To celebrate the coming of spring, we are taking a trip to the Vaterland of Bier…Deutschland! While Germany has become synonymous with Oktoberfest, Hefeweizens, biergartens, and the future of the Eurozone, our favorite bierlande has more to offer than wheat beer and festivals (though who could possibly need more than that?) Thus, we turn our attention to the lesser-known Bock, a malty lager from the small city of Einbeck.
While most popular German beer was developed in Bavaria (a state in southern Germany), the Bock has its roots in Einbeck, a small medieval city in the northern state of Lower Saxony. During the 13th century, Einbeck had a hold on the ale manufacturing market. The beer produced in Einbeck was exported all over the world through the Hanseatic League. Like many other beers-en-route, the ale made by Einbeck brewers was extra strong to endure lengthy journeys. The Dukes of Bavaria, upon reception of the Einbecker ale, were so enamored with the strong ale that they eventually developed their own recipe so that they could produce it in their own courts in Munich. After the dissolution of the Hanseatic League after the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, the shipping routes from Einbeck were closed and production slowed. But back in Bavaria, in order to make sure the recipe was as close to the Einbeck original as possible, Duke Maximillian employed the services of Einbecker brewmaster Elias Pichler to oversee its production in the newly constructed Hofbräuhaus. The first Munich Einbeck beer was tapped in 1612.
There was a major difference between the northern and southern recipes, though. While the Einbecker had been brewed with a top-fermenting ale yeast, the only yeast available in Munich was a bottom-fermenting lager yeast. Thus, the Bavarianization of the original Einbeck brew transformed the beer from an ale to a lager.
The Naming of the Bock
Bock, bock, oh where for art thou name from? And why are there always so many goats on your labels? Well, there are a few cute explanations. One theory is that it was brewed during the Capricorn sign (the zodiac symbol of the sea-goat). However, the most accepted origin is that in Munich, people looking for a beer from Einbeck would ask for “Ein Bock” (which means “goat” in German).
The Traditional Bock is a strong lager, with an ABV at over 6.5%. It has a complex, toasty maltiness with a very slight hop presence. The malts, usually Munich and Vienna malts, tend to manifest in a sweet caramel taste with no roasted or burnt note.
There are a number of substyles that have emerged over the years:
Doppelbock: While the Bock was consumed for purposes of pleasure, a similar style was also brewed by the Munich monks of St. Francis of Paula during periods of fasting (e.g. Lent and Christmas) in order to sustain them. When the Paulaner beer (still available today as the Salvator) was inevitably made available to the public on April 2, 1751 (the celebration of St. Francis of Paula), they had sworn they had tried it before…it tasted just like the Ein Bock! They called this the Doppelbock instead and it understandably became associated with Lent. However, under Napoleon, a creed was instituted that separated church and state; thus, the Church was unable to engage in commerce, and the production of Paulaner beer came to an end. However, in 1806, the owner of another Munich brewery rented the Paulaner facility and, in 1830, decided to return the Salvator recipe from its Napoleonic demise. It was released to celebrate the arrival of Lent. While no fasting was involved, a helluva lot of Doppelbock drinking was.
Wanting to get in on the Doppelbock action, other Munich brauhauses developed their own versions of the Salvator. However, Paulaner got a trademark patent on the name Salvator, so other breweries developed other “-ator” names, such as the Celebrator, Maximator, and Triumphator.
The Doppelbock is usually richer, drier, and hoppier. It has a little bit of a roasted and chocolate note and a higher ABV at 6-9%.
Maibock/Hellesbock: While there is not a general consensus if Maibocks and Hellesbocks are the same, the brews are nevertheless similar: both are paler, clearer versions of the Bock, with less maltiness and more hoppiness. The Hellesbock, it is thought, was developed in the 19th century when other lighter beers such as the Pale Ale and Pilsner were created. The Maibock is considered a “fest” beer, produced for the Maifest. It is basically a seasonal Helles, and sometimes is a bit spicier. Hellesbocks and Maibocks are usually between 5.5-8%.
Eisbock: The Eisbock, or Ice Bock, is a badass Doppelbock that has been made in Bavaria for centuries. Simply enough, it is produced by freezing and concentrating a Bock.
The Eisbock legend is that it was made by accident in the Bavarian city of Kulmbach. Apparently, a young brewer was too tired to put a freshly brewed Bockbier barrel into a cellar after production and left it outside. However, the night turned cold and the Bock froze over night. Consequently, the barrel exploded as the frozen beer expanded. However, the brewers discovered that the alcohol had separated from the water and concentrated at the center of the barrel. The brewers were none too pleased with the young brewer for ruining the Bock, so they forced him to drink this concentrated liquid. He discovered, however, withh joy, that this concentrated liquid was the sweetest and most alcoholic beer he had tasted. Thus, the Eisbock was born!
Today, the Eisbock is made according to the accidental techniques of the young brewer: a strong Bock is frozen and then strained to get rid of most of the water. The resulting beer concentrate makes for more of a spicy, fruitier beer. Most Eisbocks have an ABV of 8 to 9%, but some are over 12%.
Weizenbock: The “bock” in Weizenbock is deceptive: Weizenbocks, a stronger Hefeweizen, are actually top-fermented ales and not bottom-fermented lagers. Also, they are produced using wheat malt and not barley malt (hence the “weizen!”) The flavor profile is ester alcohol, spice, dark fruit, cloves (from the top-fermenting yeast), and a generally more complex malt character. They are usually 7-10% ABV. There are two stronger variations of the Weizenbock: the Weizendoppelbock (extremely malty) and the Weizeneisbock (maltier and sweeter, with a steep ABV at ~12%).
So, let the celebration of spring begin! Pick up a Maibock, a Doppelbock…well, any and all Bocks, and help us enjoy the month of the Bock!