Certain beer styles are indelibly associated with a particular time of year. For instance, Oktoberfest brews appear in September and October; dry Irish stouts are usually associated with St. Patrick’s day and winter warmers are fairly self explanatory. When it comes to spring, the German family of lagers known as bocks are traditionally released.
The original bock beer was a relatively pale, hoppy ale from the German city of Einbeck. This popular Einbeck beer enjoyed its hey day during the Renaissance, but had all but disappeared by the 17th century. Brewers in Munich sought to recreate the beer and developed the version that is still recognized today: a rich darker lager, malty and sweet, with minimal emphasis on hops. This beer was named for the city of Einbeck, but the Bavarian dialect corrupted the pronunciation to “Ein bock bier” and it became just bock.
When it comes to doppelbock — literally, German for double bock — the style was not developed as a double-strength version of bock as many surmise. Rather, it developed in parallel tracing its origins to the Paulaner monks of St. Francis. They established themselves in Munich in the 17th century and as was common at monasteries, brewed and consumed their own beer. During the fasting seasons of Advent and Lent, they brewed stronger beer as “liquid bread” to sustain the monks.
The Paulaner monks called their fasting beer Salvator (the Savior). When they began selling it to the public, locals noticed the similarity to bock because of its greater body and alcohol strength; Salvator became known among the local population as double bock.
Why did bocks become associated with spring? In part because the monks drank doppelbock during Lent (the six weeks leading up to Easter) which certainly contributed to its seasonality. However, when bock arrived in America in the mid-19th century, the spring release date became a fixed tradition in the United States.
As early as 1860 the Pabst Brewing Company was releasing their bock beer in February and March. According to beer writer Ray Daniels, “Following Prohibition, American brewers cooperated to set a specific date when they would all release their bock brews.” They agreed that time should be mid-March, locking the style in as a spring beer.
Today, for whatever reason, the bock family of styles has not received much attention by American craft brewers. According to market research company Information Resources, Inc., craft bocks accounted for only 2.7 percent of retail (nondraft) craft beer sales for 2016; IPA accounted for over 10 times that amount.
That’s not to say that craft-brewed examples are never available. In recent months, Boneyard Beer and McMenamins Old St. Francis School each released doppelbocks. Deschutes Brewery brewed a bock and Ochoco Brewing in Prineville has its Fusebock on tap. Fusebock is a hybrid inspired by the bock style brewed with German malts and ale yeast brewed to doppelbock strength at 8 percent alcohol by volume. It’s sweet and malty with notes of chocolate and roasted grains.
To make up for the local scarcity there are a number of examples of the style readily available.
Here are five you can find in Central Oregon:
Possibly the best-known American-brewed bock, Shiner Bock was first brewed by the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas, in 1913. This flagship beer is a bit lighter than traditional bocks, with 4.4 percent alcohol by volume. It’s pleasantly drinkable with malty sweetness, grainy bread crust and caramel flavors, and a light, clean finish.
Weizenbocks are wheat ales brewed to bock strength, and this version from Germany’s Ayinger Brewery exhibits the hallmarks of the style. German weissebiers are characterized by banana and clove qualities in smell and taste, and this Weizenbock is almost cloyingly sweet with a rich impression of banana bread.
Spaten Optimator Doppelbock
Germany’s Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu brews a roasty version of the doppelbock style, with a deep ruby brown color and aromas of dark fruits and caramelized sugar. Mild roasted grains, rich leather-like maltiness and a raisin sauce character, rounds out a smooth and roasty ending.
Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
Not only is this a personal favorite, but Ayinger’s doppelbock is considered by many, including myself, to be one of the best in the world as well as an exemplar of the style. Celebrator treats the nose with chocolate, caramelized sugar and chocolate-covered blueberries. On the tongue it has a luscious sweetened cocoa and roasted coffee bean quality with a velvety finish.
Eisbocks (literally ice bocks) are strong bocks or doppelbocks that have been ice distilled — chilled to low temperatures so that the water freezes and the ice skimmed off. The result concentrates the alcohol and malty essence into a strong, flavorful brew. Kulmbacher Eisbock is a decadent fruitcake of a dessert beer, deceptively strong at 9.2 percent alcohol.
— Jon Abernathy is a local beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears in GO! every other week.