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What is Ice Beer?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ice beer is beer which is conditioned in a chilled environment, promoting the development of ice crystals which are removed, thereby concentrating the flavor and alcohol content of the beer. Ice beers are made with a lager base, and they appear in a variety of guises. German ice beers or eisbocks are very strong winter lagers with a rich, complex flavor, while North American ice beers tend to be short on flavor and long on alcohol, designed for the purpose of cheap intoxication.

The discovery of ice beer was probably a mistake, much like other discoveries in the world of beer. Lagers are traditionally aged, sometimes in very cool environments, and according to legend, some German beer makers were dismayed to find ice in their lager one day, so they removed it, creating the first eisbock. German ice beers are dark, thick, and very strong, with a malty flavor and a formidable alcohol content, and they were designed for drinking in the winter, when some people enjoy hearty beers with a filling texture.

Canadian and American brewers eventually picked up the idea, developing their own take on ice beer. North American ice beers tend to be slightly sweet, with an increased alcohol content and a pale flavor. These beers are often very cheap, marketed in packaging which is designed to appeal to heavy drinkers, and some breweries have been criticized for the marketing tactics used to promote ice beer.

North American ice beers are light enough to be consumed in the summer months, and their alcohol content varies, depending on the distillery. Some North American ice beers are actually not terribly alcoholic, while others are markedly stronger than beers which have not been subjected to the chilled conditioning process. Several companies also make “light” versions which are lower in calories, for beer drinkers who are concerned about their figures.

The process involved in the conditioning of ice beer is a classic example of fractional distillation. In fractional distillation, a fluid is chilled or heated to separate its components. In the case of ice beer, the water in the beer freezes before the alcohol, creating ice chips which can be removed from the beer, leaving the alcohol behind. Enterprising beer drinkers can even create their own ice beer by chilling beer in a carefully controlled environment, removing it before it freezes completely so that it can be strained to remove the ice.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon205998 — On Aug 14, 2011

Ice beers are definitely strong here in the USA. All the ice beers I've tried taste like crap but get you really wasted.

Mil best has 4.3 percent alcohol. Mil best ice has 5.9 percent and tastes terrible.

By indigomoth — On Jun 03, 2011

@browncoat - It is annoying when you leave alcohol in the freezer to cool it quickly and then forget about it. And you are right, most spirits are definitely not improved by the experience. But, with the right kind of beer, you might prefer to take out a little bit of the water. Some beers taste so watered down anyway, it might be worth the experiment. Just be careful not to remove too much ice from in the beer, as you don't want to be drinking completely distilled alcohol.

By browncoat — On Jun 02, 2011

I had no idea that this was what ice beer was. I guess I thought ice beers were simply lighter in color, or designed to be served especially cold, or maybe even just given a "cool" name. Maybe because I've only ever had the US ice beers which don't sound like they taste all that different from normal beer.

But I should have known because you can do this with other kinds of alcohol as well. I have left spirits like vodka in the freezer and come back to find that only a small amount is still unfrozen and that small amount is strong enough to practically blind you. It's definitely not worth it with spirits and I always let it thaw back out in that situation.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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