Monday, March 26, 2007

Beercraft newspaper column #36: Bock beer and Beyond

Bock beers will put hair on your…whatever

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Is there anything that makes you feel as good as a newly-emerging spring? No longer does the frigid air sear your lungs with every breath. The trees are beginning to show some tentative yellow-green. Those nasty grey piles of icy sludge disappear from the roadside.

They feel good about the coming of spring in Germany, too. Now, it’s the traditional time to tap the bock beer.

In the days before refrigeration, brewers in the German Alps needed help from the winter to make their cold-fermenting strong lager. They would brew in December, storing the beer in frigid mountain caves. When spring came, with the hills once again dotted with the wild goats that have become the symbol of the style (“Bock” is “goat” in German), the stored beer would be ready.

And, like a wild goat, bock has a powerful kick. The traditional style is sweet, with little to no hop flavor, and all that malt masks the taste of the beer’s 6%+ alcohol content. Further up the scale, Doppelbocks (double bocks) can clock in at 9% alcohol by volume and the mighty Eisbock (ice bock), which has been frozen to remove water and concentrate the alcohol, can top 15%.

So let’s go up the ladder and try one of each. Spaten Bock is currently available around our fair city. It’s surprisingly light in color for a bock, but quite beefy in sweet malt flavor. You’ll detect a pleasant bready flavor imparted by the grains, yet it retains a crisp finish.

This beer is definitely robust enough to pair with a steak dinner, but probably goes best with sausages. We recommend pairing a pitcher of Spaten Bock with a couple of Bauernwurst at Swan Market, our favorite lunch hangout, on Parcells Ave.

Of course, there are times, such as after losing your job or when the in-laws visit, where the regular bock just isn’t enough. You can tell a Doppelbock by its name. Most of them end in “-ator,” is in Paulaner Salvator, Ayinger Celebrator, and Spaten Optimator.

In addition to its higher alcohol content, Doppelbock is also darker and sweeter. Hops, slightly perceptible in bock, are almost completely absent from the Doppelbock’s flavor profile. Instead, you’ll find complex raisin, grape, and toffee flavors.

Our favorite Doppelbock, Tucher Bajuvator, goes well with meat dishes and chocolate. If you’re having trouble sleeping, it could also be considered the ‘Ny-Quil’ of Germany.

If you’re one of those hoity-toity types whose idea of a perfect evening is sitting next to the fire in a smoking jacket sipping port, you might want to try Aventinus Eisbock for your next apertif.

The freezing and water removal of this beer is actually a form of distillation, so the line between beer and spirit begins to blur, as does everything else when you drink this stuff. In fact, it’s illegal to brew and sell Eisbock in New York State without a distiller’s license, so don’t expect Rohrbach, Custom Brewcrafters, or Southern Tier to dabble in this style anytime soon.

In fact, it’s hard to characterize the flavor of Eisbock as beer. It’s like a malt brandy, with a thick, chunky mouth feel. At this level of alcoholic content, the sweetness is intense, with cherry and plum notes. It’s really something to be sipped and appreciated instead of quaffed by the liter.

German bock beers are a strange dichotomy. They’re at once a hearty farmer’s festival beer and a sophisticated evening fare. They’re enjoyed on an equal footing by both metrosexual nightclubbers and big, red-faced dudes in Lederhosen.

In a society where beer is considered the basest of beverages, Styles like this prove to the wine and brandy crowd how complex, varied, and skillfully crafted a great beer can be. Prosit!

In other beers:

The biweekly 7pm Beercraft Tasting Session is continuing every other Thursday at Monty’s Korner. Last week Jason Fox, Head Brewer at Custom Brewcrafters, took a small but enthusiastic crowd through a range of bock beer.

These events are free, and there’s pizza too. Really, it’s a win-win situation. Come down, grab a sampler glass, and learn about the best beverages on the planet.

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 http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

2 comments:

Sparkle Anne said...

Next thursday then? I miss Shiner Bock.

ServesYouRight said...

As a food geek and beer newbie, I adore your blog. I've decided to plan my week around the Beercraft Tasting Session - please tell me theres one coming up soon...

:-D
Smita