportunity. And the restaurants that understand that and have dessert wines by the glass on their menu and promote them, you know, do a great job with them. And I’d love to see more of them do that.

John Holl 46:32
Well, I hope everybody who’s listening to this episode goes out and gets bottles or looks for it on menus and supports the efforts that you three and other folks in the arena are doing just because it’s it is such a fun thing to drink and fun category and fun process to explore. And so, Eleanor and Karlton and Dave, thank you so much for being on the podcast this week and sharing your insights and tasting notes and hope for these cool niche beverages as as you make them.

Eleanor Leger 47:04
Awesome. Thank you, John.

Karlton Graham 47:06
Thank you.

Lauren Buzzeo 47:10
I have learned so much about what goes into making ice beverages and why they are such unique special interpretations of technique and terroir that can’t easily be replicated. The passion, skill and craftsmanship that goes into each ounce of these pours is certainly something to behold and cherish with each sip. And I can’t wait to celebrate these artisans with a glass of ice wine tonight. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you find podcasts. If you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too? You can also drop us a line at podcast@winemag.com. For more wine reviews, recipes guides, deep dives and stories, visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @WineEnthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers.

Published on February 2, 2022
Topics: Podcast