by Darryl Richman and Martin Lodahl (Brewing Techniques)
Big, bold, and malty, yet amazingly subtle, Bocks and Doppelbocks are excellent reasons to look forward to spring.
The historical record concerning the ancient and originally distinct styles of Bock and Doppelbock is surprisingly clear. These styles stretch back in time — much further back than the age of the Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of the Pilsener style or the age of mercantilism and the beginnings of porters and India Pale Ales. The separate births of Bocks and Doppelbocks are found in the Middle Ages, and if there hadn’t been something special about each of them their history would be shrouded in the mists of time.
European political geography of the Middle Ages: During the 13th century, the middle region of Europe was chaotic and strife-torn. The area where eastern France, Germany, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, and Italy are today was filled with hundreds of duchies and baronies. Overlaying this secular map, the Catholic Church exercised its own control, either implicitly through its influence on the royal courts or explicitly in the form of the Church’s own quasi–nation-state bishoprics. This crazy quilt of control changed frequently and enabled the emergence of niches in which gangs of bandits could take advantage of local affairs.
Such a political geography made trade extremely difficult on Europe’s great rivers. Anything of value that passed up or down a river was taxed each time it entered a new jurisdiction. The legacy of this history can be seen on the Rhine today, where castles loom over the river’s banks and even on some bars. Castles were not constructed as luxurious homes for nobles but were war-making machines, and their proximity to a river meant that no merchant ship could hope to pass without paying tribute.
The difficulty and expense of trade created an environment in which every ruler had to be as self-sufficient as possible. Some small city-states on or close to the mouths of rivers prospered from the trade that moved through their ports. Along Germany’s northern coast, trade between port cities in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea became increasingly important. Trade between the port cities of Bremen (on the North Sea and the Weser River) and Lübeck (on the Baltic Sea and the Trave River), along with Hamburg (on the North Sea and on the Elbe River), became nearly as important as trade within their hinterlands and with partners across the ocean.
In the 13th century, the merchants of the city-states found that they could work together to increase their own wealth and power, so they created a formal trading association. The Hanseatic League grew over the next century to include more than 80 city-states along all of the rivers that they controlled. The Hanseatic League set tariffs at relatively low levels, allowing trade to flourish. Through the strength of members’ combined efforts, the League came to control trade throughout all of the western European, Scandinavian, Russian, Baltic.
Einbeck: The city of Hanover — a signatory to the League — holds a commanding position on the Leine River. Its nobles controlled many landholdings along the Leine, including the small village of Einbeck, which is nestled in a valley at the river’s headwaters. Hops grew in this valley, and the farmers produced wheat and barley, so beer production was a natural outcome of this happy coincidence. The Hanoverian nobles that owned the village looked northward toward the coast to increase their wealth, and they encouraged commercial beer production for trade.
During the Middle Ages, beer was more than a mere social drink: It was a source of potable water; it was food; and it was often made with herbs and considered medicine. Brewing was generally a food preparation process performed in the home on farms, where the vast majority of the population lived. In the cities, however, public houses often provided beer.
Because the quality of Einbeck’s beer was recognized early on, the entire town focused on brewing beer for sale. The mayor was the head brewer, and a portable boiler was brought in turn to each of the town’s citizen-brewers. The mayor boiled the wort, and the family kept it in its cellar while the beer fermented and aged. The city then bought back the finished beer — if it was of acceptable quality. The beer was then blended and casked and sent downriver for sale.
The casks containing unacceptable beer were destroyed, a crude and costly form of yeast maintenance that nevertheless succeeded in producing a product that was widely recognized to be of the highest quality. An author of the time wrote of Einbeck’s beer: “It is thin, subtle, clear, of bitter taste, has a pleasant acidity on the tongue, and many other good qualities”.
Such acclaim increased the demand for the beer, and it was often given as a lavish gift. On two occasions, Martin Luther received a cask, once at his wedding and once at the Diet of Worms in 1521 . The latter gift came during the Lenten fast, and Luther subsisted principally on Einbeck’s beer, which proves the old saw that claims beer to be liquid bread. (One can’t help but imagine Martin Luther exclaiming about Einbeck’s beer, “Tastes great — more filling!”)
The beer also traveled overland, and toward the end of the 15th century it reached the court of the Wittelsbachs — the rulers of Bavaria — in Munich. They were so taken with this beer that their royal brewers spent the next 140 years trying, without success, to duplicate the taste. Their attempts to improve the quality of Munich’s beers included the famous Reinheitsgebot beer purity law and the immigration of a brewmaster from Brunswick, but success eluded them until a brewmaster from Einbeck itself was drawn to Munich in 1612. Two years later, Einbeckish beer (Ainpoeckische Pier, in the Bavarian dialect) was introduced at the Hofbräuhaus to great acclaim.
The Munich version, however, was different from the original. It was darker, and, rather than the one-third wheat malt and two-thirds barley malt grist that the Einbeckers used, this version was made entirely from barley malt. Because hops were more dear in Munich, and because the water drawn from the chalky Isar River could emphasize an unpleasant bitterness, the beer was sweeter in balance.
It was in Munich, in fact, that the appellation Bock was invented. With familiarity comes slang, so the beer went from being called Ainpoeckische Pier to the shorter Poeck Pier, and then eventually to Bock. Other stories of the name’s origin are entertaining but unlikely (see box).
It was fortunate that the plucky Bavarians had finally produced a viable substitute for the beer from Einbeck. By the middle of the 17th century, the Hanseatic League’s fortunes had come to an end. With the German states in even greater disarray than in preceding centuries and with stronger enemies all around, the League dissolved in 1669. Following the League’s demise, Einbeck found that exporting beer downriver was too expensive, and its people had little financial incentive to produce large amounts.
“Bocks” of Dubious Origin
Because the origins of the name Bock have not always been obvious, other reasons for the name have been proposed.
Capricorn: Because Bock is the German word for a billy goat, the association with the zodiac symbol of the goat is obvious. However, the claim that Bock is brewed only under Capricorn — December 21 through January 21 — has never been true, and it was brewed throughout the winter for serving in spring.
Mead: An old German word for mead is Pogkmedt, and, like Salvator, was compared to Bock and called Doppelbock, so this theory proposes that the strong beer was compared to mead.
The Challenge: A tale, often heard in different variations, talks of a drinking duel between the brewer and a knight. The brewer, having created a strong beer and accustomed to its strength, wins the challenge when the knight is bowled over by a goat frisking nearby. The beer is then dubbed Bock in honor of its kick.
During and after Martin Luther’s time, as the northern states were uniting under the Protestant banner against the pope and the German emperor, the Catholic south grew concerned that all of Germany would be torn from the influence of both pope and emperor and the entire nation converted to Protestantism in the wake of Reformation. Besides raising armies, the Church worked to polish its image and sent new missionaries to Germany.
Among these was a group of followers of St. Francis that had originated in Paula, Italy. The Bavarians called them Paulaners, of course. As in other monasteries, they made their own beer for daily consumption, but they also produced a special beer for extended fasts at Lent and Advent, when no solid food was permitted. This beer was intended to provide extra nourishment and so was made with an extra portion of malt.
Doppelbock was released each year in time for Fasching, the German equivalent of Mardi Gras, the pre-Lenten carnival. As such, it became strongly associated with the coming of spring.
Unlike Bock beer, this beer was not available to the public until the relatively recent date of 1780. Although it long carried the name Salvator (after the Savior) inside the monastic walls, the public quickly compared it to the strong Bock beer, and by 1850 it had become known as Doppelbock.
By that time, however, Napoleon had destroyed as much of the monastic system as he could, and the brewery had fallen into the hands of the Bavarian state, which gave the Zacherl family a long-term lease on the brewery. Other brewers, jealous of the fame of Salvator, made imitation beers that they named with the same “-ator” suffix to emphasize their similarities with the original Salvator. Some examples include Spaten Optimator, Ayinger Celebrator (as it’s called in the American market; it is Fortunator in Germany), and EKU Kulminator.
During that time, Doppelbock changed in character from a beer of high original and final gravities to one with a more normal profile. Salvator Doppelbock of 1850, for example, had an apparent attenuation of only 54%, with an alcohol level of 5.3% (v/v). Today’s Doppelbocks have similar starting gravities, but finish with apparent attenuation levels closer to 70% and an alcohol level of 7.5% (v/v) or more.
Germans emigrating to North America brought their brewing styles with them, and Bock beer was one of them. Because the six-row barley available in the Midwest was dramatically different from the low-protein two-row continental malt they were accustomed to using, these brewers had to adapt their recipes and techniques. Also, toward the end of the 19th century the winds of Prohibition were beginning to blow strongly. Brewers made token changes, but they found it financially advantageous to lower the alcohol content of their beers as a part of an unconcerted program of survival in the new political climate.
By 1905, the average of 10 Milwaukee Bock beers had an original gravity under 13 °P. In comparison, Einbecker Bock beer of the time was nearly 16 °P. Prohibition and two World Wars each dealt blows to American brewing, blows that struck more detrimentally at Bocks than at Pilseners. Beers became lighter and blander because of the shortages of materials during the wars and because of assimilation of immigrant populations reduced the demand and expectation for more robust beers. Breweries that had produced a full range of eight or more beers before Prohibition came to brew only one, with minor variations, by the 1950s. American brewers carried on the Bock tradition as a spring beer, but this tradition proved to be hollow; as I discovered during the 1970s, the beers were the same bland light lagers, only with caramel coloring added.
The Germans, on the other hand, had long ago made the separate names Bock and Doppelbock a legal part of their tax law. They both describe Starkbier (strong beer), which must have an original gravity of at least 16 °P and 18 °P, respectively. These laws prevented the gradual weakening of these beers through the course of this century.
A different transformation is under way in Germany today. Gradually, Bock beer is becoming a pale beer only, and Dunkelbocks (dark Bocks) are disappearing. Although at one time all Bocks and Doppelbocks — save the ones produced at Einbecker Brauhaus — were dark, with distinctions drawn by gravity, now the distinction is more and more by color.
Melanoidins: What creates Bock’s characteristic rich color? The answer is tied to the malty flavors that highlight this style. The traditional double- or triple-decoction processes still widely used on the continent contribute to these colors and flavors.
The characteristic colors and flavors are rooted in a broad class of polymeric compounds called melanoidins, which are the end product of the Maillard reaction, named for the 19th century French chemist who made the first steps toward understanding melanoidin production.
Melanoidins are the subject of attention and scrutiny throughout the food processing industry because the Maillard reaction occurs whenever amino acids and reducing sugars contact under warm, moist (but less so in wet) conditions. Melanoidins accompany all sorts of great food smells and flavors, like the crust on bread, roasted meat, cooked milk, and the aroma of a baked potato. These aromas all come from the outer skin or crust of the cooked food, where water is constantly boiling off. Depending on which amino acids and sugars are combined and the temperature at which they are combined, differing aromas and flavors may be generated. The process also produces brown-colored pigments, the exact form of which also depends on the specific balance of ingredients. These effects increase as the temperature rises. Although it is possible for them to form slowly at room temperature, the process really takes off above 100 °C.
Because melanoidins form most readily in low-moisture conditions, the best time to produce them is during malting. The drying of green, moist malt presents a great opportunity for the formation of melanoidins. Maltsters in North America have spent many years learning to avoid the creation of these compounds to produce the pale, light-flavored products required by the large brewers. Continental maltsters have looked for ways to produce consistently pale malts also, but they continued to produce other products as well.
In Germany, the malt we have come to know as Munich malt is called Dunkelmalz (dark malt) because of its use in making dark beers. Curiously, chocolate and black malts are grouped as Farbemalz — color malt — because they are used only for coloring, not for their flavor attributes. The production of Munich malt involves heightened drying temperatures to emphasize the production of melanoidins. Despite these higher temperatures, these malts retain sufficient amylase enzyme activity to convert starches to sugars in the mash.
Another technique for increasing melanoidin content, still in wide use on the continent despite its high cost in time and energy, is decoction mashing. In this technique, a resting mash is raised to programmed steps by removing a portion of the resting mash — typically the thickest portion with the highest grist-to-water ratio — to the boiler, bringing it to a boil, and returning it to the resting mash. The process of boiling the decoct can be direct, or, in more traditional breweries, a full-step mash is carried out before boiling temperatures are reached. The fraction is boiled for 10–30 min, depending on the level of color that the brewer wants to achieve. Similarly, a single-, double-, or triple-decoction process may be chosen to achieve up to four temperature rests and increasing color and flavor.
Long boil times can increase melanoidin formation somewhat, especially when performed in a kettle fabricated of a nonwetting material such as stainless steel. Each of the steps outlined above produces different classes of melanoidins because of the time–temperature relationships, the particular sugar balance, and the amount of water present.
Other brewing considerations: Water. The highly carbonate Munich water (alkalinity > 200 mg/L as calcium carbonate) had always prevented brewers from producing a pale beer — except for a sour wheat beer not unlike the Weiss beers now associated with Berlin — because its buffering power prevented the mash from achieving the right pH. Dark beers were a solution to this problem because they produced highly acidic worts that could overbalance the carbonate buffering. It was not until this century that brewers began to understand these brewing processes and to learn how to treat water so that a wider variety of beers could be made.
It’s this coincidence — highly carbonate water and a malting technique that emphasizes melanoidin formation — that creates the intensely malty flavor of traditional Bavarian Bocks and Doppelbocks.
Hops. High-pH water not only creates problems in mashing, but can also bring out a harsh edge to highly hopped beers. Munich brewers found that good drinking beers required low hopping rates — typically 20–26 IBUs for Dunkels and Doppelbocks, somewhat higher rates for Hellesbocks, with Maibocks sometimes reaching into the low 30s.
The hops used in traditional Bocks are typically Hallertauer region variants. Hallertau, a region that lies to the east of Nurenberg, is the center of Bavarian hop cultivation and is home to the legendary (mythical?) Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hops. These days, other varieties of Hallertauer hops, such as Hersbrucker, are likely to be used. The hop bitterness level is chosen as a foil or background against which the rich malt character can be displayed.
This subtle balance is a challenge to achieve. The hops should provide a relatively dry finish that will entice the drinker back to have another. If the level isn’t high enough, the beer would be quite satiating. These beers are not, as is often portrayed, the lager beer family equivalent of barley wine. Although a few of the beers that go after the World’s Strongest Beer title are classified as Doppelbocks by German law, in general these beers are intended as warming beers for the spring and are quite drinkable.
Fermentation and cellaring. Another way that the malt character of these beers is emphasized is by the use of exceptionally clean lager yeast and careful cellar procedures. Very high pitching rates are used — as high as 20 million cells/mL of wort — and the fermentation temperature is kept between 5 and 10 °C during primary fermentation, which can last from 7 to 10 days. Lagering is typically three months at 0–1 °C, although special beers like a Weihnachtsbock (a Christmastime Doppelbock specialty) can be lagered six months or more.
The high pitching rate minimizes the level of by-products that the yeast produce. These beers are typically lagered at their serving pressure so that no artificial carbonation or kräusening techniques are required. The former techniques are banned under the Reinheitsgebot, except by expensive carbon dioxide recovery techniques during the primary fermentation, and the latter can lead to high levels of acetaldehyde in the beer and a candy sweetness and worty character should the high alcohol level cause the yeast to become dormant prematurely. This, in turn, can provide a nutrient base for invading organisms to spoil the beer.
Traditional beers of Germany, Bocks continue to maintain a small but strong niche in the marketplace; Einbecker Brauhaus AG, the brewery of Einbeck, continues to sell one-quarter of its total beer production of one-half million bbl as Hellesbock and Maibock. In North America — where Bock beer had fallen to disgraceful depths— a new tide of craft brewers is attempting, among others, the Bock and Doppelbock styles. Even some regional brewers have taken to brewing a seasonal Bock beer with distinction and great malt character.
These enthusiastic brewers are free from the bounds of German law and strict traditions, and their creations are exciting for their inventiveness. A few companies are bringing to market novelty beers whose sole claim to fame is their strength. Not only are these beers unbalanced, but they harm the industry by emphasizing the wrong aspects of beer appreciation and help to focus neo-Prohibitionist scrutiny on the product. Many brewers, however, are producing truly new products that strike exciting new flavor balances. These newer beers preserve, if not the traditional German flavor balance, then at least the goal of a spring warmer that is clean and drinkable.
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