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Style Series: Doppelbock

In commemoration of craftbeerscribe.com eclipsing 4 years, it seems apt to revisit a “series” I created 3 years ago that never saw a second article. And since it’s a celebration, why not investigate Bavaria’s favorite beer for holiday revelry, Doppelbock and the Bock style in general.

What started as a light Ale in Northern Germany became known the world over as a hearty Lager, made for special occasions primarily in the winter and spring. Bock beer originates in the town of Einbeck, popularized by a brewery of the same name which was founded in 1378 and still in operation today.

In the early years, Einbeck’s brewery equipment was owned and maintained by the city, who hired professional brewers in town, though any of Einbeck’s citizens had the right to brew beer. In fact, the Einbecker Brewery claims that over 700 master brewers lived in town during the 1300’s. While this practice of community brewing wasn’t uncommon at the time (see the Zoigl tradition in the Oberpfalz region), the quality of their beer was extraordinary, resulting in great demand for it’s export to other countries and towns.

Einbecker Brauerei in the early 19th century – via einbecker.de

The success of Einbeck’s beer caught the eye of Munich’s Hofbräuhaus who in 1614 lured away master brewer Elias Pichler, to create a Bavarian Lager version of this North German phenomenon. Yet prior to Pichler’s arrival, the story often told is that imports of “Einbeck” beer were already being ordered in Munich as “ein Bock” (a Billy Goat) as a result of Bavarian pronunciation, purportedly giving birth to the synonymous imagery of goats and the usage of Bock as it’s name. The more modern and commonly accepted explanation for these associations and etimology is the Bavarian dialect’s version of Einbeck, or “Ainpöckische Bier,” was “Oanpock” or “Poeck” which eventually became Bock.

Pichler’s tinkering resulted in his creation of Maibock: a comparatively light Amber Bock which is not overly malty, but crisp, with light spice and/or floral notes at 6.3% -7.5% ABV. This is regarded as the first official Bockbier and now a popular seasonal offering which generally arrives in late April for spring celebrations in May.

History of Doppelbock

Meanwhile, at Bavarian monasteries (…for god knows how long) Franciscan monks were brewing up some darker & richer versions of what could be described as Bock, though seemingly with no direct correlation to the Ur-Bocks (Ur meaning original or primitive) of Einbeck.

The first accounts of what became Doppelbock originate with the monks at Neudeck ob der Au Monastery, located in Munich. These particular monks were part of the Order of Minims, founded by Saint Francis of Paula, who were often referred to as Paulist or Paulaner monks. And it just so happens that Munich, which in German is München, translates to “place of the monks.”

For 8 days, starting on the 2nd of April, they celebrated the Feast of The Holy Father, brewing what they called Sankt Vaterbier – or Holy Father Beer, and whatever wasn’t consumed by the monks was “served to the poor or in their cloister pub” in a courtyard on the monastery grounds.

Monks enjoying some Bock

As word got out, the townspeople of Munich would trek up the hill to the monastery to join in the celebration and over time, the name of this progenitor of the Doppelbock style evolved from Sankt Vaterbier into Salvator – also the Italian word for savior.

What the BJCP most recently defines as Doppelbock will generally range in ABV from 7% to 10% (some go as high as 14%!), yet the early batches brewed by the monks were created with sustenance in mind as they fasted through the season of Lent. So these beers actually clocked in at a much lower ABV, generally somewhere around 4.5% -5%. Though one can only presume that as this celebration beer grew in popularity and more secular, it’s ABV increased as well.

Following “a wave of anti-clericism,” the monks were forced to leave the monastery in 1799, which is briefly taken over by the Bavarian state, then later leased and ultimately purchased by brewer Franz Xaver Zacherl, who officially names the brewery Paulaner Brauerei.

Paulaner Salvator -via Paulaner Brauerei München

The popularity of what essentially became the Salvator-style resulted in a wealth of breweries in the region creating beers mimicking Paulaner’s now sturdy Bock. Following Zacherl’s death in 1849, his nephews Heinrich and Ludwig Schmederer took the reigns. After much growth and a reorganization in 1886, the brewery won the trademark for Salvator in 1896, claiming they needed to “protect their recipe.”

Since then, bock breweries – especially the Bavarian ones miffed by Paulaner owning the Salvator name, have since attached “-ator” to their beers which have universally become known as the Doppelbocks or double Bock. As the style gained more attention over the past few decades, craft brewers around the world and in America have often followed suit by using the -ator suffix for naming as well.

As for the defining characteristics of the Doppelbock style, BeerAdvocate describes it “as very food-friendly and rich in melanoidins reminiscent of toasted bread. Color is copper to dark brown. Malty sweetness is dominant but should not be cloying. Malt character is more reminiscent of fresh and lightly toasted Munich-style malt, more so than caramel or toffee malt. Doppelbocks are full-bodied, and alcoholic strength is on the higher end.”

Weihenstephaner Korbinian

Doppelbock Today

You’ll still find an abundance of German takes on the Doppelbock style that are available throughout winter and into the spring in Oregon. The classic Bavarian takes you can find in some grocery stores as well as finer bottle shops include Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel, Ayinger Celebrator, Paulaner Salvator, Spaten Optimator, and Weihenstephaner Korbinian. While not available in Oregon, one of the best American examples is Tröegenator Double Bock by Tröegs Brewing.

Buoy Beer’s Decapitator (2021)- a Barrel-aged Doppelbock

Breweries on the west coast and locally that have had a Doppelbock available over the past year include:

If any glaring omissions are present, feel free to comment here or on social media and I’ll be sure to get it included on the list!

These styles tend to be created by breweries that place particular emphasis on their Lager program. I was quite surprised to find how many local breweries have never brewed a Bockbier, much less a Doppelbock.

For further information on the Doppelbock style be sure to check out the most recent BJCP listing, Jeff Alworth’s Beervana Blog, the history of Einbecker Brauerei, the history of Paulaner Brauerei, and Doppelbock on BeerAdvocate.

2 thoughts on “Style Series: Doppelbock Leave a comment

    • Excellent! I’ll definitely have to check the Bock & Heller Bock out. Has Rosenstadt ever made a Doppelbock? Everything listed above is a Doppelbock, so that was the primary ask – i.e. what I may have missed. Thanks!

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