Liquid Diet: Bock for its 25th year

I was a whopping three years of age when Hermann Hoerter, legendary Vancouver Island Brewery (VIB) brewmaster, first concocted his seasonal Hermannator ice bock back in 1987. Initially, the beer was only a gift for Hermann’s friends and devoted brewery customers. The VIB crew at the time jokingly named the brew in honour of the first Terminator movie — a film that hadn’t been expected to garner either commercial or critical acclaim. The beer hadn’t been expected to catch much attention either. Yet, like the film, Hermannator has gone on to great things, and, 25 years later, is now one of VIB’s most popular products.

“I don’t know if it’s even just the name,” says Adam Ball, manager of VIB beer experience. “It’s a laughable name, but then the fact that it’s been around year after year — it’s developed a cult following almost. The people that know it crave it, and then they slowly introduce other people to it.”

My first experience with Hermannator came during the 2003 Christmas holidays. My stepbrother and I had both returned home to Powell River from our fall semesters at school — he at UVic and I at Simon Fraser University. He brought with him a couple of six-packs of the VIB seasonal, fearing it wouldn’t be available in Powell River. He broke them out one evening as our family prepared supper. Needless to say, an adequate beer buzz seasoned my meal.

With a 9.5 alcohol percentage, Hermannator is not to be taken lightly. “You have three of those beers and you’re pretty much nuked,” says Ball. I couldn’t agree more.

The surprising thing about the Hermannator is that it doesn’t have the let-me-put-on-my-flavour-boot-and-stomp-your-tongue taste of a traditional strong beer. It’s surprisingly smooth and drinkable. Ball attributes this to the ice bock brewing method in which the beer is aged for three months in zero to subzero temperatures. Not only does this prolonged brewing period lead to the beer’s increased alcohol content; it also softens its palate punch.

“The cold filtering just kind of chills everything out,” says Ball. “It’s got some nice flavours, but when you picture a 9.5 per cent beer, you think that it would be really crazy flavourful. But it’s just got some subtle hints of chocolate and plum.”

That chocolate taste comes from the substantial amount of chocolate malts used in the recipe, but what about the plum? “With the higher alcohol percentage, it kind of takes a bit of that chocolate, and as it sits there for so long, it’s just kind of creating this plum-raisin flavour,” says Ball. “Which is interesting, because it’s just straight up — it’s barley, hops and malt, so there’s nothing added to it. It’s just straightforward beer.”

VIB makes one batch of the Hermannator each year, consisting of two or three brews done back-to-back. The brewers are at it for pretty much 24 straight hours to get it all done. After three months, the batch — comprising roughly 7 500 six-packs — hits shelves across the Island and Lower Mainland.

Ball says this batch is “already ripping out pretty quick.” He guesses, at longest, Hermannator will still be around a week or two into February. If you haven’t tried it yet, I’d suggest you get on it. The cleanness of the beer makes it a good partner for rich, creamy desserts. Should calamity strike, though, and you miss out on 2012’s edition of the Herm, it’ll always be bock (think Austrian accent) again next October.

A six-pack of Hermannator sells for $13.49 at both the Vancouver Island Brewery (2330 Government St.) and B.C. Liquor stores. Expect roughly a 50-cent increase at private liquor stores.

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