Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #12: Bock beer

Bock beer offers a taste of spring in the Alps

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Bavaria is the Mecca of beer. The Czechs and the English might disagree, but the fact is, there are more breweries in this southern German state than in any other country in the world.

Most of these Breweries earn their keep putting out Helles, or Bavarian lager. Many also brew a stronger seasonal beer for the spring months. Various myths and legends have linked the spring beer with the image of a goat. Indeed the very word Bock means “goat” in German.

It turns out that Bock is pretty popular, not only in Germany but around the world. We’re fortunate here in the northeastern US; not only can we readily get our hands on the German stuff, but many regional and microbreweries produce original interpretations of the style right at home.

So without further ado, let’s crack our first bottle, direct from the town of Einbeck, spiritual source of Bock beer. Einbecker Ur-Bock demonstrates all the traditional elements of the Bock profile.

The beer pours a caramel-amber color with a pleasant head that disintegrates to a fine lace on the sides of the glass. You won’t detect much aroma, but expect a whiff of malt.

The sweet flavor of malt dominates, but the hop presence is noticeable enough to round out the finish, so the beer isn’t cloying. Also, as can be expected from Bock, Einbecker has a full, substantial, satisfying body. It’s a fantastic beer for an evening out, but not so good after mowing the lawn on a hot day.

The most annoying thing about Einbecker is the size of the bottle. It clocks in at a measly 11.2 ounces. For a region as Beer-crazy as Catholic Bavaria, that laughable serving is downright Lutheran.

Bock is also brewed in Austria, notably by the Stiegl brewery of Salzburg. Their “Columbus” Bock straddles the line betwixt Maibock and Marzen (Bavarian festival beer…more on this in August). It also hearty mouth feel and a sweeter malt flavor, with even less bitter aftertaste than the Einbecker.

Not to get all wine columnist on you, but the flavor of Stiegl is pleasantly complex, with notes of toffee, hazelnut, and caramel. This is a wonderful dessert beer for people who have a slight sweet tooth, yet still like to drink strong things. It’s also the only Salzburg export that doesn’t have the name “Mozart” tackily slapped all over it.

Our next Bock beer had to travel all the way down the street from the High Falls Brewing Company. JW Dundee’s Pale Bock, coming off a gold medal win at the World Beer Cup (where it competed against the German stuff).

Dundee’s pours a light golden color, indistinguishable in hue from many lagers. There’s the slightest malt aroma, too. The taste is where it differs from the traditional German Bocks. It’s not as malt-heavy, with a dry finish.

This makes Dundee’s Pale Bock a real standout for its versatility. It’s a tasty, malty Bock that will refresh throughout the hottest summer months as well as during the spring. High Falls should keep this one in production for a while.

Next up: Stoudts Double Maibock, from the Stoudt Brewing Company in scenic Adamstown, PA. The name of this beer can be a bit deceiving; it’s as strong as a Doppelbock, but the flavor and visual characteristics of a Mai (May) Bock.

Like Dundee’s, the color is pale golden. It’s only when you taste the beer that you notice a more intense, sweet malt flavor very reminiscent of the German stuff, it’s actually a bit more syrupy; the malt has to camouflage an enormous amount of alcohol for the Maibock style.

As you can see, apart from a few basic style characteristics (sweet Munich/Vienna malt taste, substantial mouth feel, higher alcohol content), the profile for Bock is actually pretty broad, with room for many individual variations. This probably came about thanks to the hundreds of individual Bavarian breweries, each one with their own take on the town’s spring beer.

It’s almost the exact opposite of the trend in brewing today. Many of those small breweries no longer exist, snapped up by large German and international brewing conglomerates. And this is the main reason to appreciate Bock beer; in every malty sip, you get a taste of uncompromising brewing history. Prosit!

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

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