The Bock Beer Article for Rob
Can You Find a Good One
For several years now, Local Beet Editor-in-Chief Rob Gardner has been all over me to do an article about bock beers. Make no mistake about it – bock and its variants are nice, malty beers, but they’re not particularly popular these days. (IPA – India Pale Ale – and other hoppy ales are the most popular styles among American craft brewers these days, although sour and barrel-aged beers are coming on strong.)
When I was growing up, my Dad told me – and it’s an oft-repeated rumor – that bock beers were made by cleaning out the dregs from the fermenters at the end of the brewing season. He was great at fabricating and/or enhancing stories. On that particular point, though, he was dead wrong. It’s mainly the choice of malts (including some malts with a higher toasting level), plus the yeast, that determine a bock beer.
He did occasionally drink Huber Bock. Huber Bock is now made by Minhas Craft Brewing in Monroe, Wisconsin. We reported on a trip to Minhas here. Suffice it to say that, although Minhas is the oldest brewery in Wisconsin (Pabst is older, but that company hasn’t operated a physical brewery of its own in many years), Minhas is rarely included in lists of Wisconsin’s best breweries.
First of all, bock is a style of lager. Despite the fact that most of the cheap megabrews qualify as lagers, lagers are actually tougher to brew than ales – lagers ferment at lower temperatures than ales, use a different yeast, and take longer to ferment and condition than ales. (Lager yeast is often referred to as a bottom-fermenting yeast, as opposed to top-fermenting ale yeasts, although that’s not strictly accurate.) Possibly the best advocate for lagers in the Midwest is Doug Hurst, whose Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood brews lagers almost exclusively. If you visit the brewery (tours are rare – check their Facebook page), you’ll notice the space is kept pretty cool, reflecting the requirements of lager brewing – bring a jacket. His beers are priced comparably to other craft (ale) beers, even though they’re more expensive to produce. Draw your own conclusions.
Most bock beers are on the dark side, but they can be as light as an amber beer. They tend to be slightly stronger than the megabrews, but there are exceptions. Also, bock beers have traditionally been associated with goats. There have been a number of explanations offered for that linkage, but none have been proven. Suffice it to say if you see a goat’s head on the beer label, it’s probably a bock.
And to this day, you can’t get a bock beer at Wrigley Field. In 1945, Billy Siannis (of Billy Goat Tavern fame) was forced to leave the stadium because he’d brought his pet goat with him. He wasn’t happy with that, so he put a curse on the Cubs, which some have posited has prevented the Cubs from ever since winning a World Series, now almost 70 years later. And, if you subscribe to that theory, you may be conveniently ignoring the fact that the Cubs also hadn’t won a World Series in the 36 previous years, either. Does that explain why goat-related beers aren’t sold at Wrigley Field? I don’t know for sure, but I’m sure the many people who are into conspiracy theories could have a field day (Wrigley Field day?) with that. I’ll look forward to Tom Ricketts’ thoughts on that in the comments section.
There are several different bock styles. An example of a basic bock beer, widely available, would be Shiner Bock from Texas – not one of my favorites. It gets a rating of 15 out of 100 on Ratebeer.com. Huber Bock, mentioned above, doesn’t rate significantly better, at 37/100.
There seems to be more activity among craft brewers in the dopplebock category, possibly because craft brew drinkers seem to prefer stronger styles (although that may be changing). Dopplebocks are stronger than most beers (hence the “dopple” or “double” in the name.) At 7% – 10% ABV, they’re beers to be savored, not chugged. A good local example is Metropolitan’s seasonal beer, Generator, which gets a respectable 84 out of 100 points on Ratebeer.com Note that Metropolitan has made other versions of Generator, too, but, as variations of a beer that only appears seasonally, they can be difficult to find. Some of the usual quality brewery suspects in Wisconsin and Michigan also make good, and maybe great, bocks. If I get a chance to try them some day, I might form a slightly credible opinion on them.
Other styles are sometimes considered related to bocks – Helles bock, biéres de mars (Märzens or March [the month] beer) and bières de garde are among those that come to mind, although the latter examples are more commonly ales. Eisbock might be the most distinctive style – the brewers produce a basic bock, then freeze it and remove the frozen ice, concentrating the flavors and the alcohol (it can get pretty alcoholic). I’m not aware of any breweries in The Local Beet’s region producing an eisbock, but if there are examples, please let me know.
If you find a good one, maybe Rob will be satisfied.