Beer of the Season: Celebrate Spring with a Bock
By Tracy Phillippi | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
As the winter snow melts and we look forward to the trendy IPAs and wheat beers of summer, it’s easy to overlook the most luscious member of the lager family: the bock. Traditionally brewed in the winter months and lagered (or stored) until it was ready to be consumed in spring, “bockbier” was meant to be enjoyed as part of the Easter festivities. You won’t find a hint of bitterness in bockbier; instead, this beer style is a showcase of rich German malt varieties and rarely falls below 6.5% ABV.
Like most beer styles, the history of the bock is muddled with folklore. The most widely accepted tale is that bockbier originated in the Northern Germany city of Einbeck in the 14th century. As a chief member of the Hanseatic League, a collection of cities that protected the trading interests of its members, Einbeck’s beer quickly gained legendary status among its trading partners. Not to be outdone, Munich wanted a piece of the bock action, and in the 17th century Duke Maximillian invited Einbeck’s leading brewer to teach him the ways of the bock. The resulting beer soon gained mainstream beer-cred throughout Germany, and later throughout Europe. With their own unique dialect (and superb drinking ability), Münchners shortened the “beck” in Einbeck to “bock.”
If you’d like a more mystical bock legend, here it is: Bock roughly translates to “billy goat” in German, and since bockbiers were generally brewed under the sign of Capricorn, the name stuck. Even today, many brewers of bockbeir evoke the image of a goat holding a stein on their labels. Either way, after a night of drinking this sinfully smooth and strong beer, you are likely to wake up feeling like you got kicked by a goat.
The Bock Family
The bock family tree has an extensive array of unique characteristics amongst its members.
Traditional Bock: Malty, smooth and strong, the traditional bockbier hails from the story outlined above. Light brown with ruby highlights, this beer should have a sturdy head and a smooth alcohol warmth on the way down.
Maibock: A much newer development than the rest of the bock family, Maibock is pale, more bitter and typically enjoyed during the month of May (get it? “Mai” bock?). Maibocks tend to be more highly carbonated to satisfy your springtime thirst.
Doppelbock: Richer and stronger than a traditional bock, the dopplebock or ‘double’ bock was first brewed by the monks of St. Francis of Paula in Munich. The monks called this beer “liquid bread” as it would help ward off the hunger pains that came along with fasting during the Lent season.
Eisbock: This over-the-top beer style is the crème de la crème of the bock family. With up to 14% ABV, eisbocks are made by partially freezing the beer and then removing the ice to concentrate the alcohol. They are low in carbonation, and they sure warm you up on the way down.
Pairing Bock with Food
Although bockbier is dubbed as “liquid bread” for fasting monks, you’d really miss out by not pairing this beer style with food. Try a dopplebock with leftover Easter ham or alongside a German chocolate cake, a maibock with Wisconsin Amish swiss cheese, or an eisbock with roast game from last fall’s hunting season.
Must Try Bock Beers around Southern Wisconsin
With Wisconsin’s rich history of producing German beer styles, it’s no wonder many of our local craft breweries offer their own interpretation of this iconic style. Perhaps the most famous Wisconsin bock is brewed yearly by Capital Brewing Company in Middleton. Their Blonde Dopplebock has drawn a cult-like following year after year.
Hot off the heels of their now yearly Bockfest, Great Dane Brewpub has a cornucopia of bockbiers currently available, including Velvet Hammer Bock, Dominator Doppelbock, Rauchbock, John Jacob's Dunkel-Doppel Hefe-Weizenbock, and Uber Bock.
And I cannot forget about Wisconsin Brewing Company’s (where I spend 40 hours a week...) Betray Ale, a dry-hopped maibock, and Dark Something, a mash-up of a dopplebock and their Robust Porter.
Cheers, it’s bock time!