Doppelbock: the German antidote to light beer
Monastic life seems kind of a downer; early mornings, chores, silence, no foosball table in the Abbey, pretty boring stuff. Lift a German Doppelbock to your lips, however, and you start to think those medieval monks had a good thing going.
Originally brewed in the Alps to provide Franciscan monks with sustenance when fasting, Doppelbock (double bock) is an offshoot of the traditional spring bock lager, already strong in its own right. In comparison, Doppelbock is a darker more filling beer, very sweet, with a chewy mouthfeel, roasted character and powerful alcoholic kick, making this style better for a nightcap than a ballgame.
You can usually identify a Doppelbock by its name. By tradition, it will end in the suffix –ator (as in Celebrator, Salvator or Kulminator). American breweries have largely carried on this tradition.
Technically, Dopppelbocks are seasonal spring beers, historically consumed in March and April. That’s when you’ll fund the widest variety. Demand is strong all year round, however, and the prominent German Brands are pretty much always available.
Probably the easiest one to find is Spaten Optimator from Munich’s Spaten brewery. This deep caramel colored beer has a modest head, with only a slight discernible aroma. Expect a very pronounced and pleasantly sweet barley malt flavor that lingers after you sip.
Like all Doppelbock lagers, Optimator is no beer for a hophead. The hops are there, but way back in the mix, serving more to keep the sweetness in check than to add to the flavor profile. Believe us; you’d miss them if they weren’t there (although the resulting liquid might be good on pancakes). Optimator is currently featured on tap at The Old Toad, 277 Alexander Street, and at all specialty beer stores.
Ayinger Celebrator, brewed in Aying, Germany, can sometimes be found in pubs that cater to beer geeks. It shares Optimator’s malt sweetness, but it’s darker and, according to some connoisseurs, more rich and complex in flavor. The bottles come with a little plastic goat on a string wrapped around the neck. It looks good hanging from your rear-view mirror.
One of our favorite Doppelbocks, Tucher Bajuvator, is brewed in Nuremburg, well north of Munich and the Alps. The Tucher Brewery is best known for a range of second-rate (by German standards) wheat beers, and Bajuvator is a surprising gem in their product line. It’s darker than Optimator, and much more dry on the palate. Because of the reduction in sweetness, the other complexities of the roasted malt are more appreciable. There’s a subtle rye bread flavor that really sets this beer apart. You won’t find Bajuvator on tap anywhere in town, but it’s available in bottles at Beers of the World.
Doppelbock is less common among American microbreweries. Its long lagering time and intricate decoction mashing technique make it demanding and expensive to brew, and doesn’t sell as well as the IPAs and pale ales that dominate the indie beer scene. If you find one, there’s a good chance it’s straying away from the style.
Some micros, however, create a fine Doppel. The consistently excellent Wagner Valley Brewing Company of Lodi, New York offers Sled Dog Doppelbock, a former gold-medal winner at the Great American Brew Fest in Boulder, Colorado. It shares Optimator’s buckwheat honey color and thick mouthfeel. A slight hop nudge in the aftertaste is the only clue that Sled Dog didn’t come off the boat from Germany. Look for it in bottles at specialty beer stores.
Doppelbocks are quite filling in their own right, but go well with German cuisine. Forget about pairing them with subtle foods or fish. Go for steak and lamb dishes, or save them for dessert. Careful, though. At 7-8.5% alcohol by volume, there’s enough alcohol in these beers to staple a Coors Light drinker’s lips together for hours. Like that’s a bad thing.
In other beers:
• The Rohrbach Brewing Company has released a Vanilla porter, dark with a pleasant cream-soda touch. Find this unique style at Johnny’s Irish Pub, among other places, or try it at the Brewery on Buffalo Road.
• Green King IPA, from England’s Green King Brewery, known for Old Speckled Hen, is popping up around town. A pint of Green King will demonstrate the difference between a British IPA and its more florally aromatic cousins from the Pacific Northwest. Several places are carbonating it with nitrogen, which makes for a creamier, less bubbly beer.
Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org