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The History of Bock

It All Started in Einbeck


Market place, Einbeck, Lower Saxony, Germany
Heinz Wohner/LOOK/Getty Images


Einbeck, Germany, a small city in Lower Saxony, is home to just one brewery, Einbecker. Both town and brewery have long histories that reach back into the middle ages and the two are inextricably tied together. Einbecker’s slogan presumes the reader is aware of this connection when it actually promotes the city and not the brewery: “Without Einbeck, there would be no Bock Beer.”

It’s an interesting slogan. One could be forgiven for believing that Einbeck invented the style of beer that we call bock. Although there's nothing untrue about the statement, it’s not quite so clear exactly when and where modern bock first appeared. Nevertheless, there surely would be no bock beer without Einbeck’s historical role in its development.

And indeed Einbeck is where we need to start to tell bock’s story. This small medieval city originally began as a resort for the nobles of Hamburg but grew to the point that in the early to mid-thirteenth century it was recognized as a proper city. Commercially speaking, this was a very fortuitous time for the city to come into its own. Hamburg was then an important member of a strong regionally based trading federation known as the Hanseatic League. Traditionally, power in Europe had flowed from the Church or was briefly taken by one or another medieval ruler until his neighbors banded together to bring him down. It would be a long time before the nation of Germany would come into existence but the growth of alliances, like the League, signaled a new sort of power - economic. As part of the Hanseatic League, Einbeck was able to realize the advantages of this new power.

Fortune smiled on Einbeck in another way. The city grew up right in the middle of a prime hop producing region at a time when hops were first being added to beer. Previously brewers added herb blends to beer. These proprietary blends were passed down verbally to protect their secrecy so the recipes for most such herbed beers are lost to us today. But given the rapidity and completeness with which hop beer replaced them, hops must have proved to be far superior to any of these herb blends both in terms of balance and preservation. And Einbeck was right there, brewing beer in the middle of a big hops field.

Einbeck’s fame as a producer of quality beer began to grow. With the strength of the league behind them, the brewers of Einbeck saw their beer shipped all over, even as far away as Jerusalem. In fact many of ports built separate depots exclusively for Einbeck beer because they received so much of it regularly. This is a testament not only to the appeal of their product but also to its quality in a time before refrigerated railcars – or just plain railcars – were ever conceived.

As beer producer, Einbeck held dominance until early in the seventeenth century when the League that supported it began to crumble due to the Thirty Years War, the rise of competing economic alliances in Holland and Poland and threats from rising powers in Sweden, Prussia and Denmark. Without the League and the support of its impressive trade routes, Einbeck beer couldn’t be shipped. But this was just the beginning of trouble for Einbeck brewers. Not too long after turn of the century most of the town burned taking the breweries with it. A new brewery was built but it burned down, too. It was replaced by two separate breweries that operated with some success until the 1920’s when they came together to form the Einbecker brewery which is still in operation today.
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