If you’ve ever attended an Oktoberfest event, or even set foot inside a German-inspired brewery, chances are you’ve heard the term “bock” tossed around quite a bit.
However, it can be difficult for a newcomer to peg an exact definition for this brew based off of context clues alone.
You might see your buddies point to two seemingly different brews, yet still refer to each of them as a bock. You’re also likely to hear several different adjectives come up in conversation, including an onslaught of German terminology.
And what’s with the goat? It’s almost enough to make your head spin.
Not to worry; bocks may have an illustrious history, but they aren’t nearly as complicated as they initially appear.
Just read on and all your questions will be answered in no time. Yes, we’ll even talk about the goat.
What is a Bock?
Bock is a type of lager that typically spends time aging in cold storage during the winter, allowing time to smooth out and balance the beer’s initially intense flavor profile. As a lager, the beer is also brewed using a bottom fermenting yeast.
Now that your initial question is out of the way, let’s dive a bit deeper and explore what exactly makes up a typical bock.
Generally speaking, a bock should range between 6% and 7% when it comes to ABV, making it a good mid-range drink.
As a lager, it also boasts relatively low overall IBU, sitting somewhere in the low to mid 20s range.
If you have a souvenir glass or stein that you’ve been dying to premiere, then you definitely want to consider filling it with a bock.
A traditional bock typically boasts beautiful shades of brown, ranging from a bright copper to a rich mahogany.
While ales with this coloring are typically a bit cloudier, the lagering process grants the bock a persistent clarity that contributes to its crispness.
Set these dark browns against a pillowy, cream-colored head and you have yourself a gorgeous beer, to say the least.
When it comes to describing a bock, one common adjective comes up more often than most: malty.
Some very subtle flavors exist beneath this initial maltiness, and each varies depending on which type of bock you order.
You might obtain hints of caramel, a subtle sweetness, a bit of toastiness and even the traditional hop bitterness.
Overall, the flavor profile makes these beers great pairings for grilled poultry, pork chops and even dark chocolate.
You can expect a very similar maltiness in the beer’s aroma.
While you might taste a bit of hop bitterness, this profile shouldn’t be detectable in the beer’s scent. Likewise, any traces of alcohol should be extremely subtle.
History of the Bock
The bock derives its illustrious, yet simple, title from the German town that it was initially brewed in: Einbeck.
The earliest known records of bock brewing date all the way back to the 14th century. If you’re a humble brewer looking to make a name for yourself, Einbeck was essentially the perfect place to set up shop.
This was due in part to the fact that the town was part of a federated trading group called the Hanseatic League. We don’t have to delve too deeply into their history, save for the fact that its presence widened the region of export for any products produced in Einbeck, including beer.
On top of that, Einbeck was also an incredibly fertile hop growing region. Hopefully we don’t have to tell you that that is extremely good news for up-and-coming brewers.
From Spices to Hops
Speaking of hops, brewers didn’t always default to this essential ingredient.
Back in the day of the bock, most beers were brewed using a blend of herbs and spices that served as preservatives.
Beers brewed in this fashion are known today as Gruits, but that’s a story for another time.
At the time, each brewer was especially protective and secretive when it came to their personal spice blend recipe. Recipes differed dramatically, leading to tons of variety among brews.
In the interest of creating unique new recipes, brewers in Einbeck decided to start using hops in their brews.
After all, the soil was perfect for this crop; why shouldn’t they take advantage?
This seemingly random decision yielded a brew with such undeniable flavor superiority that it became a staple in the tiny town.
Einbeck’s status in the Hanseatic League meant that the beers they produced were distributed far and wide across the region, along with the news that hops were now king.
As a result, Einbeck was able to gain a significant amount of authority when it came to producing high quality beers.
Rise of Munich
Einbeck enjoyed a period of fame as a well-known brewing town but, as history tends to teach us, all good things must come to an end.
By the time the 17th century rolled around, the tiny brewing community had been ravaged by a number of tragedies, including the Thirty Years War, a devastating local fire and the rise of competing economic powers.
Naturally, beer exports began to slow down. People worldwide began to panic and immediately started brainstorming ways to save their favorite brew.
The Bavarians especially had grown to love this lager more than anyone else. In 1612, they sent for a brew master from Einbeck to come teach the brewers in Munich how to give their recipes that same charm and pizazz that they all yearned for.
Mind you, brewers in Munich already had a good thing going on. This town was famous for their brown ales.
Ultimately, they combined their existing knowledge with the new teachings from Einbeck to create an entirely new hybrid brew. This is the style that we know and love to this day.
Seriously, What’s With the Goat?
We told you we’d get to this. There are actually several theories that address the goat’s significance, so it ultimately depends which ones you wish to believe.
The first theory is the most straightforward of all. The German name for goat literally translates to “bock.” This led to several small sayings or jokes among the brewers that allude to the beer’s strength, saying that it has “a kick like a goat.”
The second belief alludes to the bock’s seasonal nature. Bocks are typically released around the time of year that winter turns to spring, which just so happens to fall under the astrological sign of Capricorn. Capricorn’s ruling figure is a goat, hence the animal’s presence.
Different Types of Bocks
You should know by now that each distinct type of beer comes with its own sub-varieties as well. The bock is absolutely no exception. Let’s delve into some of the more common sub-types.
A maibock might also be referred to as a helles bock or a heller bock.
These brews seem to masquerade as traditional lagers, boasting that familiar light golden coloration.
Despite this, the beers are still brewed with the strength of a traditional bock and the flavor only varies slightly. Maibocks aren’t as malty as their cousins, and instead offer a slightly drier and more bitter flavor profile.
- Victory Brewing Company: Helles Lager and St. Boisterous
- Old Dominion Brewing Company: Big Thaw Bock
- Troegs: Cultivator
Doppelbock literally translates to “double bock,” which should give you a good indication of what this beer is all about.
These brews have their history rooted in Munich, where the Paulaner Friars would consume it during periods of fasting, referring to it as “liquid bread.”
The beer is much sweeter and higher in alcohol than a normal bock, ranging from 7% to 12%.
The doppelbock could easily be mistaken for a stout or a porter in both color and flavor; the beer boasts a very rich, malty and sometimes sweet flavor profile and can appear dark brown in color.
- Samuel Adams: Double Bock
- Burly Brewing: Burlynator
- Bell’s Brewery: Consecrator
Eisbocks are the dark horse cousins of the bock family.
An essential part of the brewing process involves partially freezing the beer and separating the water and ice from the other ingredients in order to create a much more potent brew.
This is possible because alcohol has a much lower freezing point than pure water, which allows the brewers to freeze only the water before pouring out the alcohol. Eisbocks range from 9% to 13% ABV.
They can appear in darker brown colors and often pour without a head due to the high alcohol. Because they’re often created using doppelbocks, eisbocks retain many of the same flavors.
- Franconia Brewing Company: Ice Bock
- Colorado Team Brew: Warning Sign
- Urbock Dunkel: Eisbock
By now, you should have absorbed more than enough information to entertain your friends at your next German brewing venture.
All you need now is a nice big stein to hold your beer and a high quality dirndl or pair of lederhosen to make you a certified Oktoberfest VIP. Prost!