Just as music has its famous Bach family spanning many generations, the beer world has its own illustrious family of bocks.
The grandfather of the family, traditional bock, gave birth to mai (May) bock, doppel (double) bock, and eis (ice) bock. Other offspring include weizenbock, winterbock and dunkle (dark) bock. Traditional bock beers usually first appear in March each year. Doublebocks are released around Easter while maibocks follow on May 1, often with festive celebrations.
First produced in the late 14th century in the town of Einbeck, these strong beers were copied by the breweries in Munich in the early 17th century, modifying the barley/wheat grain bill to an all barley beer. The Bavarian dialect name for the Einbeck beer evolved into the word beck and then to bock.
Bock beer does not come from the bottom of the fermenting vessel as the old tale is told, but is a separate, full bodied, type of lager beer. Since bock also means goat in both German and Dutch, the goat is often displayed on bock labels. It is said that a good bock has the kick of a goat.
Traditional bocks are light copper to brown in color with a complex maltiness, and often some toasty or caramel flavors. They may have slight hop bitterness, but malt is the dominant flavor.
Medium to full-bodied, these strong, smooth, malty lagers have alcohol by volumes (ABV) of 6.3 to 7.2 percent. Some winter bocks have added spiciness or alcohol. Most bocks are bottom fermented lagers but some, most prominently weizenbocks, are top fermented ales.
Maibocks, also called helles (bright) bock to distinguish them from the darker winter bocks, are clear and deep gold to subdued amber in hue. Maibocks have a crisp malty flavor, possibly a low spicy or peppery quality, a moderate hop (more apparent than the other bocks) and dry finish. Maibocks have 6.3 to 7.4 percent ABVs.
All doublebocks stem from the original of the style called Salvator and known as “liquid bread.” It was developed by monks for consumption during their 40 day Lenten fast preceding Easter and the four week Advent fast prior to Christmas. Doublebocks are dark gold to dark brown, full-bodied with complex, deep malty sweetness and aroma, and often with intricate chocolate and dark fruit flavors. Little or no hops are evident in these very strong, rich lager with ABVs of 7 to 14 percent. Doublebocks are aged for much longer than regular lagers to develop the pronounced smoothness, mellowness and higher alcohol content. Many doppelbocks have names ending in “-ator,” as a tribute to the original Salvator now made by the Paulaner brewery.
To make a more robust beer, Bavarian brewers froze a bock, removed the ice and created a more concentrated version called eisbock. Legend has it that this was an accident. Now similar beers are brewed directly. Eisbocks are deep copper to dark brown in color with rich, sweet malt and sometimes caramel or chocolate flavors, balanced with significant alcohol and some dryness. There may be some dark fruit tastes and the alcohol (9 to 14 percent ABV) is smooth, not harsh, providing a clean lager taste.
Troegenator (8.2 percent alcohol by volume, ABV) is brewed by the Troegs Brewery in Hershey, Pa. It has a very sweet nose with a hint of caramel. Quite smooth, the moderate sweet malt front continues into the middle. The finish adds light floral hops which slightly balance the malt and segue in the aftertaste where the malt fades and the hops and malt are in balance with an added hint of cherry. The high alcohol level is incredibly well hidden in this dangerous beer. Ratings: 8/8.
Aventinus Eisbock (12 percent ABV) is made by G. Schneider and Sohn in Kelheim, Germany. The Aventinus has an aroma of alcohol and dark fruit tending to plum. The light plum and sweet malt front leads to a middle where the sweetness increases to medium with a touch of alcohol present. The sweetness ebbs in the finish as the malt brings in a toffee character. The alcohol reappears and comes to the forefront in the quite dry aftertaste. The alcohol will blend into the beer with some aging. Ratings: 8.5/8.
Pikantus Weizen-Bock (7.3 percent ABV) is brewed in Erding, Germany, by the Erdinger Brewery. Pikantus has a bouquet of sweet malt, cherry, chocolate and roast. The quite light sweet front from the large volume of wheat malt in the brew presages a similar middle. The finish adds a slight roast which continues in the aftertaste which has a lingering sweet malt and a hint of floral hops. Ratings: 8/8.