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The History of Bock

Bock's Babies - Dunkles Bock, Doppelbock, Hellesbock and Maibock

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Doppelbock

It’s easy to assume that doppelbock, or double bock, developed when a brewer produced a bigger bock. But this isn’t the case. Doppelbock developed quite on its own and only after it became popular did the bock comparing nomenclature appear.

Munich means “the home of monks” and it was so for the followers of St. Francis of Paula. These vegetarian monks from Italy observed two fasts each year – one during Lent and one for the month leading up to Christmas. It has often been told that European monks of this time relied on dark beers to sustain them through their long fasts and these Paulaners were no exception. They developed a particularly dark beer with a lot of protein and carbohydrates carried over from the mash that served them well during the times when solid foods were prohibited.

When the beer became available to the Munich public, they noted its superlative similarities to bock and began calling it doppelbock. The Paulaners had always called it Salvator and this is the name still applied to the beer made by the Paulaner brewery.

The name Salvator is another unsolvable mystery. Some say that the monks referred to their sustaining and gladdening brew as Saintly Father Beer or Sankt-Vater-Beir from which Salvator derived. Another theory states that it comes from a passage in the Paulaner’s benediction, “ad sanctum Salvatorem.” How it made the leap to beer in this scenario, I don’t know.

Hellesbock and Maibock

Hellesbock is a product of the same nineteenth century brewing revolution that gave us pale ale and Pilsner. It is a much paler beer but retains a lot of the flavor and alcohol levels of father bock. Unlike doppelbock, hellesbock appears to have been a deliberate attempt to alter or improve bock. Not only did hellesbock and its seasonal sister, maibock, create much loved sub-styles for themselves but their existence necessarily changed the name of bock itself. Bock, considerably clearer and lighter in color than other contemporary beers when it was first brewed centuries before, was now the darker beer. So bock, in contrast to hellesbock, is now known as dunkles, or dark, bock.

Hellesbock shows the mastery of German brew masters. A good helles will deftly walk the line between pale color and lots of flavor. The processes that filter or reduce color also reduce flavor so this can sometimes be a hard balance to strike. Helles also tends to have a bit more hops than dunkles and doppelbock. Maibock is basically a specially brewed Helles. It is seasonal and shows up during the spring months, thus the name May-bock. It is pale like Helles and can be a bit spicier.
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