Why are local versions of classic German beer styles so often disappointing?
There are a lot of reasons, but one of the most basic is the equipment. Most American craft breweries are outfitted with brewhouses of English descent. And while a clever brewer could find a way to make a great Bohemian Pilsner on a Burton Union, there's really no substitute for proper equipment.
Which is one place that Eugene's Falling Sky sets itself apart. Falling Sky co-owner Jason Carriere worked on the Human Genome Project in California before coming to Eugene to work as a researcher at the University of Oregon. Carriere bought a homebrew shop in 2002 and ran it for nine years before opening Falling Sky.
"At that point, there were a lot of beer styles that were lost—you didn't ever find those. So our business model is a lot of variety," he says. "Our theme is 'international brewery.'"
When he opened Falling Sky, Carriere acquired a German-made system with a steam-jacketed mash tun with paddles, which allows them to adjust the temperature mid-brew. It comes in handy when they're aiming to make a German hefeweizen with lots of banana esters.
And it's also the only way Falling Sky was able to make their Fünf Doppelbock. They made a recipe exclusively using German Weyermann malt and Hallertau hops, and then they put in the work—a 16-hour brew day. They mash at normal temperature, pump three-quarters of the wort over to the lauter tun to cool and rest, then keeping the quarter that's left boiling.
They "boil the fuck out of it" it in batches, like a porridge for hours at a time to render a lager with that dark candy flavor of a beer like Ayinger Celebrator.
"You can't do it all at once or you'll kill the enzymes," Carriere says. "You get the Maillard reaction going, so it increases the depth of the color and it really brings out a specific malt character that comes out through the decoction—it's biscuity, bready, with a depth of flavor from those caramel notes."
Falling Sky also does a lot of English ales, including a very tasty ESB. But the German styles are where Carriere's operation really stands out—especially a beer like this doppelbock, which has a depth of flavor unlike any other Oregon lager I've ever tasted.
But it's a beer that's only possible because of the success they have elsewhere. Falling Sky has thrived in Eugene, expanding to four locations including a pizzeria with beer in the student union building, which has become a very popular site for faculty meetings.
Don't expect more of this doppelbock—except, perhaps, for a few shining weeks in the fall, when the brewery celebrates its anniversary.
"If a doppelbock was as popular as a hazy IPA it could be commercially viable, but—no, it's something that you do for something special," he says. "This was for our fifth anniversary, which is why it's called Fünf, German for five. Maybe next year we'll do Sechs."