What is a Bock Beer?

Image courtesy of German Beer Institute

Image courtesy of German Beer Institute

The quintessential spring beer is the bock beer. Some say they date back to medieval German monasteries who would brew strong beer for sustenance during their Lent fasts. Others say it comes from beer that was brewed during the sign of the Capricorn goat, which is why the goat is associated with bock beers. Regardless, bock beers are a symbol of the spring, a sign of life renewed, and a signature German beer style.

Bocks are bottom fermented lagers that take extra time to develop their robust malt character and dark amber to brown hue. Higher ABV than their lighter counterparts, bock beers usually run between 5.5-7.5% ABV.

Bocks can largely be broken into three different styles: the standard Bock lands around 5% ABV, stronger Dopplebocks (or Double Bocks) go up to 7% ABV, and Eisbocks start at 8% and go up to 14%. So, it should go without saying that these beers should be sipped and not taken to pound town. 

While Bock, Dopplebocks, and Eisbocks are the most common types, you can also find Weihnachtsbock (or Christmas Bock), Dunkelbock, Fastenbock (a specialty only brewed during Lent), Fruhlingsbock, which is the same as the Hellesbock or Maibock, G’frornes (a type of Eisbock from the city of Kulmbach), Urbock (bock beers from Einbeck), and Weizenbock (which uses 50% malted wheat).

Bock beers can be traced back to the middle of the 13th century in Lower-Saxon Germany in a small town of Einbeck. Einbeck was an important member of the Hanseatic League, which was an international trading empire comprised of hundreds of powerful medieval merchants. Einbeck became known for it’s strong malted dark ale made from wheat and barley. The entire town was somehow involved with the production of beer, which put it in direct conflict with the larger and more powerful Munich brewers. Bocks were a hit with the ruling family of Bavaria and residents of Munich, so much so that it was starting to become a noticeable factor in the Bavarian state budget due to the costs of importing the beer.

In 1590, Duke Wilhelm V started his own brewhouse 50 miles northeast of Munich to combat the growing demand and keep the money in the Munich area. By 1610, the locally produced Bock started to fully replace its northern cousin and by 1614, Hofbrauhaus had replaced the Einbeck with “ein bock” or “one bock”, which is what we drink today.