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Ice beer is a marketing term for pale lager beer brands which have undergone some degree of fractional freezing somewhat similar to the German Eisbock production method. These brands generally have higher alcohol content than typical beer and generally have a low price relative to their alcohol content.
The process of "icing" beer involves lowering the temperature of a batch of beer until ice crystals form. Since alcohol has a much lower freezing point (-114 °C; -173.2 °F) than water and doesn't form crystals, when the ice is filtered off, the alcohol concentration increases. The process is known as "fractional freezing" or "freeze distillation".
Eisbock was developed in Germany during Oktoberfest celebrations with bock beers, which are strong lagers. A particularly cold year froze the beers and a new taste was noticed by the drinkers. However, in its current form, ice beer was developed from the fruit-juice industry which used to freeze orange juice concentrate in order to reduce shipping costs.
The term "ice beer" (in name) was introduced in Canada by Molson (now part of Molson Coors). The first ice beer marketed in North America was Canadian Ice, which was introduced by Molson in April 1993, although the process was patented earlier by Molson's competitor, Labatt (now part of Anheuser-Busch InBev), instigating the so-called "Ice Beer Wars" of the 1990s. By August 1993, both Molson and Labatt had introduced ice beer products in Canada, with Labatt having captured a 10% market share. These ice beers are brewed and filtered at sub-freezing temperatures, thus producing ice crystals and raising the resulting alcohol content. Labatt's Maximum Ice, for example, rates 7.1% alcohol by volume. The freezing of beer allowed the removal of protein-polyphenol compounds, creating a smoother, more colloidally stable beer, and avoiding long aging time.
Miller acquired the U.S. marketing and distribution rights to Molson's products, and first introduced the Molson product in the United States in August 1993 as Molson Ice. Miller also introduced the Icehouse brand under the Plank Road Brewery brand name shortly thereafter,[when?] and it is still sold nationwide.
Anheuser-Busch introduced Bud Ice (5.5% abv) in 1994 and it remains one of the country's top-selling ice beers. Bud Ice has a somewhat lower alcohol content than most other ice beer brands. In 1995, Anheuser-Busch also introduced two other major brands: Busch Ice (5.9% abv, introduced 1995) and Natural Ice (also 5.9% abv, also introduced in 1995). Natural Ice is the No. 1 selling ice beer brand in the United States; its low price makes it very popular on college campuses all over the country.
Characteristics and regulation
The ice beers are typically known for their high alcohol-to-dollar ratio. In some areas, a substantial number of ice beer products are considered to often be bought by "street drunks", and are prohibited for sale. For example, most of the products that are explicitly listed as prohibited in the beer and malt liquor category in the Seattle area are ice beers.
- The Average Ethanol Content of Beer in the U.S. and Individual States: Estimates for Use in Aggregate Consumption Statistics; William C. Kerr, Thomas K. Greenfield; Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Vol. 64, 2003.
- Popular Science
- Company News: New Brew From Molson; U.S.'s Northern Neighbor Is Putting Ice in the Beer, New York Times, August 3, 1993.
- Ice Beer Wars, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, April 14, 1993.
- McNerthney, Casey, City Looks at Banning High-Octane Booze in More Areas, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 21, 2012.
- Amended Banned Products List, Seattle Alcohol Impact Areas, Washington State Liquor Control Board, effective date March 1, 2009.