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.

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.


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.