All About Bocks and Dopplebocks

Style Profile looks at a German (and Minnesotan) original.

By Michael Agnew, A Perfect Pint
Illustration by DWITT


“Is it true that bock beer is made from the dregs left in the tanks at the end of the year?”

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked that question. I don’t know the origins of this myth, but it is categorically not true. Never mind the horrifically infected, stale, sour brew that would spring from this scenario, not to mention the effect it would have on every other beer the brewery produced—Bock beer actually has a long history, without the myth, that stretches back to the Middle Ages.

While most people associate bock beer with the southern German city of Munich, its origins actually lie further north. The town of Einbeck is located in the north central part of Germany in the region of Braunschweig—Brunswick to us Anglophones. During the late-Middle Ages it was a major brewing city. As members of the Hanseatic League, a powerful confederation of merchant guilds that stretched across northern Europe from 13th to the 17th centuries, the brewers of Einbeck exported their goods far and wide, including Munich.

In the 1600s, the 30-Years War dealt a deathblow to the Hanseatic League. Exports of Einbeck beer to Munich slowed. This was a problem for the Bavarian Duke Maximillian. In 1612, he invited Einbeck brewmaster Elias Pichler to recreate the beer at Munich’s Hofbräuhaus. Not long after he arrived, Pichler realized that he would not be allowed to leave. Within two years the captive brewmaster was making a reasonable approximation of Einbecker beer at the Hofbräuhaus. Thus, bock beer brewing was transferred from the north to the south.

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Bock beer is often associated with goats. The word bock in German means “goat.” There are several theories as to how this moniker became attached to the beer, but the most likely has to do with language and dialect. The German spoken in Bavaria sounds very different from that spoken in the north. The shift in pronunciation renders the southern dialect nearly incomprehensible to northerners. It is thought that the “bock” in bock beer came from the Bavarian corruption of Einbeck to Einböck. From there it’s an easy leap to asking the barkeep for “Ein Bock, Bitte.”

Doppelbock, literally “double bock,” is often thought of as a stronger version of traditional bock beer. Despite stylistic similarities, evidence suggests that it developed independently with the Paulaner monks at Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Munich. The monastic followers of St. Francis of Paola are vegetarian monks who observe two fasts each year, the longest being Lent. During the fasts the monks sustained themselves with a strong beer that was high in proteins and carbohydrates. When the Paulaners arrived in Munich from Italy in 1627, they brought this tradition with them. As the beer became available to the general public, the citizens of Munich noted the similarities to bock beer and began calling it doppelbock.

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Both traditional bock and doppelbock are strong lager beers that emphasize the rich character of Munich and Vienna malt. The BJCP guidelines describe them as having strong malt aromas and flavors dominated by toast and melanoidin, the caramel-like flavor derived from the kilning of malt. A long boil or traditional decoction mashing can enhance the caramel tones. In doppelbock, all of these flavors and aromas are intensified and may be accompanied by notes of chocolate and dark fruits like plum or raisin in darker versions. Hop bitterness is low, just enough to support the malt and allow a bit of sweetness to linger into the finish. There are typically no hop flavors or aromas in either style, although some subtle, spicy hop character may be present. A clean, lager fermentation leaves the beers crisp and dry, despite their strength and malt emphasis.

About Bock

OG:        1.064–1.072

FG:         1.013–1.019

ABV:      6.3–7.2%

IBUs:     20–27

SRM:     14–22 Light copper to brown

About Doppelbock

OG:        1.072–1.112

FG:         1.016–1.024

ABV:      7–10% Some versions can be considerably stronger

than this

IBUs:     16–26

SRM:     6–25 Deep gold to dark brown

Commercial examples available in Minnesota

Traditional Bock:   Schell’s Bock

Doppelbock:      Paulaner Salvator, Ayinger Celebrator,

Weihenstephaner Korbinian, Spaten

Optimator, Samuel Adams Double Bock


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