Category Archives: bock

Endless Adventure

I have a very ancient refrigerator in my house. This Norge is over sixty years old. All the plastic fixtures have broken off, so the metal shelves have disappeared, except for those found on the door. But the thing about this ancient decaying monument to American appliances is that it still works. And it is cold. So much so that storing stuff in the back can make things icy. Thus, the cold storage locker has been given a name, it is affectionately known as The Lagerator.
People who come over for a sampling session are surprised that I place bottles or cans outside the lagerator for minutes before opening. And even now, in 2016, you would be surprised how many people still drink ice cold beer, no matter what. So it was indeed a pleasure to obtain the Samuel Adams Adventures In Lager and store it in the lagerator.

This is an impressive collection. First off, there is Samuel Adams Double Black. An amped up version of their Schwartz bier style black lager. This is black bier and then some. A very lovely dark pour that has plenty of the delicious malt complexity associated with this cool cave style. Simply outstanding.

For those folks fascinated by hops, there is Ella Blanc India Pale Lager. Which is a very good example of the creative possibilities produced by the brewers of the Boston Beer Company. Here is a hop showcase for their lager yeast, using Australian Ella hops along with Hallertau Blanc hops from Germany, creating many flavor notes that are surprisingly complex. The body and texture is quite good, utilizing pale malts and flaked oats to tasty advantage.

Keeping it real, as it is said in modern vernacular, there is Double Pilsner. This is SA’s imperial version of Samuel Adams Noble Pilsner (also included). A full bodied, tawny coloured pour, which is a loving tribute to the ancient Hallertau Mittelfrueh hop. There is nothing small about this 8.6 ABV  lager. Except a small reminder to proceed with delicious caution, because the alcohol is nearly invisible.

It is with great joy to see the return of Samuel Adams Double Bock. A legendary recipe in the Sam Adams portfolio. This beer is the meaning of the term liquid bread. Take me bock. Take me all the way bock. Take me way way way bock! Need I say more? I will always love this beer.

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Goodbye To All Of What

America has a tradition of running things into the ground. Anybody remember Jim Fixx? The joy of running guru headed the jogging craze until he fell over dead one day working out. Then enthusiasts started to consider walking instead.
Strangely this perception came to mind when I perused the latest batch of hop bombs, hatching out of the sprawling American brewing industry. As a beer writer, some would rightfully say ancient beer writer, I find it difficult to write about these beers. Flavourful? Yes. Often in a sledge hammer sort of way. But imaginative? Not really, in fact after I became acquainted with the citrus- bitter profile (there are so many of them) it becomes downright boring, with the buzz of high alcohol in the case of Imperial and Double IPA, off-setting any other considerations.
This is where a kind of Gresham’s Law of brewing has taken place. Just follow the money. How else can you explain all the IPA varieties being produced by Boston Beer Company’s Samuel Adams? Sampling their Rebel Rouser I realized the hop-forward juggernaut is unstoppable. Even the venerable Matt Brewing Company has succumbed to this criteria. Why? Because that is where the money is. Ask Yuengling or Leinenkugel’s about their India Pale Lagers.
So it is pointless to seek out and provide coverage for those expensive grapefruit-citrus-bitter concoctions rolling out of America’s breweries nearly everyday. Thankfully there are still malt forward beers being produced, but they have become more difficult to find. Take Bell’s Consecrator Dopplebockbockbell Easily one of the best American dopplebocks available. An expertly used old world yeast lets this malty spring tribute speak for itself.
Here in Cincinnati, the pride of its Germanic roots shines in Christian Moerlein Emancipator Dopplebockmoerlein_emancipator
An easy drinking celebration to the end of Prohibition, this modestly strong (6.9%) beer is a beautiful reminder that the spring bock tradition is still alive and well. Bock your house tonight.
But things like bock, dopplebock, brown ale, black bier, milk stout, are no longer in vogue. Bitter citrus tropical have become the vocabulary of the craft beer wunderkinds. Am I crying in my beer? Yes I am. So many recipes are coarse and shallow. Sadly, so many will purchase this outlook (session IPA anyone?) and will never know what truly great beer actually tastes like. So much for all this hoppy mediocrity.

Old And New Brews That Are True

One of the benefits of being a beer seeker for 30 years is you get to experience trends in brewing that have been in decline, suddenly appear brand new. Take the style known as Roggenbier, a medieval ale, as the German Beer Institute points out, made with rye malt. Abandoned for centuries, this ale style is undergoing a revival in the United States, and now receiving national attention, through the introduction of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s latest seasonal, Ruthless Rye IPA.

The use of rye malt in brewing has quite a history. In Finland, Sahti is produced using rye combined with juniper berries. In Eastern Europe, Kvass was created as a very low alcohol drink that existed before the invention of modern soft drinks. Rye malt has been around for a very long time, although mostly unnoticed.

With Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA, you have a dark copper-coloured pour with a spicy nose. With a first drink, the rye becomes quite apparent. Sierra Nevada’s famous hops personality is given a twist here. The peppery notes from the rye abound in this recipe, while the extensive use of whole hop cones, combine with the malts to deliver a complex tasting experience. This has a bit of a bite in the long dry finish, which may be somewhat of a shock to a younger hop focused audience. Thankfully there is also full malt support for the hops abundance. Very well achieved flavour complexity that is astounding in its uncompromising quality.

The old and new combine in interesting combinations. Nowadays, there is all the talk about the craft can beer revolution. But I think back to 20 years ago when friends I knew could not believe I was enjoying beer out of a can. And when they tried what I was drinking, they were quite surprised to find they enjoyed it too. That was Genesee Bock Beer from Rochester, New York. They could not believe such a tasty beer came out of a can. I offered up the thought that the Ball corporation made very good aluminum cans, but that wasn’t the answer. The recipe dated back to 1951, but that was just modern production history, for actually Genesee Bock dates back to 1878.
What a joy it is to have this year’s batch of what is quintessentially an American classic. A flavourful can of beer, long before that notion was even considered cool.

The Constancy Of Change

Now don’t be afraid children if I tell you what it was like in the before. The before meaning that time before anyone used the term craft beer. A time when a bud never meets a stranger and imported Heineken was considered exotic. A time when, as Fritz Maytag pointed out, when beer was reduced to a lowly commodity where all of a brewery’s personality was expunged. Even being faithful to recipe formulas became suspect. Such was the case when marketing geniuses at Schlitz decided that cutting back on ingredients meant they could sell more beer. Not exactly. A fiasco that knocked the beer that made Milwaukee famous from its perch of Number 1 beer in America, which they abdicated to Anheuser-Busch Budweiser, never to be regained.
This has happened on many occasions. Many struggling regional breweries attempted the same thing. Offering new and improved versions of their brands, only to have their loyal drinking customers ask: what in the world is this?
 Not a happy time to be sure, when beer became just an alcohol delivery platform where you had to watch out! for the Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull.  All culinary connections nearly evaporated. Yes, this was the way it was in most of the beerscape: watery, pale golden and bland. Beer seekers had to go to great lengths to find something more tasty.
It is hard to describe what it was like, to a generation accustomed to seeing Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, nearly everywhere. There were a few brilliant exceptions. The long gone Joseph Huber Brewing Company made a delicious brew called Augsburger Bock. The six packs came with a bock marker that supplied some information:

“How did the name ‘bock’ originate? During the 1600’s, breweries in Germany had a fierce pride in the beers they brewed, particularly in Munich. Around 1614, news reached Munich that the beer in a northern German town–Einpoeck, today Einbeck–was clearly better. The Munich brewery quickly lured the Einpoeck brewmaster over, and to everyone’s delight, a heavy beer just like the one in Einpoeck was brewed. It became known as “Einpoeckisch” beer. Over the years, the word metamorphosed into “Bock”, but it always meant this very special, full-bodied beer.”

In the early 1980’s this was very rare, also stating: “To this day Augsburger Bock follows an original recipe laid down over 400 years ago. Aged a full 60 days before bottling. And made with only the finest of natural grains–a blend of of four roasted barley malts and imported German hops. Similarly, Augsburger’s rich Bock color is never darkened by caramelized syrups or food colorings. It comes from the sensitive heat treatment of the barley during the malting process. The result? A dark rich, flavorful Bock beer.”
Ending the bock marker with “Please let us know what you think”. Which in those pre-Internet days meant writing to Fred Huber, in Monroe, Wisconsin.

In fact, USP or snail mail was quite important 30 years ago. When Charles Finkel started the import company Merchant Du Vin, you were asked to write them in Seattle, Washington, and find out why that Samuel Smith Taddy Porter was so tasty. A pioneer in the beer revolution, Charles Finkel made a substantial contribution by marketing authentic beer styles, that at that time in the United States, were totally unknown. A good friend of the late Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, they partnered an advocacy for authentic beer that is very much with us today.
As someone who lived through and experienced those changes, I never take for granted all the brewing goodness available now. When I walk a block and a half to my local store I have incredible options when it comes to beer purchase, from Breckenridge to Hudepohl Amber to the Lion Stout from Sri Lanka.

The long haul it has always been on the road to great beer. Insane laws about alcohol strength prevented, and still does in some states, from many beers being sampled. Also equally insane, were laws that stated you couldn’t put a graphic depiction of Santa Claus on a Holiday beer because “it might appeal to children”.
I do say Thank You for the fact that much of this has changed. Beer is regaining the cultural and culinary respect it so richly deserves.

Bock Until The End Of The World

A brief respite from winter found myself recently sitting in neighbors’ backyard, where I said: “Of all the beer recipe styles, I think bock might have the most spiritual dimension.”
Part of this of course, was due to the Lenten Monk’s ‘liquid bread” connection. But that is only part of it. Another aspect is the connotation of bock being a celebratory, arrival-of-spring libation, designed to leave behind the heavy physical and emotional lifting of winter. All of this will do. Just seeing the return of these seasonal beers is a reminder that even before the so-called craft beer revolution, all American lager was not bland in taste.
In my own neck of the woods, Hudepohl-Schoenling, part of Christian Moerlein, has brought out Hudepohl Festival Bock, a pure beer recipe using Munich and Vienna malts, beautifully constructed by The Lion Brewery of Wilkes Barre, PA, for the Cincinnati based company. Complete with graphics of a beer goblet holding silhouette of Pan, America’s Great Small Brewery announces “Bock To Our Lips Spring In Our Souls”.
And a very tasty bock it is. Fresh and bright
, the malts are given ample hops support, making this a lively, pleasant drinking experience.

At this time of year, it would not be spring forward without the arrival of Genesee Bock. Always a shocker to those who never saw the funky green Ball aluminum can, with a young goat springing about in a patch of yellow flowers. An American classic, nearly 60 years old, modestly priced for abundant enjoyment, I have often realized: My God what a beautifully made recipe.

Another tradition being established is the annual arrival of Sierra Nevada Glissade, a Mai Bock (golden colored) presentation, uually associated with late spring, this is a very fine take on the style, with the nectar-like quality found in Munich versions such as the one made by Hacker Pschorr. The depth of brewing skill is revealed here, demonstrating that Sierra Nevada, despite a hop-centric personality as a brewer, has enough respect for brewing history to produce this great traditional style beer.

One of the great surprises this week, was not a bock, but the surprising appearance of Stevens Point Brewery’s 2012 Black Ale. This is a tribute to the end of the Long Count Calendar (1 year, 10 nonths, 2 days… as of this writing) from the Mayan Civilization, scheduled to end on December 21, 2012. As the label on the bottle states: The ancient Mayans developed a “Long Count” round calendar that ends ominously on December 21, 2012. This date is the inspiration for the name of this ale.
An incredibly smoothly balanced black beer. So easy to drink it is almost scary. Point well made.
Cheers and of course thank you.

The Beloved Return Of Holiday Beer

It’s still early. Halloween hasn’t even arrived. But the release of beers seems to go on forever. Case in point:  Samuel Adams Winter Classic Collection: probably the best selection ever for this annual sampler. For The Beer Doctor, there is not a single bad selection in the lot. As someone who has seen this offering over many years, I can honestly say this. Gone from the group was the always questionable Cranberry Lambic, which over the many years it kept reappearing I never met anyone who actually said they liked it. Gone too, are the thrown-ins from years past; the Sam Adams Light, the ridiculous lemon concoction known as Coastal Wheat, which was so bad that last year I abstained from buying the collection, which was sad, because that eliminated the possibility of drinking 2 of my favorites, Holiday Porter and Old Fezziwig Ale. Thankfully this year, that has been corrected. Joining these and the Winter Lager, is the extraordinary Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock and their Belgian style White Ale, along with their flagship brand, Samuel Adams Lager.
I often forget that my enthusiasm for flavorful beer often does not translate well to those unaccustomed to it. Watching people try these beers for the first time, folks who normally drink products like Bud Light, is an exhibition of bewilderment and complete surprise, especially upon discovering, sometimes for the very first time, that real beer actually does have real flavor. For the one quarter of the world’s beer drinking population who normally drink their Bud Light, this must come as a bit of a revelation.
The inclusion of the Chocolate Bock is a holiday treat. I have not been able to get over the focus of this recipe, using a bed of Ecuadorian dark  chocolate nibs to produce a smooth as silk chocolaty masterpiece.
Old Fezziwig Ale, their beloved Christmas wassail is always welcome. I remember when this first came out, over 15 years ago, when it was in a 25.4oz bottle. As welcome now as then, a delicious festive experience.
This is equally true of their London-style Holiday Porter. It is difficult to imagine winter without having this, at least once.
The White Ale, a very good take on Belgian Whit, is a more interesting version of the beer style gone mainstream by Coors Blue Moon. Very crisp and lively, and very easy to drink.
In fact, as I said, these are all good. A very auspicious sign for the coming holiday season.

THE UNKNOWN BELGIAN

It all started with a two and half year old bottle of Matilda. Goose Island’s stab at a Belgium pale ale. As stated on the label: “Flavor will continue to develop for five years”. Bottled on January 10, 2008, this Matilda is coming into the home stretch.

It is my own bias, having sampled many actual Belgian beers, but it seems many small American breweries think Belgium beer means simply the distinctive yeast which imparts the fruity-floral, somewhat musty aroma, that is generally associated with the taste. To be frank, some of the American takes on Belgium style ales are nearly wretched… especially if you take the trouble to discover the originals, which are often being so poorly imitated.
One of my earliest contacts with Belgium brew was Brouwerji Affligem. Brewers of the famous Affligem Noel. So long ago in fact, I remember when they released a second Christmas ale known as PATER’S VAT, a rare dry hopped production in those days (but more on than a little later).
With the very kind assistance of  then- importer Jeff Dafoe, I was introduced to some of the finest Belgian beers I have ever tasted. Brasserie d’Achouffe, producers of La Chouffe and  Mc Chouffe, along with seasonal offerings: Bok Chouffe and N’ICE Chouffe. They have recently  added an India Pale Ale style to their portfolio known as Houblon Chouffe.
Brasserie La Binchoise produces two of the most remarkable ales I have ever tasted. Biere des Ours or beer of the bear, is, in the Beer Doctor’s opinion, the best honey brewed beer in the world. There is nothing I know of, in commercial production, that comes anywhere near its flavorful depth.
Then, to move on to even a greater moment in my personal beer tasting history, I arrive at La Binchoise Speciale  Noel, one of the greatest holiday events I have ever experienced. A Belgian redefinition of what wassail is suppose to mean.
The champagne of beer is not Miller High Life, despite having copious foam. No, the real champagne of beer is DUVEL, the golden coloured strong ale from the Moortgat Family Brewery. As a consultant, I have suggested to New Year’s Eve party planners to serve Duvel as the ceremonial midnight libation. I’ve been told that no one suffered a headache the following morning.
Despite its international fame, and the fact that Duvel is available in 60 countries, Moortgat has not rested on its laurels. Instead, the last few years has seen the introduction of  Duvel Tripel Hop, a dry hopped version that not only uses the prerequisite Saaz and Styrian Golding hops, but also the distinctive American Amarillo.
There are so many chapters in the Belgium beer story. Trappist Ales, that is beers brewed by actual monks, as opposed to abbey style, are few and far between. One famous, or should I say infamous, is St. Sixtus, a Trappist ale made even rarer when mass media dubbed it ” the best beer in the world”. Despite the notoriety and demand, the monks refused to increase production or price. Said Father Abbot of the monastery: “We have to live ‘from’ and ‘with’ our brewery. But we do not live ‘for’ our brewery. We are no brewers. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.”
In Belgian culture, beer is food and an essential part of cuisine. So it is not surprising that the Van Steenberge brewery suggests you use their Gulden Draak as substitute for whiskey in Irish coffee. It is also recommended that this barley wine style blends well into stews.
Experimental recipes? With all due respect to Dogfish Head and associates, the Belgians have been on the cutting edge when cutting edge was not considered cool. Take Pink Killer from Brasserie de Silly, a whit style concoction that uses grapefruit juice. Or take the many exotic lambic styles that American brewers imitate but can never duplicate, not even close.
Which reminds me, this bottle of Matilda is Belgian like, but there is a sourness in the finish that seems strange. There are many American takes (or should I say attempts) to bring to this country the tastes of a sophisticated  beer-based culture. North Coast Brewing in California, is an old hand at this, producing their Pranqster and later, Brother Thelonious, a deliciously drinkable tribute to the great American composer-performer, Thelonious Monk. Ommegang, in Cooperstown, New York, which is owned by a Belgium brewery consortium,  produce a solid line of Belgian styles in their portfolio. The same can be said of the Allagash Brewery located in Portland, Maine.( Also of note at Allagash is their Hugh Malone Ale, a tribute to an Irish immigrant at the turn of the 20th century, who is now remembered as a pioneer of hop flavoring.)
Add to all of this, is Flying Dog Brewery’s Raging Bitch, a Belgian style India Pale Ale, and it is obvious that Belgian yeast is all over the place, not only in the U.S.A., but in Canada too.
But for now I am going to start paying attention to the originals again. There so many aspects I left out, like the sour red ale style of  Rodenbach? For a small country, Belgium has a very large, beer universe.
Peace and all the best,
The Beer Doctor