The Bock: not particularly popular outside of beer lovers, yet it is one of the oldest styles of beer still being produced. The bock originated around the 1300's in the German city of Einbeck (likely responsible for the name too). If Belgium has taught us anything, it's that monks love beer. German monks most certainly had this trait (they're German), and when it came time to tackle the problem of how to nourish themselves during religious fasts, they turned to our sweet sweet alcoholic friend. So, these monks whipped up what became known as a "a bock". Because of the desperation of the monks to be nourished, this beer is characterized by a rich breadiness, a high gravity packed with carbohydrates, and a nice juicy alcohol content perfect for taking your mind off of what Jesus thinks of you.
Last night, I sampled two bocks. I have had several before, including the epic and delicious Troegenator, but since I was having two in the same night, I decided to blog about it. The first I tried was Abita Mardi Gras Bock. As I've mentioned before, Abita is one of my favorite breweries (Turbodog is truly the work of minds beyond our own) so when I saw they made a bock, I jumped all over it. Bocks generally come out around this time of year (corresponding with winter and Lent), so I was happy to see Abita putting out a beer that should be perfect for their situation: in Louisiana, home of the biggest Hedonist help-me-through-religious-irritation festival there is.
Their bock tends toward the Maibock, a paler version of the traditional bock. It pours a lovely yellow-golden, almost honey in color. The body is flecked with bubbles, though the beer is not particularly carbonated on the tongue. The taste is a hint bready yes, but sweet too and lighter in body than the Trogenator. It has a nice toastiness with hints of cracker and a slight butteriness. It also has the slight boozy twinge that often shows up in the style without being yeasty. It skews way lighter than many bocks, and the decision to roll with the lighter Maibock is a great decision, since they're brewing for the hot Louisiana climate. But ultimately, something about Mardi Gras Bock falls a bit flat. None of the flavors come through with much gusto, and there are windows of flavor seemingly left wide open. The finesse that most Abita beers show in mingling odd styles or difficult ingredients is mysteriously absent here.
Next up was Ayinger Celebrator. Ayinger is a German brewery and Celebrator has one of the top reps as an authentic German doppelbock (double bock = higher alcohol). I had never had it, but I can safely say that it is fantastic. It pours a very dark brown with minimal head. It presents aroma notes of rich wheat toast, caramel, root beer, and maple syrup. The caramel presents in the flavor as well, but most of what you get is a robust yet gentle roastiness. What is so unique about this beer is how the grain comes through so crisp and clear, despite the high alcohol. You can imagine the malt being gently roasted when you drink it, and the fresh flavor of the grain (as well as letting it stand out as a flavor element) brings a lightness and an elegance to the beer. Celebrator also presents notes of molasses, a touch of alcohol warmth, and a hint of mellowing carbonation. This beer clearly has its reputation for a reason, and tasting it not only offers the opportunity to have a great beer, but also to taste some good old-fashioned TRADITION.
Most people probably aren't up on bocks, but for the transitional Spring weather, they offer the perfect segue from the dark, heavy, high-alcohol beers of winter to the (generally) lighter beers of summer. More and more American craft breweries are trying their hands at them, and the opening up of the craft beer market in the States has afforded up the opportunity to stock up on imports as well. The other great thing about bocks is how well they pair with food. Bust out some Irish soda bread or even a chocolatey dessert, and you got yourself a nifty pairing with minimal effort. If breweries end up throwing out gallons of unused bock this summer, I blame you.