I often find myself wondering if bock beers hold the special place in the hearts of drinkers in other parts of the country the way they do here in Cincinnati.  It was, after all, our massive Bockfest celebration that caused me to first fall in love with the style.  It’s not like we have something unique, bock is an old style, with a history that can be traced back much farther than our festival can.  But here in Cincinnati it takes on a life of its own.  What is it about Bock that makes it so special?

Let’s dig in, shall we?

History of Bock Beer

Bock beer started in Einbeck, a city in Northern Germany, sort of.  This city was a major trading center in Germany during these times and it was a part of the Hanseatic trading league, which was set up to protect trading interests between members.  This enabled the beer being produced in Einbeck to make its way all around Europe, and become pretty popular.

The beer being produced in Einbeck was different, they were a hop growing region, while most of the world was still using gruit, or herbal mixtures to preserve and flavor their beers.  The beer from Einbeck was also made using the palest malts available at the time.  The beer was delicate.  It was only brewed in winter, and lagered for long periods.  When you look at the dark, murky, gruit beers that were being made in most places at the time, it’s no wonder that this beer became popular like it did.

Well… Munich didn’t like the popularity of someone else’s beer.  The city was a brewing capital, a Mecca of beer.  Yet to so many people, their beer couldn’t even come close to matching that of Einbeck, and they wanted to change this.  In 1612 the Duke Maximillion I reached out and invited one of the most respected brewers of Einbeck (Elias Pichler) to Munich.

At the time, Munich was producing a dark lager, similar to what we know as Dunkel today.  The processes that were used to make this dark lager were combined with those of the Einbeck beer and the rest is history.  Bock beer was born.

The Name

A highly debatable part of the Bock beer story is the name itself.  There are a lot of people who say that Bock was just a twist on the Beck in Einbeck.  This would be pretty cut and dry, except for those people who like to point out that Bock means goat in German.  This leaves a lot of people to say that the name comes from the “kick” of the stronger beer, which is like the kick of a billy goat.

The Sub-Styles

As with tends to happen with all our older historical styles, Bock beer has splintered itself off into a few different sub-styles.  All of which you might see referred to just as ‘Bock’ – but I want you to be prepared when you taste them, and understand what’s in your glass.

In my book, each one of these has a very different purpose, and lend themselves to different types of drinking experiences.

  • Helles Bock/ Maibock – my favorite of the bock styles.  This is the lightest of the bock beers, it darkens up a bit from decoction but still shines bright in the daylight.  I find that Helles Bock goes really great with a warmer day, as the weather starts to heat up with spring sunshine.  It’s got a hair more hop presence than other sub-styles, but not “hoppy” by any stretch.
  • Doppelbock – this is the stereotypical bock beer… it’s big, malty and filling.  This was a style created by Paulaner when the monks that established the brewery needed a big, rich beer to sustain them through the fasting of the Lenten season.  This beer, named Salvator was higher abv, and created a trend of most Doppelbocks even today having names that ended in the “-ator” suffix.  You’ll find me sipping away on one of these if it’s cold, or late in the evening and I want to sit and savor something BIG.
  • Eisbock – the younger, scrappier, little brother of the bock styles, Eisbock is concentrated by freeze distilling, leaving a malty, sweet beer that is high in ABV.  This is a sipper – if you’re hit with one of those terrible late winter/early spring snow storms that we sometimes get here in Cincinnati – this can find a nice place in your glass as you wish for better things to come.
  • Weizenbock – I love this one when I’m eating.  It’s a wheated version of Bock beer.  Full of fruity esters, this big beer is as closely related to the Dunkelweizen as it is Bock.  It’s a bit of a crossover style between the two.
  • Dunkelbock – Darker, richer and sweeter than Helles Bock, you’ll find a lot of these in Cincinnati.  They go just as well on a warm spring afternoon as they do after a cold day of shopping or working outside.  It’s rich, and higher abv, but not as filling as a Doppelbock will be.  You’ll find me sipping away on these quite a bit in the early spring.