The origin of the beer style known as Bock is a point of contention. Like much of the beer history in the world, experts have a difference of opinion. One school of thought believes that the style's name came from a corruption of "Einbeck, Germany," the city that claims to be Bock’s birthplace. Others think that the moniker stuck since the beer was traditionally brewed in winter months during the sign of Capricorn, whose zodiac symbol is the goat. "Billy Goat" in German translates to "Geißbock" or "Ziegenbock," and many Bock brewers have even taken the goat as a mascot for their beer. But one thing is certain. These beers are strong, typically running with an ABV of over 6.5 percent. So, don't be surprised to wake up feeling like a goat kicked you in the head after a night of Bock over-indulgence.
The Bock or Bockbier style is a centuries-old seasonal celebration beer that was sometimes brewed in the winter and consumed in the spring during Lent and Easter, and other times brewed for the winter holidays. Although now, Bock is pretty much available year-round.
... even though these beers have more robust flavors and a higher alcohol percentage, Bockbiers and most of the sub styles of Bock ... are Lagers!
Most Bocks are bigger and stronger than Lagers. They range in color from dark copper to auburn to deep chestnut, have a rich mouthfeel, bold malty characteristics, and a restrained hop presence.
Now, even though these beers have more robust flavors and a higher alcohol percentage, Bockbiers and most of the sub styles of Bock, with the exception of Weizenbock, are Lagers! These beers are fermented over a long period of time, lagered or aged for months in cold temperatures. This long maturation period mellows flavors and creates a smooth-drinking, well-balanced brew.
Several different sub styles of this masterful brew exist. Weizenbock means "strong wheat" in German and breaks from Bock tradition as it's an Ale rather than a Lager. This style is usually a bigger, fuller-bodied, darker Hefeweizen, with many of the same characteristics of bold bananas and cloves, but with added notes of rich caramel.
Dopplebocks or "Double" Bocks are even stronger Bock beers. Though, despite the name, not literally double the strength. These lagers are deliciously strong with dark fruit, roasted chocolate qualities, a lush sweetness and a heat in the finish due to a higher ABV range. As an homage to the first beer of the style, Paulaner Salvator, many Dopplebocks are sometimes named using the suffix "-ator" like Captivator, Celebrator, Decimator and Detonator.
Maibock, which refers to the month of May, is a style that is traditionally brewed for spring holiday celebrations. Another very similar and sometimes interchangeable style is Helles Bock (or Heller Bock), which means "pale." Both Maibocks and Helles Bocks tend to be lighter in color and have more assertive hop aromatics and bitterness than other Bock beers. However, the lighter color doesn’t mean that these beers are any lighter in alcohol content. In fact, in addition to the hoppiness, Maibocks and Helles Bocks also have a noticeable maltiness, viscosity, and depth.
A concentrated fractionally (freeze) distilled Bock sub style is the delicious Eisbock. This strong "Ice Beer" or in German, "Eisbock" is dark, malty and hearty and has a significant alcohol content.
Bocks to try
Anchor Bock Beer
Anchor Brewing Company, San Francisco, CA
First brewed in 2005, this 5.5% Dunkle (meaning dark) Bock was released, as tradition calls, in celebration of the arrival of spring. Using barley and wheat in the malt bill, this beer is rich with notes of honey, cherry, brown sugar and bread.
Samuel Adams Helles Bock
Boston Beer Company, Boston, MA
First brewed as a spring seasonal in 2012, this clear, 7% ABV bright copper-hued Helles Bock has a lush malt backbone, with notes of toasty biscuit that are accompanied by a subtle spicy hop bitterness. Aromatics are biscuity and grainy, with notes of honey on the finish.
Brauerei Aying, Aying, Germany
This spring seasonal is a big-bodied beer with a sweet, malty aroma, a rousing head and a fruity long-lasting aftertaste. A golden pour with a pillowy white head, this 6.8% ABV beer has aromatics of white pepper and malty bread. Sweet on the palate with suggestions of florals and grass. Amazingly clean and balanced.
Schneider TAP6 Unser Aventinus
Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn, Germany
This 8.2% ABV wheat doppelbock or Weizen Doppelbock has been brewed since 1907, making it the oldest of its kind in Bavaria. Pouring a dark-ruby color, this beer is creamy and delicious with notes of ripe bananas, raisins and plums. Full-bodied and warming, with a well-balanced and smooth finish.
Bells Brewery, Galesburg, Michigan
This winter 8% ABV beer is everything one could want in a Doppelbock. Consecrator is a full-bodied big beer with notes of caramel, molasses and dark old world fruits. It pours an auburn color, and has boozy fruitcake aromatics and a warming finish.