A great write-up from All About Beer Magazine...
BOCK TO BASICS
All About Beer Magazine - Volume 23, Issue 1
March 3, 2002
By K. Florian Klemp
Most styles of beer have a signature characteristic or two that dominate their profile. If it’s the pure, unobstructed, lugubrious essence of malt you seek, reach for a bock. Born and raised in Germany, traditional bock beer and its brethren present unfettered maltiness to the palate like no other style of brew. These strong, lusty lagers come in several substyles beyond traditional bock―the stronger doppelbock, the paler, springtime helles/maibock, and the fortified eisbock.
Outside its native Germany, exquisite examples are brewed in Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Canada, The Netherlands and the United States. Bocks run the color gamut from golden to dark brown, and the strength scale from moderately strong to bludgeoning force. Some bocks are seasonal, coinciding even with religious calendars, but many can be found throughout the year.
The Birth of Bock
The roots of bock beer can be traced back to the 14th century and the city of Einbeck, in northern Germany. Bock’s history is less nebulous than that of many other beer styles. Einbeck was a major European trade center in the Middle Ages and a member of the powerful Hanseatic League, a group of cities that worked together to protect each others’ trade interests during a tumultuous time. Einbecks beers were highly regarded throughout Europe, and with the aid of the League, it wasn’t long before the product was exported to its devotees in England, Scandanavia, the Mideast, and Mediterranean and Baltic countries.
Several things contributed to the quality of Einbeck beer. The city is located in one of the earliest hop growing regions in Europe, which no doubt made the beer more stable and unique, considering that herbal gruit was the more common beer spice of the era. Einbeck beer was also brewed with the palest malt available, one-third wheat and two-thirds barley, making for a more delicate than usual beverage. It was brewed only in winter, and therefore stored cold, making it cleaner and less prone to infection. When compared to the generally murky, darker brews of the day, it’s no wonder that those of Einbeck won so many fans.
Even though Munich was a brewing center during the same time, its beer couldn’t match that of Einbeck. The Munich braumeisters set out to change this disparity. In 1612, Duke Maximillian I invited the best brewer in Einbeck, Elias Pichler, to teach them the moxie necessary to produce Einbeck beer. Munich’s indigenous brown beer, probably the forerunner of today’s dunkel, was then made using the Einbeck procedure. The resultant brew still was dark, and probably stronger. Within a few years, it became wildly popular. Refined over the years in keeping with advancing technology, these beers are known today as traditional bock.
Bocks are bottom fermented and extensively lagered to give them a smooth, deep maltiness. They are generally dark amber to dark brown in color and often scantily hopped. They are substantial beers at 6.0 to 7.5 percent alcohol by volume.
Many authors have presented various legends, some believable and others quite farfetched, about the origin of the bock name. One theory holds that it is a corruption of the beck in Einbeck. Another cites the German word for goat as the origin, referring to the kick of the strong brew or even its coincidence with zodiacal Capricorn. Yet another cites a corruption of the German word “pogkmedt” (mead) as the origin. Still another attributes bock to “Ainpoekische,” dialectic Bavarian for Einbeck, and a shortened version, “Poeckishe Pier.” This seems the most logical, but it is still open to debate.
The Paulaner brewery of Munich can lay claim to the creation of doppelbock as a style. A group of Italian monks from the order of St. Francis of Paula crossed the Alps and settled near the city of Munich. Devout Catholics, they followed their traditions religiously (excuse the pun), which meant fasting occasionally. Solid food was verboten, but liquid, not. As the monks were expert brewers anyhow, making a brew that sustained them during these periods of dubious abstinence was a logical choice. Strong and nutritious fit the bill perfectly, providing sustenance both physical and mental.
Strong beer, brewed with local Germanic influence, resulted in what is now doppelbock. The monks established the Paulaner brewery in 1634 (coincidently, not long after Herr Pilcher from Einbeck visited Munich). Their beer became available to the public in 1780. The beer was named Salvator (The Savior) for obvious reasons, and it carries that moniker to this day. As the beer became popular, other breweries in Bavaria brewed it with great success and adopted the “-ator” suffix for their own versions.
Doppelbock literally means “double bock” but it isn’t really twice the strength of traditional bock, only marginally stronger. Doppelbocks are generally dark in color, from dark amber to dark brown, though some pale versions exist. A beer can be considered a doppelbock if its original gravity is no lower than 1.074, which ensures a beer of substantial strength and character.
Doppelbocks are quite complex. As there is virtually no hop flavor and aroma, and just enough hop bitterness to be detectable, virtually all of this style’s character can be attributed to its Munich-style malt and brewing practices. Munich malts are darkened from some extra kilning and they are also rendered less fermentable, resulting in a full-bodied, dextrinous wort. The character of these flavorful malts is augmented by using time-consuming, complicated decoction mashing techniques.
Decoction mashing was the method employed before thermometers were available. It consists of raising the mash temperature through its critical stages by boiling a little of the mash at a time and re-mixing it with the main portion. Repeated several times, this ensures that the all of the enzymes are able to do their job. The extra boiling, both during decoction and in the kettle, results in caramelization and a myriad of other complicated chemical reactions that benefit the wort and ultimately the flavor of the finished beer. All of this adds up to a complex, rich brew with unparalleled malt character.
Fermentation is done slowly, as with bottom-fermenting beers, and the lagering period is lengthy, often several months in duration.
Doppelbocks are not hard to find if you have a good package store and unrestricted beer laws. The majority of bocks available are, in fact, doppels. All of the major Bavarian breweries produce a doppelbock. All are good, some are excellent. Depending on local distribution, look for Spaten, Ayinger, Paulaner, Tucher and other brands with -ator in their name. Like other bocks, these are diverse, some relying solely on lighter malts, others on an influential dose of dark malts. The darker ones have distinct caramel and chocolate notes and sometimes a faint roastiness, whereas the amber versions have a slick, clean malt palate and a little less complexity.
Some breweries really push the envelope when it comes to strength. Most doppelbocks fall in the 7 to 8.5 percent ABV range but some are significantly higher. Coming in at 9.6 percent ABV is Urbock 23 from the Eggenberg brewery of Austria, established in 1681. The designation “23” refers to its original gravity in degrees Plato, roughly a 1.092 specific gravity. It is very pale, pure tasting and honeyish.
Stronger still is a product from the Hürlimann brewery in Zurich known as Samichlaus. Insanely strong at about 15 percent ABV, and with a starting gravity of about 1.120, it is brewed but once a year, on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. After fermentation, it is lagered until the following St. Nick’s day, when it is released just in time for winter. Reddish brown in color, and rich beyond description, it retains a smooth lager character despite its potency. This beer will keep for quite some time, so if you are lucky enough to find some, cellar it.
The lightest colored of the bock beers, these two are generally grouped together. These pale bocks are brewed in winter and first tapped in spring, often to coincide with seasonal celebrations. They range in color from deep gold to light amber. Naturally, light malts are used almost exclusively to produce them; thus they are fairly new to the bock scene. Pale malts were unheard of until early in the 19th century, when malting technology was refined, but they soon found their way into strong lagers in central Europe.
Decoction mashing is usually employed in the production of a pale bock, but the caveat to this is that the overall color of the brew darkens substantially during this procedure. A tricky undertaking, indeed. Because no dark malts are used, the soft, clean malt flavor and aroma come through totally unobstructed. Helles/maibocks are often given a slightly higher dose of hops than other bocks, giving them a fresher, livelier aroma and more balance.
Because of their relatively broad color range, pale bocks present a nice diversity. They could actually be segregated into two subcategories, with helles bocks being the golden hued and maibocks being those that appear more amber. The helles version would contain almost exclusively pilsner malt, while the maibock would contain a significant dose of toasty Vienna or Munich malts. Then again, there is that middle ground that would make them neither (or both).
Many German breweries, especially in Bavaria, may include a pale bock in their lineup. Einbecker itself brews both a helles and a maibock. Spaten makes a golden helles known as Premium Bock that is very much worth trying. Compare it to an Ayinger maibock, which is a little deeper in color and spicier on the palate. For something really unusual in the style, Schlenklera of Bamberg, Germany, makes a rauch maibock that uses the brewery’s famous smoked malt quite liberally. The label is almost identical to its regular rauch märzen, so read carefully.
Not surprisingly, many North American micros that specialize in German-style brews take a shot at pale bocks. The Gordon Biersch brewery includes a blonde bock that is mellow, malty and crisp. Pittsburg’s Church Brew Works annually wins awards in the maibock style and employs decoction mashing. Breweries in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado, and North Carolina are just that produce these seasonal brews.
In yet another twist in strong lager production, some breweries produce eisbock. Simply put, this is a strong beer that is made into a stronger beer by freezing. As only the water portion will freeze, the beer is concentrated by the removal of the resultant ice. Generally, the beer is concentrated by only 10 percent or less.
K. Florian Klemp
K. Florian Klemp is a research analyst at Duke University in Durham, NC, and an award-winning homebrewer.
For craft beer enthusiasts and true connoisseurs of the Traditional German Hefeweizen style beer, now here is an amazing new beer that has originated by the creative folks at New Paltz Brewing Co. (Pfälzerbräu). So here is a typical Hefeweizen style beer that incorporates a hint of fresh pepper heat. Habaneros and Jalapeños are incorporated in this style. As unique as it may sound, this style is gaining fast attention. Since only a controlled hint of the pepper is in this beer, it demonstrates a true beer drinking experience. A quality beer should take you on a journey from start to finish, and this beer does just that.
If properly poured, the aromas of the traditional Hefeweizen yeast bring out a fruity character of bananas and clove. A slight fresh pepper comes through, not to burn you up as you would if you cut your own from your pepper garden and ate a whole pepper. Remember, this is just a hint. The light fresh pepper smell is amazing coming through at the nose.
Now comes a first sip. You may get a slight twang to your lips –that goes away. There is a cooling sensation from the properly made Hefeweizen as a solid base to the beer, but then comes a very subtle burn to the back of your throat. That confirms the true pepper taste. Now this burn immediately contrasts with the sweet Hefeweizen base with every sip. The balance of this beer is extremely well crafted, calibrated and executed. This is definitely a beer that can perfectly be enjoyed in the hot summer day as well in the cold winter months to warm you up. Don’t underestimate the alcohol content. Be careful. You can easily drink a few of these, and at a 5.6% ABV the alcohol content also adds to the experience. That is a standard proper ABV for this style of beer. Enjoy responsibly.
New Paltz Brewing Co. (Pfälzerbräu)
A Small Little Gem
Brewing up a Pretty Big
by Jeremy Moore
In effort to keep from long lines and the small taproom space from filling up, I actually hate to write this article and tell people about this hole-in-the-wall brewery; but the brewery deserves every bit of attention on the New York Beer Trail Map for the most serious craft beer connoisseur. After opening taproom doors just over two years ago, I have yet to taste a beer from this German themed brewery I won’t like. The proof in the six hanging medals on their wall says it all.
Since getting established, I have watched this up and coming brewery make a big impact that seems to catch the attention of other breweries scrambling to out compete and brew up the next “big thing”, and you may ask how? In an era of hoppy bitter beers, this brewery has yet to have more than two hoppy beers on their menu. Nothing seems more than one Pale Ale style beer at a time. The rest of the beer menu is filled with Lager style beers, like a well-made handcrafted Oktoberfest Lager, or a delicious dark, malty true-to style Bock beer. A friend of mine introduced me to them as they started as one of the very few breweries in New York State that can make a pretty good example of a true-to-style Hefeweizen, which originates as a German wheat style ale. It is a rare style of beer that only a handful of breweries in the world can artfully master. This style is of the most complicated beers to brew. And this small gem of a brewery hits it on the head. The traditional Hefeweizen beer is the opposite in bitterness as compared to an IPA. This beer style focuses less on hoppy aromas, but more on the special delicate yeast that speaks out a pronounced taste. The yeast esters bring out a banana and clove flavor, something I catch many breweries typically fall short on.
The Pfälzerbräu Brewery (named after “Brewery of the Pfalz” region in Germany) started as two brothers Jeffrey and Heiko Giesberg; they are first born Americans from German parent immigrants and Holocaust survivors. They wanted to bring the experience of what a fresh handcrafted German beer tastes like without having to travel overseas. The Southern Catskill Region of New York seemed the perfect location. Heiko went back directly to Germany to expand learning formal commercial brewing techniques. This brewery self-focuses and demonstrates their passion in every beer they make. I see this brewery breaking into more and more attention in the underground beer scene.
This past Christmas Holiday season 2018, I finally had another chance to visit the New Paltz Brewing Co. with my companion. The taproom was filled with local and international tourists visiting. As for beer, not only did they have a traditional style Hefeweizen, they had two more renditions of that style. A classical Rauchweizen, which is a rare-to-find smoked tasting version of the Hefeweizen. Smoked grains are incorporated to balance off a fruity banana/clove tasting beer. Sounds odd? But it blends very well in taste. How about trying a hint of pepper? The aromas are amazing in their Hint of Heat Hefeweizen. A balance of habaneros and jalapeños that at first, sounded to immediately want to turn me away, as I hate most any slight spicy food. This beer is just that, a hint of heat. A very drinkable beer that is not that spicy at all. It gives way to a true value of beer, which gives you a drinking experience that incorporates a slight pepper heat with the typical Hefeweizen banana and clove. After waiting almost an hour, I could see why so many customers were in line for cans of this specialty beer to bring home for their holiday dinners.
The brewery taproom is not in the actual town of New Paltz, so don’t bother sitting in that downtown traffic to get to this brewery. The brewery can’t even meet demand for much outside sales at bottle shops and restaurants. You will have only one choice, but to go and try them in-person. They are located on Route 209 in the town of Wawarsing, NY by Ellenville. This is the same historical town that the famous Nevele resort attracted many families to enjoy vacationing at. If you love mountain biking at the popular Lippman Park, or want a great family excursion to check out the hiking trails, waterfalls and Sam’s Point mountainous views, you will want to make this true craft brewery a definite go-to hot spot. Check for taproom visiting hours on social media before trekking out, as they are a family-type business.
New Paltz Brewing Co. (Pfälzerbräu)
Taproom & Production Facility:
7174 Route 209
Wawarsing, NY 12489
Written by Jeremy Moore; Jan 2019. Jeremy is an avid researcher, writer and blogger of international craft beer. For over 30 years, Jeremy has toured and written on artistic and historical handcrafts including beer making, wine, spirit and other arts. In addition to craft beer, Jeremy enjoys photography, graphic design, music and fine art activities.