Stop 2, Einbeck and Bock
Last month, we began our educational beer journey to Oktoberfest in the city of Berlin. We did a deep dive into its most popular beer style, Berliner Weisse, and also explored the style through the lense of Terramar Brewing of Edison, WA (If you have not yet read those posts, you may do so here). This month, we are back in the Bimmer, all packed up, and ready to move onward down “the Road to Munich”. This time heading southwest about 300km to the small city of Einbeck, located just south of the city of Hanover.
When you think of German beer, most will associate it with easy drinking, summertime beers like a brilliantly clear stein of Helles lager, or maybe a glass of cloudy, hazy Hefeweizen, but it does get pretty cold and gloomy in Germany during the winter and early Spring months (like here in WA). One member of the German lager family, Bock, has the strength and flavor profile to stand up to even the harshest weather.
Like many German beer styles, Bock dates back to the Medieval time period. The earliest records of Bock being brewed in Einbeck date as far back as 1378. The town’s middle-class was allowed to malt their own grain and to ferment beer in their own cellars, but not allowed to own a brewery or brew. The Einbeck city council controlled the city’s brewing equipment, and contracted professional brewmasters who delivered the brew kettle directly to the homes of those who wanted to brew. The brewmaster was responsible for inspecting the malt and checking the quality of the finished product before it went to market.
Einbeck sat along a key transportation route for the Hanseatic League, a major trade organization that dominated commerce in Northern Europe at the time. Einbeck’s location allowed its brewers to distribute their beer across much of Germany and Northern Europe. Bock gradually made its way south to the city of Munich by the seventeenth century. Due to subtle language differences between the north and south, the pronunciation “Einbeck” was misconstrued by the Bavarians to sound like “ein bock,” which translates to “billy goat” in German. The name stuck, as did the image of a billy goat, which still can still be seen on a majority of bock labels to this day. Bavarian monks brewed and enjoyed bock often during Lent as a source of nutrition during times of fasting, which coincided with the end of winter.
About the Style
A traditional bock, like those once brewed in Einbeck, are best thought of as a strong Oktoberfest Märzen. They are bottom fermented lagers that typically spend extra time in cold storage during the winter months to smooth the intense flavors that develop during the brewing process. They are dark amber in color with robust malt flavors derived from the Munich and Vienna malts used. Bocks tend to lean on the lighter side of the hoppiness scale, traditionally under 30 IBU. The hops used will be of German varieties – Northern Brewer, Perle, Spalt, Saaz, and Hallertauer. All bock styles, which we will pick apart below, are stronger than a typical lager with an ABV range of six to eight percent. For comparison, the Oktoberfest Märzen comes in around five percent ABV. The noticeable differences between the two is the extra alcohol “heat” and sweetness, and the very smooth mouthfeel with low carbonation.
Common Characteristics and Taste
A traditional bock (or Dunkles Bock) is a sweet, lightly hopped (20-30 IBUs), relatively high ABV (6%-7%) lager. Its appearance should be clear, with a color that can range from light copper to brown, and have a thick, lingering off-white head. The aroma should be malty and toasty, possibly with a hint of alcohol, but certainly no detectable hops or fruitiness. The mouthfeel is smooth, with low to moderate carbonation. The taste is rich and of toasted brown bread, sometimes with a hint of caramel. Again, hop presence is low, just enough so the sweetness is not overpowering.
Maibock (May Bock) is the paler, hoppier version of a traditional bock. These are generally made for consumption at spring brew fests in May. It is also referred to as Heller Bock (meaning pale bock), due to its lighter color. The color can range from deep gold to light amber and will feature a thick, creamy, white head. The flavor is typically less malty than a traditional bock from lighter malt varieties used, and may be drier, slightly hoppier, and more bitter, with a mild spicy or peppery quality from the hops. This beer style can be traced to 16th century Munich when the city’s council hired brewmasters from Einbeck to help improve the quality of the local beer.
Doppelbock (Double Bock), a stronger and maltier version; ranging from 7%–12% ABV. These are also clear, with a color ranging from dark gold, to dark brown with red highlights. Doppelbocks will also feature a thick, creamy, white head (although head retention may be lessened due to the higher alcohol content). The aroma is intensely malty, some alcohol presence and may have a chocolate-like or dried plum aroma. The flavor is very rich, silky, and malty, with noticeable alcoholic strength, and little or no hop character (15–25 IBUs). Doppelbock is like a traditional bock but with ‘double’ the amount of malt, therefore the word ‘doppel’, which means ‘double’ in German. Of all the bock styles, Doppelbock is the strongest in terms of flavor and alcohol content, though it doesn’t necessarily mean twice the alcohol.
Weizenbock (Wheat Bock), a version of bock that uses 40–60% wheat in the grain bill. The style combines darker Munich malts and top-fermenting hefeweizen yeast. Weizenbock is traditionally brewed at the strength of a Doppelbock, north of 7%. These will have a mild character of roasted malts, but highlighted with distinct clove and banana flavors from the wheat beer yeast.
Eisbock (Ice Bock), a much stronger bock that is made by partially freezing a Doppelbock and removing the ice to concentrate the flavor and alcohol content. Eisbocks are a specialty beer of the Kulmbach district of Bavaria. Most will range in ABV from 9%-14%. Different from the other bock varieties, Eisbocks can contain fruity notes – prunes, raisins, plums, and sometimes hints of chocolate that is all balanced out by the high alcohol content.
Whats Next for Bock
American brewers have been brewing bock as a seasonal beer since the first German immigrants began brewing in America. Craft brewers that are interested in brewing bock and its substyles have largely kept true to the original German style guidelines, but push back on the idea that lagers seen in the taprooms are supposed to be pale, light, and low-strength beers. Nevertheless, beer styles in the bock family deserve your regular attention in the taprooms. Doppelbock for one is the antithesis of the so called hype-train beers commonly seen on social media feeds and at breweries with trendy taplists. Its familiar elements are far from exotic in a world with milkshake IPAs and barrel-aged pastry stouts.
In our next installment of “the Road to Munich” we will explore Doppelbock through the lens of Dystopian State Brewing of Tacoma, WA. We look into why they decided to brew this style, how history and tradition played its part, and how they pushed the envelope to make something one of a kind.
About the Road to Munich
Hop into your Bimmer and merge onto the Autobahn (rather your Subie and I-5 since we live in WA), and let BeerNav lead you on an educational beer journey to Oktoberfest
“The Road to Munich” is our new blog and social media series that will run monthly from May until the beginning of October. BeerNav will highlight six of the most influential, historical beer cities and beer styles across Germany, and how Washington Breweries are influenced by tradition but add their own unique twists to each beer style.