By Dustyn Cormier
We’re here to talk about beer history again. One could say that we’re going bock to the past. I wouldn’t say it, because it’s a bad pun, but I guess someone could say it if they wanted to. There are several different styles of bock beer, but most of them tend to be strong lagers (6-7.5% abv), light copper or amber to brown in color, and have a malty-rich flavor. We will talk about some tips for brewing a bock beer at home, but before we get to that, let’s talk about the history of the style.
Bock in the 14th century (I promise that’s the last pun), the city of Einbeck in Germany joined the Hanseatic league, which was a group of German cities that banded together to control trade within Germany and between Germany and other countries. This allowed the beer of Einbeck to travel far and wide both within Germany as well as outside of it. One of the reasons for the popularity of the beer from Einbeck was the unique brewing system that the city council had created to focus on quality control. Anyone in Einbeck could brew and sell beer, but no one was allowed to own and operate a brewery. The city council owned the brewing equipment and hired professional brewmasters to deliver a portable brew pot from home to home. The brewmaster inspected the ingredients and oversaw the brewing process. The household was then responsible for the fermentation and maturation of the beer. However, before it could be sold the brewmaster would test the finished product and any inferior quality beer would be destroyed. This quality control system helped Einbeck find great success in the business of brewing for multiple centuries. Unfortunately, two major fires and the Thirty Years War brought an end to the brewing trade in Einbeck.
As most historians would tell you, the Thirty Years War ended at least several years ago. So, how did the bock beer style survive and get to where we are today? That can be attributed to the city of Munich in Bavaria. The beer being produced in Munich at this time was not thought highly of and the city wanted to improve its brewing trade. In 1612, Munich hired a brewmaster from Einbeck named Elias Pichler to help them create beer that was as good as the beer produced in Einbeck. Pichler helped the brewers of Munich make a beer that was darker, stronger, and more malt-forward than the beers of Einbeck. They named this beer after Einbeck, which in the Bavarian dialect was Ainpöeckish Pier. This name eventually went through shortened iterations, such as oanpock and Poecke, until the word bock was settled on. Bock means ram or billy goat in German, and some say that this name was used for the new, stronger beer because it had a kick. The bock beer created in Munich eventually spread throughout Europe and to America, where the brewing industry was dominated by German immigrants in the late 1800s.
Now that our history lesson is over, let’s talk about brewing a bock at home. For your grain bill, I would suggest using Munich malt as your main base malt. Try to use a European Munich malt, as they are almost always made from 2-row malt while American Munich malt is often made from 6-row, which can produce an astringent flavor when used for the majority of the grist. Many authentic bock recipes will say that Munich malt should make up 75-93% of your grist with pilsner or pale malt making up the balance. If you’re brewing one of the darker bock styles, then you might want to have crystal malts in the 90-120 Lovibond range make up about 10% of your grist and 1-2% chocolate malt.
Traditionally, bock beers would be made with a decoction mash, but a single-infusion mash with a higher temperature (155 degrees Fahrenheit) can work well. If doing a single-infusion mash, then you might want to extend your boil time to allow for more melanoidin formation in the kettle. Use traditional German hops to reach 20-30 IBUs. Use a German lager or bock yeast and give the wort a large dose of oxygen before you pitch the yeast. The primary fermentation should be done around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and will probably take about 3 weeks. After primary is finished, the beer should be lagered at close to freezing temperatures for at least 4 weeks. A stronger bock style will need longer lagering and could take up to 6 months to hit its peak.
Bock is a great style with a fair amount of flexibility. It really is a showcase for the grist in both aroma and flavor. Bock beers will also keep for an extended period of time, so many months after lagering is complete you could still sit bock and enjoy a cold one! (I apologize for lying to you about being done with puns
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