Beer styles Germany The Session

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.

7 replies on “Session #121: Bock! (Absence Of.)”

I tend to favour low to mid-range beers wherever possible, stronger beers are ok if they really pack a flavour punch, but if it just tastes like tramp juice, which the majority of Bock I have drank in Germany does, I don’t really see the point, unless your goal is to get slaughtered whilst maintaining enough of an air of sophistication that you convince yourself you’re not an alcoholic, you’re a connoisseur, like Randy in South Park.

A few more British brewers do (or have done) a Bock, including Batemans, whose B-Bock was – like the original Einbeck Bocks but not the modern Einbecker Bock – a strong ale, not a strong lager.

Now, whether there’s a difference between English strong ales and German strong ales, beyond the sources of the malt, water and hops, that’s a question…. 🙂

Pioneering beer writer Frank Baillie, mentions Dortmunder briefly in his “Beer Drinker’s Companion”, published in 1973, when he describes the main types of lager as: Pilsner, Dortmund and Munich. He states: Pilsner is pale in colour with a relatively high hop rate and is brewed with soft water. Dortmund is also pale, but with less hops and harder water. Munch is a brown aromatic type, with a fuller and sweeter palate. Different malts are used.”

As you point out, Michael Jackson also lists Dortmunder in his 1977 “World Guide to Beer”, although he also lists Vienna amongst the three lusted above. I don’t recall ever coming across a Dortmunder on my visits to Germany; although, to be fair, I haven’t been to Dortmund itself.

During the early 1980s “Beers of the World” craze in Halifax during my undergrad, we got a Dortmunder Union in stubbie bottles with fantastically thin glass. It was great. The Ohio based Great Lakes brewery (as opposed to the Ontario one by the same name) brews a Dortmunder as one of its regular staples. I recall Victory in Pennsylvania made a great bock full of plummy and cherry notes but, as you say, that’s not what the wee darlings want today: “if I wanted cherry notes in my beer I would have just added cherry jelly in the boil!”

Craft Beer Co (Islington branch) had a Doppelbock by Fyne on last Friday: Redolence. 8.7% of mid-brown well-bodied slightly oily gorgeousness.

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