An Ice Lager or Ice Beer is a variant of pale lager that was created in Canada in the early 1990s and became briefly popular in the United States.
Ice beer is brewed with the same post-fermentation freezing process used to produce an Eisbock from a Doppelbock: the beer is cooled to a level below the freezing point of water, allowing some of the water in the beer, but none of the alcohol, to crystallize. The result is a higher-alcohol beer with a more concentrated flavor.
However, the increased alcohol and flavor in American and Canadian ice beer is nowhere near as dramatic as that in Eisbock, which can start with an already strongly flavored 10% abv Doppelbock and end up with a beer of 14% abv or more. Most American ice beers top out at about 5.5%, adding minimal alcohol and not noticeably concentrating the weak flavor of the pale lager significantly. Even stranger, Anheuser-Busch, the brewers of Bud Ice, one of the best-selling American versions, actually allow the ice crystals to melt back into the beer, negating any possible advantage.
Types of Ice Lager
There is one important variant of this style sold in Canada and the United States: the Light Ice Beer.
Light Ice Beer
In addition to standard ice lagers, some breweries also produce beers labeled as Light Ice Lager or Light Ice Beer. These beers often end up with the same amount of alcohol (and, presumably, calories) as non-"light" ice beers, but start with a lighter, more flavorless base beer. The results are usually no more impressive than standard ice beers.
Again, Anheuser-Busch is an exception; because they allow the ice to melt back into the beer, Bud Ice Light is simply a 4% abv light beer with no discernible effect from the icing process.
Brewing Ice Lager
While commercial examples are mostly marketing exercises, home brewers may also want to try using the Eisbock process to amplify the flavor of a more flavorful beer, or to heighten the alcohol content or flavor of a Pale Lager or Pilsner.
Some people have suggested that making ice beer at home might be considered a home distillation process rather than home brewing, which would be illegal in the United States. It would be a good idea to consult local laws before trying your hand at this style.
Competition Style Guidelines
Because home brewers usually have no interest in brewing this style, the BJCP has no defined ice beer style; ice beers would most likely be entered either in one of the Pale Lager categories or, if there was a significant flavor or alcohol level impact from the icing process, as a Specialty Beer. Because of the GABF's focus on commercial beers and large brewers, where this style is common, they do define a category for it.
GABF Style Listings
American-Style Ice Lager
|This style is slightly higher in alcohol than most other light colored, American style lagers. Its body is low to medium and has low residual malt sweetness. It has few or no adjuncts. Color is very pale to golden. Hop bitterness is low but certainly perceptible. Hop aroma and flavor are low. Chill haze, fruity esters, and diacetyl should not be perceived. Typically these beers are chilled before filtration so that ice crystals (which may or may not be removed) are formed. This can contribute to a higher alcohol content (up to 0.5% more).||