THE BAYERISCHE Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, aside from being the world’s oldest continually operating brewery (est. 1040), is broadly regarded as brewing the world’s best Hefeweissbier. The ‘Bavarian State Brewery’ also makes several other estimable wheat beers (e.g. the Weizenbock Vitus and a dunkelweizen), but none can compete with the flagship for sheer delightfulness. If any Weihenstephan brew has a chance at that throne, it might be their doppelbock, Korbinian. Within the confines of Bavarian tradition the two could hardly be more different: Hefeweissbier is a light-bodied, highly-effervescent, refreshingly fruity, straw-colored wheat ale; Korbinian a sweet, earthy-brown, heavily-malted, ‘liquid bread’ lager. Yet the two recipes are still comparable for their focus, cleanliness, clarity, and an overall excellence that is simply inspiring.
Korbinian pours an earthy and almost vibrant brown with ruby hues at the edges, hinting at a clarity that is hard to make out at its dense core. Apparent carbonation is fairly low, both in the glass and on the palate, and the retention of its tannish head merely modest. It presents well, but is frankly not quite equal to its bottle label, which is among beer’s most appealing.
The fruitiness prominent in some doppelbocks is restrained here–perhaps some figs and a bit of red berry in the aroma but relatively little on the palate, where cocoa and slightly husky grains lead the way. The body is rich and pushing full (estimated around 5 Plato), leaving a little residue on the lips like sweet wort. Unambiguously shaded towards specialty malts, it blends dry cocoa, rich melanoidins, and even a few coffee tones atop a rustic base likely heartily dosed with Munich. Its finish is protracted and toasty, though still sufficiently clear to reflect its lager fermentation and a long cleansing rest. Yeast residues are untraceable and the 7.6% ABV completely masked. Hops must be somewhere in here (32 IBUs is hardly miniscule and actually high for the style), but they make virtually no impression on the palate. Like many quality doppelbocks, Korbinian is also a coup with food: roast root vegetables such as beets and parsnips, herbed potatoes, barley risotto, and bone-in pork are all magnificent pairings that it embraces like closest kin.
Unfortunately, for all its virtues Korbinian can’t quite unseat Hefeweissbier as Weihenstephaner’s best. Nor does it emerge as the world-beater of doppelbocks—that honor still goes to Ayinger’s Celebrator. For all Korbinian’s depth, it is less dynamic and coasts a little too easily compared to Celebrator’s animated, inspired conclusion. Nonetheless, it is still a leading example of the style and a worthy member of Weihenstephaner’s august lineup. And at only two-thirds the price of Celebrator, Korbinian may also be the superior value.
Served: 500 ml Bottled December 12, 2012