What’s in a Name?
Often beers were a product of local ingredients and brewing techniques, so it made perfect sense to name them after the city or region they where they were brewed: Pilsen after the town of Plzen, Schwechater, comes from the brewery in Schwechat, and so on.
Sometimes beer names are descriptive like beers with “Rauch” (German for “smoke”) or “Steam” in the name, the former describing the use of smoked malt, the latter referring to a beer style.
And sometimes one can only wonder…
“Bock” means “male goat” in German, but it also used to describe the male of other groups of animals like sheep (Schafbock) and deer (Rehbock). A fitness and exercise contraption is called “Bock” as well as the seat for a carriage driver (Kutschbock).
So where does that leave us with the name of the beer? Let’s look at the history of Bockbeer.
A Town Full Of Brewers
The town of Einbeck is located in lower Saxony in Germany. It was awarded city rights in 1240 together with brewing rights for every citizen, with the effect that it soon sported 700 master brewers. Being a member of the Hanseatic League, beer was not only brewed for consumption of the local burghers, but also for sale in far away regions. The beer was at first top fermented, and to make it more durable for transport, it was brewed with a high gravity. The result was a heavy sweet beer that was soon drunk all over Germany, especially in Bavaria.
In 1589 The Hofbraeuhaus was founded in Munich and brewed beer according to the German Beer Law. 1614 the Wittelsbacher summoned master brewer Elias
Pichler from Einbeck, specifically to brew the “Ainpoeckisch Bier”. “Ainpoeck” was the way Einbeck was written and pronounced. Over time the Bavarians shortened and simplified the name of the cherished beer and “Ainpoeck” became “Ein Bock” and then only “Bock”. Written down it seems like a stretch, but when you speak German and say it out loud a few times, it is really not.
So there, Bock is really the name where the beer came from. In Bavaria the top fermenting Bock was transformed into a bottom fermenting lager that we became the beer we know and love today. It ranges in color from light to the dark and has a dominating malt character. Hop bitterness is noble and subdued, fermentation is clean.
The alcohol content is often misunderstood among homebrewers. Bock (and I am including Doppelbock here) should have a warming alcohol note. Under no circumstances should the alcohol taste overpower the malt and give it a sharp note.
Today we know several versions of Bock:
“Doppel” means “double” in German and refers to the higher alcohol content of the beer. Legend goes that Maximilian I. of Bavaria summoned the Paulaner monks from Italy to his realms, where they founded the monastery Neudegg ob der Au. Unaccustomed to the German climate and food, religious fasting was very difficult for this southern order. But luckily they were allowed to consume beer during fasting and the “ ainpoeckische bier” was high in nutrients. When Maximilain granted them brewing rights, the monks made the beer even maltier to enhance the satisfaction during fasting. The Doppelbock was born.
Maibock is a light beer that was only allowed to be brewed a few weeks in April and was then drunk in May.
Another legend has it that a brewing apprentice in Kurbach, Germany in 1890 left a few barrels of bock out
in the open on a very cold night. Some of the water in the beer froze and the beer was thought to have spoiled. The angry master forced his apprentices to drink the “spoiled” beer and… it turned out to be delicious. Eisbock (German for “Iced Bock”) is partially frozen and the ice is taken out. Since water is removed in the process, the beer becomes more condensed and maltier.
How the Bock Helped To Save Munich
In 1632, during the 30 Year War, the Swedish King Gustav Adolf conquered Munich. This war was a bitter conflict and conquering a city usually ended in mayhem, plundering, and utter destruction. In Bohemia it had a devastating effect on the brewing industry. But all of that did not happen in Munich. Gustav Adolf wanted 300.00 Thaler to spare the city. When the citizens could only come up with a third, Gustav Adolf accepted 220 hectoliters of brown beer and several liters of bock. One wishes all conflicts could be solved with a beer.