A Brief History of Bock Beer
The history of bock bier began in the 14th century, named Einbeck after the town in Lower Saxony, Germany, where the style was born. Initially brewed as an ale, it was later brewed as a lager following the discovery of lager yeast. Around the turn of the 17th century, Bavarian brewers gained interest in the Einbeck, but with their accents pronounced it as “ein bock” or billy goat. Now known simply as “bock,” beer labels to this day will often feature satirical images of billy goats.
Bock, meaning strong, refers to a group of German lagers copper to rich brown in colour, between 5.5% to 7.5%. Munich and Vienna malts are the backbone of this beer, giving it a robust toast and savoury caramel flavours. In a bock, hops work in the background to balance out the beer’s residual sweetness.
Doppelbock, or “double bock” was created in the 17th century by a group of Bavarian monks, who upped the alcohol and doubled the residual malt from traditional bock recipes. A doppelbock can be light or dark in colour, ranging in strength from 7% and 11%. Historically associated with festive occasions, the doppelbock was originally created for friars to drink during Lenten fasts when food was not permitted and has often been referred to as “liquid bread.” Using a combination of Pilsner, Munich and Vienna malts, doppelbocks showcase malt flavours of toast, caramel, toffee, raisin, prune and chocolate. Hops also play a supporting role in this beer, and help to balance out lingering sweetness and alcohol warmth.
Maibock or “May bock” was originally released as a springtime beer, a stronger version of the helles bock or “light bock.” According to the BJCP 2008 style guidelines, contemporary examples are virtually interchangeable, with helles bock as the preferred style name. In German, helles, or “light” describes the deep gold colour, rather than relating to its strength, which is between 6% and 8% ABV. In a helles bock, the malt shows a toasted quality, allowing noble hops shine through with peppery flavours and a moderate hop bitterness.
Eisbock or “ice bock” is brewed as a doppelbock, then chilled until some of the water from the beer freezes. After skimming the ice off, the remaining beer is stronger in flavour, body and alcohol content. Weighing in between 9% and 15%, eisbocks are ruby to dark brown in colour. A big malty brew, eisbocks are balanced less by hops, and more by smooth and warming alcohol flavours.
A great cold weather brew, bocks are great for keeping you toasty on long, wintery nights – and they’re perfect for your cellar collection too. Prost!
(Leah is a Toronto based freelance writer as well as Head Beer Weenie and a server at C’est What)