The Brew Site

The Session #121: Bock!

For this month’s edition of The Session, I volunteered for hosting duties and for a topic I suggested a beer style: Bock!

The topic we will be writing about is inspired by a beer style traditionally associated with spring: Bock!

The month of March heralds the start of spring, and March 20 is even National Bock Beer Day. So Bockbiers seemed like a natural fit for the month!

Don’t feel constrained to simply write a review of a Bock beer, though I’m certainly interested to read any reviews that come it. [Other possible ideas listed here.]

I look forward to seeing if anyone has a Session post devoted to an in-depth history of how the bock style of beers became associated with spring. However, for mass consumption I managed to distill a version of that history down to two paragraphs in my local newspaper print column which appeared this week:

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.

I quoted Ray Daniels from his book, Designing Great Beers, and if I got the history egregiously wrong, that’s my fault. Part of that is due to column space constraints, and trying to distill down historical details into digestible “newspaper inches” while still having enough space for the rest of the column.

(And yes, I have to brag a bit, because I did double duty on this month’s Session and was able to write my biweekly print article on the topic as well! It’s the first time I’ve managed to coordinate something like this—I’m a nerd, what can I say.)

As I point out in my article, there generally seems be an unfortunate scarcity of locally-brewed bock beers, at least where I’m located. In Central Oregon, Deschutes Brewery had a bock recently; Boneyard Beer and McMenamins Old St. Francis School each had a doppelbock; and Ochoco Brewing does currently have their “Fusebock” on tap—an ale/bock hybrid style brewed to doppelbock strength. That’s four in recent memory—out of the whole range of beers available from 27 or 28 local breweries.

We’re not totally bereft: Rogue Ales’ Dead Guy Ale is inspired by the Maibock style, and though it’s brewed with Rogue’s proprietary Pacman ale yeast, for all intents and purposes it is a bock beer. It is available year round and just released in cans too, and I rather love the idea of bock in a can.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first “bock” themed Session; way back in 2008, The Session #11 was all about Doppelbocks. That was hosted by J. Wilson, over at Brewvana, who did the indispensable research a few years ago into the nature of doppelbock, and whether monks during Lent could in fact sustain themselves without food and only consuming the beer. The short answer: yes. He published his experience in 2011 in Diary of a Part-Time Monk. Add it to your library.

At the time, I wrote about Flying Dog Brewery’s Collaborator Doppelbock, for which they’d released the recipe under the (now defunct?) Open Source Beer Project. Nice beer, it was at a time when I was still learning about and drinking new doppelbocks. I haven’t seen Flying Dog on the west coast really since they moved entirely east to Maryland, but that’s one I’d like to try again.

However, my all-time favorite doppelbock, and one I still contend is the best in the world (and the benchmark by which I judge all others, frankly), is Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock. (Importer Merchant du Vin’s page is here.)

I included this beer in my newspaper column, and of course in preparing for that I had to drink a bottle. Here are my tasting review notes:

Appearance: Roasted brown, with a deep ruby color when held to the light. Creamy, thick tan head with fine, tight bubbles.

Smell: Chocolate, coffee beans, caramelized sugar just on the edge of burnt, a little bit of dark fruit, reminiscent of chocolate-covered cherries or blueberries. Sweetly roasted malts are rich and complex yielding a mouth-watering (appetizing) quality.

Taste: Smooth, rich, roasty with a cocoa chocolate character that’s luscious and dark, like a rich sweetened coffee. There’s a savory graininess with a delicate dark toasted note and a slight warming quality. A touch of fruitiness in the malts.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full bodied, with a sweet and toasty aftertaste that lingers pleasantly.

Celebrator is a sublime beer, and one I never tire of drinking.

When I announced The Session for this month, one of my suggestions was, “Just for fun, invent a new style of Bock and describe it.” I thought that would be fun and whimsical, and as I was writing this, I realized that Deschutes Brewery already did that—with their Doppel Dinkel Bock from a few years back!

“Dinkel” in German means “spelt,” which is an ancient form of wheat. So they “invented” spelt bock—dinkel bock!

So I’m pretty sure breweries have already done bock variants that first comes to mind (rye bock, check, schwarzbock, check), so if I’m inventing a new style of bock I’m going tongue-in-cheek with two suggestions: Gosebock (soured weizenbock with salt and coriander) and India (something) Bock—because what beer doesn’t benefit from the marketing of putting “India” in the name for a three-letter “I” abbreviation? India Pale Bock! Best seller!

Looking forward to reading the rest of the bocky Session contributions today. Prost!