The decks of Atlanta's al fresco dining spots were overflowing this weekend as the first signs of spring sprang upon the city. That means plenty of opportunities for quaffing seasonal beer offerings while soaking up rays. Early spring is traditionally the time for German bocks; lagers brewed with a bit more malt than a standard pilsner and packing some extra alcoholic punch. In this month's special two-part Style Sheet, I'll explore the history of the style and its variations and highlight some of the best examples of each. This week features the classic bock and its lighter version, the maibock.
The name bock probably comes from the German word for "goat," a traditional symbol of strength and virility, as well as the zodiac sign of Capricorn, which coincides with the time these spring beers are brewed. Bocks are closely associated with the German town of Einbeck, where monks brewed a strong drink to sustain them through the Lenten fast. The common misconception that bock beer was produced from the "dregs" of the brew kettle is completely erroneous and makes no sense in terms of brewing methods.
Perhaps because of its questionable origins and the gradual shunning of dark beers by Americans, traditional German-made bocks are not extensively distributed in the United States, and only a few domestic breweries produce bock-style beers. The two varieties most familiar to Americans are probably Michelob Amber Bock from Anheuser-Busch, and Shiner Bock from Spoetzl Brewery in Texas. However, both of these beers would better be classified as American dark lagers than bocks. Both fall below the standard guidelines for the style in terms of alcohol content, which typically falls in the range of 6.3 percent to 7.2 percent, and are thinner and more carbonated than a traditional German bock as a result of the use of nonmalt adjuncts.
Closer to the traditional style is Samuel Adams Winter Lager, which can still be found around Atlanta. Toasted and caramel malt flavors dominate, but its spicy, herbal hop character distinguishes it from a standard bock. As far as authentic, imported German bocks, best to go to the source: Einbecker Ur-Bock is made in the town of Einbeck and is one of the few German bocks available in the United States.
Much more common in the United States is the helles or maibock style. This lighter, usually hoppier version of the style ("helles" means "bright" in German) was traditionally brewed for spring festivals typically in May ("mai" in German). Rogue Ales, one of Oregon's oldest craft brewers, makes Dead Guy Ale, a maibock-style beer that uses an ale yeast, giving it a fruity essence and a terrific drinkability. Atlanta Brewing Company has just released Red Brick Helles Bock, available only on tap at local bars and restaurants including Taco Mac. Much hoppier than Dead Guy, it has a grassy, floral hoppiness and a mild, toasted malt character. Like Dead Guy, it has an easy drinkability.
Flying Dog Brewery's Heller Hound is an excellent example of a maibock. Sweet, bready malts dominate the nose of this golden lager, with a bit of floral hops and yeast. The taste is of grainy, pale malts and peppery hops, with a mild hop bitterness. The medium-full body and modest carbonation leave a bit of sweet malt in the finish.
Abita Brewing Company's Bock is also in stores now. Released each year in time for Mardi Gras and the Lenten season that follows, Abita's maibock is a well-balanced offering with a pale, caramel malt base and a mild, earthy hop bitterness.
Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock and Mahr's Bock-Bier are examples of German maibocks that are available in Georgia, and are worth seeking out. Einbecker is available in bottles at the Brick Store Pub.
Next week, I will feature the extreme versions of bock: dopplebocks, eisbocks and bock rauchbiers. Achtung!
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