What Is The Difference Between Ice Beer and Regular Beer?
The difference between regular beer and ice beer is that ice beer goes through a freeze distillation process that regular beers don’t. This is meant to give the beer more aroma and taste, while also increasing the alcohol content. However, most North American beers will often water down these beers making the enhanced effects minimal.
What Exactly Is Ice Beer?
Ice beer starts out as regular beer that eventually goes through a process called fractional freezing, or freeze distillation. This act of “icing” beer is done by gradually decreasing temperature of the beer until the formation of ice crystals within it. As ethanol freezes at a lower temperature than water, -114°C as opposed to 0°C, the ice only contains water, and the concentration of alcohol in the beer increases once the ice has been removed.
Sometimes, water is added in North America after the chilling process to lower the alcohol content, but ice beer can contain anywhere from 5.5 to 12 percent alcohol.
The Ice Beer Wars
Before ice beer started getting pushed as the latest beer trend, several Canadian brewers toyed with the idea of using freeze distillation to reduce the volume of beer transported in bulk over long distances. Once the beer would reach its desired destination, it could be mixed with water to restore the sale strength prior to packaging.
While this technique was deemed impractical, variations of it were used by competing companies to put iced beers on the market, launching the “Ice Beer Wars.”
The intense competition over a freeze distillation patent and the title of ice beer inventors, which lead to “wars” between advertisers and lawsuits between brewing companies, was dubbed the Ice Beer Wars. The almost identical product resulting from different companies around the same time was certainly suspicious.
Technically, three Canadian brewing companies vied for the claim. Niagara Falls Brewing Company documented the introduction of freezing distillation to Canada in 1989. Despite this, Molson, now Molson Coors, announced their invention of iced beer when they released Canadian Ice in April of 1993.
Molson’s primary Canadian competitor, Labatt, then claimed that they had patented the freezing distillation process even earlier. Labatt released their own ice beer in August of the same year and cornered ten percent of the market share. The Ice Beer War became a battle between Molson and Labatt.
History has vindicated Labatt. Molson did indeed steal the idea to manufacture ice beer from them, but they were able to do so since many other brewers flooded the market with ice beers right after, and it became a generic style.
American companies like Budweiser also took advantage of this to launch Bud Ice and enter The Ice Beer Wars. Although Labatt did attempt to sue Budweiser, Labatt lost, as ice beer had already become a general fad.
Once American brewing companies got involved, they resorted to simply chilling the batches of beer until they turned slushy, after which they did not bother to remove most of the ice. Due to the negligence of ice removal, the beer’s alcohol content was strengthened by less than one percent.
Budweiser and Miller claimed that their ice “technique” resulted in incredibly smooth beer, but they simply liked the appeal of the ice beer fad.
In 2013, Budweiser was sued by three separate parties for selling various beers with less alcohol than advertised, including Bud Ice, but the cases were dismissed in 2014.
The Controversial History of Ice Beer
When ice beer was first introduced to the United States in 1993, industry observers and experts were convinced that ice beer was merely another creative fad of the decade. The New York Times went so far as to call ice beer a “…product intended to pique the interest of fickle, free-spending consumers in their 20s and 30s.”
They had every reason to be skeptical. Many “bold” innovations in beer styles that were being cranked out at the time, such as dry, genuine draft, and colorless beer, ultimately failed to become profitable. Despite maintaining a relative popularity in the nations where ice beer initially took off, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, the style has indeed faded into general obscurity.
However, although ice beer has managed to slip into a quiet niche within the industry, the way in which ice beer came to be remains marred with controversy. Keep reading to discover why ice beer has a contentious history, as well as how it differs from regular beer.
Regardless of whether anyone thought ice beer would make a dent in the market or not, ice beer was suddenly everywhere in the early nineties. Much of its notoriety came from the fact that it contained more alcohol per serving than any other beer at the time. The prominence of ice beer rapidly plunged the style into infamy.
While “ice beer” still sounds inherently appealing, and the scientific process that is used to make it is interesting, ice beer is relatively simple to create. Anyone willing to freeze their beer and remove the ice can do it with their preferred brand of regular beer.
Ice beer brands remain popular with college students in the United States and Canada, however, as they often lead to a fairly cheap buzz. Many brands of ice beer are actually prohibited for sale in Seattle for this reason. These brands also continue to sell decently in the United Kingdom and Japan.
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