National Bock Beer Day has always been observed annually on March 20th. So in lieu of the day coming up, I figured we can talk a little about the style in case anyone is not familiar with it. Originally brewed in the northern town of Einbeck during the fourteenth century, the style gradually moved south to the city of Munich by the seventeenth century. Due to subtle language differences between the north and south of Germany, the pronunciation of the beer from Einbeck was misconstrued by the Bavarians to sound like “ein bock,” which means “billy goat” in German. The name stuck, as did the image of a billy goat, which still adorns bock labels to this day.
Bock is a bottom fermenting lager and typically spends extra time in cold storage (lagering) during the winter months to round out the intense flavors that develop in this strong beer. Bock beer in general is a stronger style of lagers. A normal bock (there are a few sub-styles which we’ll get to in a moment) falls within 6% to 7% ABV. It is dark amber to brown in color with robust malt flavors, and a very light hoppiness only to balance sweetness and not to get in the way of any malt characteristics. It has a low carbonation lending to a smooth and almost creamy mouthfeel.
Bock is historically associated with special occasions, often religious festivals such as Christmas, Easter or Lent (the latter as Lentenbock). Bocks have a long history of being brewed and consumed by Bavarian monks as a source of nutrition during times of fasting. Bavarian monks brewed and enjoyed this strong beer as a symbol of better times to come, often during Lenten fasts which coincided with the departure from winter. A beer meant for special occasions, Bock has been a part of German celebrations for longer than America has been a country.
A few sub-styles of bock vary in flavor and profile: a maibock is basically a paler and “hoppier” version that was brewed for consumption at Europe’s spring festivals. Helles Bock (or Maibock, or Heller Bock), which means “pale.” Both Maibocks and Helles Bocks tend to be lighter in color and have more assertive hop aromatics and bitterness than other Bock beers. However, the lighter color doesn’t mean that these beers are any lighter in alcohol content. In fact, in addition to the hoppiness, Maibocks and Helles Bocks also have a noticeable maltiness, viscosity, and depth.
A doppelbock is heavier, darker, and maltier. Developed back in the 1600’s by Munich’s Paulaner monks to be drank during their fasting during lent. Being a strict order, they were not allowed to consume solid food during Lent. The Doppelbock (double bock) is a stronger (abv range: 7% – 10%) and more malt-forward variation, that’s been called “a meal in a glass,” for good reason. They needed something other than water to sustain them, so the monks turned to a common staple of the time of their region – beer. They brewed an unusually strong beer, adding in extra malt to add lots of carbohydrates and nutrients, since liquid bread wouldn’t break the fast.
This was an early doppelbock-style beer, which the monks eventually sold in the community and which was an original product of Paulaner brewery, founded in 1634. They gave it the name “Salvator,” named after “Sankt Vater,” which “roughly translates as “Holy Father beer” or “Savior”. Many commercial styles will follow the Salvator name by calling their dopplebock something with “ator” such as Tröegs “Troegenator”.
We also have Weizenbock, which means “strong wheat” in German and breaks from the Bock tradition as it is an Ale rather than a Lager. This style is usually a bigger, fuller-bodied, darker Hefeweizen, with many of the same characteristics like bold bananas and cloves, but with added notes of rich caramel.
Then the strongest and most intense version in the Bock family, the delicious Eisbock (“Ice Beer”), which is crafted by partially freezing the beer and then removing the melted ice that forms. This first happened by mistake when a few barrels of Bock beer were left outside in the cold and partially froze. When they discovered the beer they removed the ice, and began to drink it, they then realized the beer had been concentrated and was much stronger in flavors, and also boozier. It is dark, malty and hearty, and has a significant alcohol content range of 7%-14% abv.
Some examples of Bock and its sub-style would be Tröegs Troegenator, Anchor Brewing Anchor Bock, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Sam Adams Winter Lager, Great Lakes Rockefeller Bock, Brauerei Aying Ayinger Maibock, Weisses Bräuhaus G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock, Spaten Optimator, Shiner Bock, Weihenstephaner Vitus, Birra Moretti La Rossa Doppelbock, and Paulaner Salvator just to name a few.