The Story Behind Infinium
(This article first appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of the Ale Street News)
BREWING GIANTS TEAM UP TO CREATE A NEW BEER
By JOHN HOLL
When the call came through to Jim Koch’s Boston office about three years ago he thought the person on the other end of the line was making a joke. The caller identified himself as Dr. Josef Schrädler, managing director of Germany’s famed and historic Weihenstephan Brewery. The thick German accent sounded authentic and the brewing terms were accurate. But, what this caller was proposing was so far removed from anything that had been done before that Koch was convinced it couldn’t be real.
The man on the other end of the line proposed that the two breweries collaborate on a beer.
Collaborations have become common in the brewing world, often bringing together breweries with different philosophies and strengths together to create a special, one time brew. However, for Weihenstephan, which dates back to the year 1040 and is firmly rooted in the old-world of brewing to reach out to an American brewery that is barely 26-years-old was something unheard of.
However, the call was legitimate and soon after Koch, the founder and brewer of Boston Beer, which makes the Samuel Adams lines of beers was at the historic Weihenstephan brewery located in the Bavarian city of Freising. Neither side, said Koch, was content on making just another collaboration beer, not content to just tweak an existing style.
No, Koch said they wanted to create something completely new and do it under the constraints of the Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law, which states that beer is to be made with just four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast.
The vision, said Koch, was to make a Champagne-like beer.
So the two sides set to work. Weihenstephan, which has perfected the brewing process and employs some of the finest and most accomplished brewers and scientists in the business and Boston Beer, which routinely updates classic styles and isn’t afraid to take risks found a harmonious middle ground.
They named the beer Infinium. Packaged in cork-finished, foil topped 750ml bottles, it will be available beginning in December for a limited time. The beer is very dry with a bit of sweetness that belies its 10.3% alcohol by volume. It retails for about $20 a bottle and the breweries suggest serving it in a traditional Champagne flute.
Infinium, said Koch, challenges the very perception of beer in a very different way.
“This beer is truly a marriage of the German brewing heritage that our brewery has upheld for almost a thousand years, combined with new, innovative brewing techniques that take beer beyond what anyone expected to be possible under the constraints of the purity law,” said Dr. Schrädler in a statement.
How exactly the brewers were able to make a new style of beer while staying true to the Reinheitsgebot remains proprietary knowledge, said a Boston Beer spokeswoman who noted the breweries had applied for patents to trademark the process.
“We deconstructed the brewing process and put it together in a new way,” Koch said in an interview earlier this year while the beer was still being perfected and tweaked. “We need to patent the brewing method that creates the style. You can’t get there with out the brewing techniques that we developed.”
The beer was made in both the United States and in Germany, giving Infinium a global reach. Here in the US, Boston Beer contracted a winery in upstate New York to clarify and bottle the champagne-like brew.
Koch has admitted that it took longer than anticipated to get Infinium to the people, but in recent interviews and appearances has beamed like a proud father when talking about the collaboration.
When the partnership was announced a few years back, the breweries said they would likely do a trio of beer but there are no official plans in place for creating and releasing the remaining two.
For now, Boston Beer and Weihenstephan will give Infinium a chance to make its mark.
“We are all excited to finally share Infinium with drinkers this holiday season,” said Koch.