Bock: A Beer Worthy of its own Festival

With the 22nd Annual Fitger’s Bockfest just around the corner, we thought it would be fun to dig in and learn a bit about where this beer style came from and why it has continued to inspire its fans to celebrate the coming of spring.

A Brief History of Bock Beer

By Dave Grandmaison

What is Bock Beer?

According to the German Beer Institute, “Bockbiers rank among the heaviest and maltiest, yet smoothest, brews in the world”. The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) website has a lot of great information on the style but in general terms, Bock beer is a strong copper or brown colored lager with a malty aroma and a toasty, caramel flavor. Well-known sub-styles include maibock (helles bock, heller bock), doppelbock (double bock), and eisbock, a much stronger version made by partially freezing the beer and removing the ice that forms. “Like British barley wines, they are very rich and should be sipped, not guzzled“. So pop the top off a bottle of your favorite Bock and sip away… we’re about to learn a bit about the origin of Bock beer.

Where did Bock Beer Originate?

Lake Superior Brewing Split Rock Bock

Einbeck MapThe earliest origins of today’s modern Bock are traced back to northern Germany, in the Lower-Saxon town of Einbeck all the way back in the middle of the 13th century. At that time, Einbeck had become well known for its most important export – a strong dark ale made from wheat and barley that was intricately tied to the economic welfare of just about everyone in town and to a larger economic organization called the Hanseatic League.

One of the main importers of the Einbeck brew was the House of Wittelsbach – residents of Munich and the ruling family of Bavaria. As you can imagine, brewers in Munich were probably not to thrilled that the ruling class was spending so much money on imported beer. Through some sort of political finagling the decision was made to start brewing an Einbeck clone in Munich at the site of today’s Hofbräuhaus. That decision virtually ended the flow of beer into (and money out of) Munich.

As the German Beer Institute describes, “In 1612, he [Duke Maximilian I] enticed an Einbeck brewmaster, Elias Pichler, to come to Munich as an employee of the Wittelsbachs and brew a beer even closer to the real thing. Under Elias’ guidance, and in accordance with prevailing Munich brewing practices, the famous Einbecker strong ale metamorphosed into a strong lager, the kind of Bockbier we know today. The first strong Munich lager brewed the “Einbeck way” was dispensed at the Hofbräuhaus in 1614. The Bavarian dialect soon mangled the name Einbeck to “ayn pock” and, eventually, to “ein Bock” (one Bock). And that’s how the Bock got to Bavaria.

Crafty brewer poaching move there Max!

The Seasonality of Bock Beer

Bocks are hefty seasonal beers (somewhere between 6% and 12% ABV) that are traditionally brewed in October and left to lager (or rest) for months before being served during the season of Lent – the 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday – when in the old days, monks would fast in preparation for the coming Easter celebration. While the monks abstained from eating solid food during Lent, they definitely didn’t stop drinking. In fact, the monks believed that beer cleansed the body and the soul and, as a result, they produced (and consumed) a lot of beer – which, as they say, provided a very holy experience and brought them closer to God.

Well… it’s worth a try anyways.

Why We Celebrate Bockfest in Duluth

As anyone who’s survived a long Duluth winter will attest… spring is the most welcome of seasons in this here city. And as far as celebrations go, the Fitger’s Bockfest is one heck of a party. The Blessing of the Lake Superior Split Rock Bock Beer… the Polar Plunge… the Black Forest Torte Eating Contest… and the Team Beer Drinking Contest… this is a fun event that you’ll want to checkout.

Fitger’s Bockfest Details

Dates >> March 10th – 12th, 2016
Time >> 5:00pm – 8:30pm
Location >> Fitger’s Complex Courtyard

Bonus: Look for the person at Bockfest tending a fire and keeping an iron rod red hot. Bring your beer over and this person will stirs the rod into your beer. This causes the residual sugars (Bocks have lots of unfermented sugars) to caramelize and makes your beer even better tasting.

Fitgers Bockfest 2016

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If you’re interested in learning about beer styles and the unique flavors of The North Shore Craft Beer Scene, please visit our Brewery Tour Page and book a brewery tour with The Duluth Experience!

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