Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Bocks are "All About the Malt"

In this The New York Times feature on bocks, the author and his brave associates tasted 25 bocks, mostly from Germany and the U.S. (aiy, the perils of being a journalist!) in an attempt to disprove the notion that "bock" is synonymous with "dark" and that, were that the case, it would not be a bad thing.

Like many beer styles, bocks have a long and rich history:

The term bock dates back centuries, at least toward the end of the Middle Ages, when the Hanseatic city of Einbeck became well know for its strong, malty lagers. In Bavaria, where the style was particularly valued and eventually duplicated, the beer was called Einbeck, rendered in the local dialect as Einbock, and later simply as bock.

Bock also means billy goat, which became the symbol for this style of beer. That’s how the story goes, anyhow, and we’re sticking to it.

In beer tastings that I have run, I try to introduce the variety of beer flavor by showcasing different beers whose flavors focus on hops, malt and yeast, respectively. One of my showcase "malt" beer is without fail a delicious German doppelbock, which has an interesting history of its own:

As with so many beer styles, we have monasteries to thank for doppelbock, in particular the devout monks of St. Francis of Paula.

Forbidden to eat during the 40 days of Lent, they brewed a particularly rich and nutritious beer, a sort of liquid bread, to sustain them through Easter. The monks called their beer Salvator, for Savior, and to this day doppelbocks can be identified by the distinctive “ator” names they go by. The monks eventually secularized their brewery, Paulaner, which continues to make Salvator among many other beers.

According to one version of this story I have heard, the monks sent a barrel to the Pope for his approval. During the long overland journey to Rome, the beer had spoiled, so when the Pope tasted it, he gushed over the pious resolve of the monks to subsist on the foul stuff for a full forty days. I can only imagine the cheers and clinking of glasses when word reached the monastery that the Pope had given his seal of approval to the plan!

My two favorite doppelbocks are Ayinger Celebrator and Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel. As for weizenbocks, Aventinus is a classic. I have yet to try a decent eisbock.

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