Session #121: Bock! (Absence Of.)

Illustration adapted from a vintage bock beer poster.

For this edition of the monthly beer blogging jamboree Jon Abernathy has asked us to think about Bock, which left us in a pickle.

You see, in multiple UK cities over the course of several weeks, we haven’t seen a single Bock for sale. Perhaps surprisingly there was a Cornish Bock from St Austell (very decent, too) but if it still exists, it’s in deep hiding.

So we were going to swerve this Session altogether until, researching an article on Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson last week, we got thinking about Dortmunder.

Dortmunder, like Bock, is one of the 25 or so varieties of beer listed in the style guide in Jackson’s original World Guide to Beer back in 1977, and of which multiple examples were listed in our Bible, his 1998 throwaway, picture-heavy Great Beer Guide. But we can’t remember the last time we encountered anything calling itself a Dortmunder. (Although there are a few Exports around.)

Absent from his 1977 style guide, however, is Gose, examples of which are fairly easy to come by these days. That’s odd, isn’t it? That sour beer with salt and coriander should be more readily available than what you’d think might be a more accessible strong lager.

Well, maybe not. To many drinkers — even those with quaite refained palates — lager is lager is lager, and not terribly interesting. And a strong lager with a narrower focus on unsexy malt over hops is an even harder sell in 2017, especially to British drinkers who really do expect fireworks to justify an ABV of more than 5%.

UPDATE 11:20: Oh, except that we did have a Dortmunder at BrewDog Bristol in February. No Bock, though.

Cornish Bock is a winner

We weren’t massively impressed with St Austell’s Korev Lager but were nonetheless keen to try it’s sister beer, Cornish Bock. It’s proven a tough one to track down but, today, we finally chanced upon a bottle in a remote pub off towards Land’s End.

Overall, our verdict is that it is a really good beer and one we’ll be drinking again if we get the chance.

The first thing that struck us was how much it looked and smelled like Voll Damm. It is, indeed, a very similar beer, albeit more complex.

Having got to know the aroma and flavour of Perle a couple of years ago, we were then struck by its obvious presence in this beer. (It helped that we’d read it on the label, too….) The big metallic, coppery smell of the beer reminded us (and this will sound weird) of blood. In a good way. On a less Gothic note, it also brought to mind one of the brasher alt biers, such as Diebels.

Once it began to warm up, the metallic quality of the Perle gave way to Saaz and, suddenly, we were reminded of Duvel. In fact, this beer has a big enough, fluffy enough, white enough head, and sufficient alcoholic poke (at 6.5%) that it could stand in for Duvel as an accompaniment for food.

Finally, in the dregs, with the beer a bit too warm, syrupy caramel won the day.

So, an excellent effort, which would be even better served in a nicer glass (we got a Guinness-branded pint glass) and perhaps in smaller 330ml bottles.

Bamberg revisited

You don’t need us to tell you about the pubs in Bamberg. I’m sure you’ve all “been there, done that”, and if not, you’re planning to.

That said, I don’t think you could ever “do” Bamberg. If you stuck to just “doing” the brewery taps, you’d miss out on lovely cosy pubs and idyllic beer gardens in and around the town. Then there are all the pubs with brews from nearby villages, then day trips to places like Buttenheim, Forchheim, Eggolsheim… then the hundreds of pubs in surrounding villages.

We don’t want to bore you with all the beers we had in Bamberg this time round, but here are our top five drinking experiences, in no particular order.

1. Lunch at Griefenklau Greifenklau

You don’t hear much about Griefenklau Greifenklau – I don’t think I’ve seen their livery outside of their outlet on Laurentziplatz. We suspect the locals want to keep this one to themselves. It’s a fair hike up a hill, but definitely worth it, as the beer garden is beautiful, with great views across the wood to the Altenburg. It’s a very mixed crowd, from grandparents with children to business people. The beer is very fresh and satisfying. Possibly not the most complex in town, but with a garden like this, who cares?

A similarly beautiful spot is the Spezial Bier-Garten on Steinwartstrasse (listed in the Bavaria Lonely Planet guide). You can’t beat this place for the view across town, especially at twilight. The beer itself is very subtle –- you only notice the smoke flavour when it warms up a bit. And they don’t do the full range of Spezial beers — you need to go to the outlet on Obere Koenigstrasse for that.

2. Mahrs Brau Ungespundete

This was the first beer of the holiday that made our eyes pop out and caused us to make ‘mmmmm’ noises (perhaps we’re getting jaded?). It’s copper coloured and extremely fruity, with peaches, cherries, cloves and liquorice. There’s a good hop flavour as it goes down, which balances the roastiness and oakiness. They also do a lovely weizen, which is (without being advertised as such) a bit smoky.

3. Reacquainting ourselves with Schlenkerla

We’ve been drinking Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Maerzen from bottles in London during the last year or two and, although we always enjoy it, it sometimes seems a bit one-dimensional. Not as fresh as it is from the tap, where the crazy smokiness is just one flavour beautifully balanced with a lot of others. We sat outside under a tree, listening to a university orchestra rehearsing in a nearby building, and sighed with contentment.

4. Discovering Keesmann Stern-la

Keesmann are another brewery we’d not heard much about. Their beers are on the commercial side — a bit ‘cleaner’, maybe — but we were very impressed by Stern-la. It’s an unfiltered lager but was very clear in the glass and a dark golden colour, with a lot of sweet malt flavour. We’d expected something as rubbish as, say, Ingolstadt’s Ingobrau and it’s always a treat to be pleasantly surprised.

5. Afternoon session at Klosterbrau

You know how much difference a pleasant waiter can make? Our waitress on the sunny afternoon we spent here was great. “Nice beer?” she asked with a smile as we swooned over the seasonal bock. “Yes!” we said. She smiled and looked delighted. “All is well with the world,” we said to each other several times. Although the bock might have had something to do with that, too.
Notes

As is usually the case, Ron‘s guide to Bamberg pubs is a great place to start researching your own crawls. Links have been included where appropriate, but neither Keesmann nor Griefenklau Greifenklau seem to have a homepage. UPDATED. Griefenklau don’t have a homepage but Greifenklau do.

The Session: Doppelbocks

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s session is hosted by Wilson at Brewvana, one of our favourite beer blogs. Wilson says:

I want to learn about doppelbocks, and so the sky’s the limit: write about doppelbocks however you see fit. History, reviews, pairings, pictures, poetry and experiences. All of it.

This time last year, we hadn’t heard of a doppelbock and didn’t really know what a bock was. A year on, and a two week trip to Germany later, we’re still not much wiser.

You get light, amber and dark bocks (and doppelbocks). The strengths vary (the “doubleness” is relative to the other beers in a particular brewery’s range, as far as we can tell). The same goes for bitterness — sometimes, it’s all sweet chocolate, and other times there are perceptible hops. Maltiness is key, in doppelbocks doubly so — but that’s about the only unifying feature, and it’s pretty broad as to what it allows you to do. It’s not so much a style as a state of mind and a way for the brewery to say: You’re getting something really special here.

Handily, most German breweries give their doppelbocks a name ending in -ator, as homage to the original Salvator (now produced by Paulaner).

Incidentally, Salvator is about the only doppelbock easily and regularly available in London (i.e. you can get it in a couple of pubs). It amazed us the first time we had it, but we’ve since come to find it rather on the sweet side.

Onto some doppelbocks we’ve enjoyed in the past year. “Alligator” is produced by brewpub Der Koenig von Flandern, in Augsburg (Bavaria). This is a lovely pub, with two other decent brews and good food. But the Alligator stood out; it was 7.2% and reminded us of chocolate liqueur. Great name, too. It also boasts “19% Stammwuerze”. Does anyone know what this means?

We’re told (by the brewery among others) that Weltenberger Klosterbrau Asam-Bock is also a doppelbock, despite not following the naming convention. We had this a couple of times during our last trip. I remember that we loved it, and my notes say “Rich, chocolatey, treacley with a bitter aftertaste. Like an imperial stout but not as heavy. Perhaps a cross between imperial stout and Salvator. Or a chocolate orange.”

Another great doppelbock from a great brewery was “Operator” by Herrnbrau in Ingolstadt. We think this was a seasonal special, as there’s no reference to it on the website. We don’t have particularly detailed notes on this one: “dark & sweet, bit chocolatey, strong, delicious”. Don’t think we’re going to win any beer-writing awards with that review, but we definitely enjoyed it a lot. Herrnbrau produce lots of great beer, with wheatbeers that are more bitter than those of their Bavarian competitors, and a number of seasonal specials. Pity you don’t seem to see them much outside Ingolstadt.

goosinator.jpgFinally, we got a bottle of Left Hand’s “Goosinator” especially for the Session. This is a smoked doppelbock, according to the label, and is bottle conditioned. They’ve made up some half-arsed story on the back of the bottle for the origin of the name, to disguise the fact that all the best -ator puns with real words have been taken.

Well, it’s an interesting creature. Bailey loved it, and I wasn’t so convinced. It has a slightly smoky and pleasant malty aroma, then a range of flavours as you taste: a hint of chocolate, then a whopping malt kick (soggy cornflakes?), then the smoke layer and then some smoke and hop bitterness. For me, the differing flavours didn’t quite hang together, but they floated Bailey’s boat.

Notes

Links to the breweries are embedded in the article. Most of the German ones are in German only, unfortunately.

Damm good beer (ooh… bad pun)

akdamm.jpg In both France and Spain, the label “beer from Alsace” or “Alsatian beer” is used to imply that the stuff in the bottle will be a bit more strongly flavoured, better crafted and purer. In short, it will be almost as good as German beer.

In practice, there’s very rarely any real difference in style or quality. One Spanish brewery that justifiably trumpets its Alsatian roots, however, is Barcelona’s Damm, whose beers are a cut above those of many of their competitors.

Their well-known Estrella Damm is a fairly typical bland Spanish lager, but unlike similar efforts from Mahou, San Miguel and Cruzcampo, it’s actually pleasant tasting. Of all the commonly found Spanish lagers, it has the most body and the strongest malt flavour. The one to go for if you’ve got a choice in a Spanish bar.

volldam.jpgTheir flagship beer is the Germanically named Voll-Damm. It’s a dark golden, full-bodied 7.2% (DN) German-style special beer whose label makes some bold claims: “The Genuine Beer Character”; “Das Originale Maerzen Bier”. Hmmmm. First brewed in the 1950s, it might struggle to convince a court of the truth of that last claim. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic beer, by any standards. We had one shortly after a bottle of Salvator, and the taste was remarkably similar, even if the colour was not. The nicest tasting Spanish beer we’ve found, if not one to knock back lots of in the blazing sun. Spanish residents can even join a Voll-Damm fan club and declare themselves Volldammistas.

Finally, there’s the fancily packaged A.K. Damm, which is named after the brewery’s founder, August Kuenstmann Damm, an emigree from Alsace. It’s not strong (4.8%), but it does have a (just about) discernible hop character and a really solid malt base. There’s also something fruity in the yeast — we were reminded of one of the more ale-like Koelschs. It’s worth noting, too, that when we had two bottles brewed six months apart, the newer bottle was much better.

The one that got away — the Damm beer we have yet to try — is Bock-Damm. It’s not a Bock, but a dark Munich style lager.

It’s good to see a Spanish brewery taking the trouble to produce a range of different styles, even if all of them are pasteurised and filtered half to death.