With winter dragging on, I felt like giving spring a kickstart with the traditional harbinger of spring – bock.
Back in the day before the beer evolution/revolution, when brewing was still a mystery to many, the folklore was that the darker bock beer was a result of spring cleaning at the brewery. Bock was the stuff cleaned out from the bottom of the brewery tanks, so the old story went.
I certainly heard that story long before I knew anything about beer because despite changing tastes, some Wisconsin breweries continued the German tradition of releasing a bock beer in the spring, and before the craft beer evolution/revolution, we looked forward to the release of bock beer by Stevens Point, Joseph Huber in Monroe and Leinenkugel’s in Chippewa Falls.
Bock was probably first brewed by German monks for Lent – a strong, dark and rich lager to sustain one through the Lenten lean times. It caught on with secular brewers as a spring offering.
At some point in Germany – as is the case with many German beer styles – the bock style was associated with a city, in this case, Einbock, which apparently translates into something about a goat (I dropped out of German in college – couldn’t stand all the hacking consonants). Because of that, goats have always been associated with bock beer, as evidenced by the 19th century American ads for bock accompanying this piece.
So, on impulse, I wanted bock for my own spring celebration.
The first thing I see is Hinterland’s Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock, which I first mentioned a few months ago is a world-class beer that tastes like adult candy – $7.99 for a pint bottle, and worth every penny.
That sat at the top of the list as I looked around for other bocks. Huber Bock, which has been made year-round for years now, was there in 12-pack bottles. I’m a longtime fan of Huber Bock, and fondly remember being able to get it for $5.39 a returnable case in Oshkosh in the early 1990s, but it wasn’t what I was looking for right now.
Then I saw it – Leinenkugel’s Big Butt Doppelbock, $7.99 for a sixer. I was almost bowled over by a wave of nostalgia.
When this beer was first released by Leinie’s in the ’90s, those of us riding the wave of the burgeoning craft beer market were bowled over by the audacity of the name and the brew. Because this is a doppelbock – or double bock – it had more depth and character than Leinie’s regular spring bock.
The name, of course, referred to the springtime mating ritual of horned rams butting heads for dominance, and the label once reflected that, with two rams butting, but that visual reference has been removed. I forget when, and I haven’t been able to find any reference to it, but at some point Leinie’s stopped making Big Butt Doppelbock. And then it came back, but it was a pale reflection of the original Big Butt.
It had been years since I tried it, so, I thought, why not?
When I brought the six-pack up to the register, the bagger said loudly and incredulously, “Big Butt Doppelbock?”
“That kind of talk could get you fired for sexual harassment,” the checkout lady said to him.
So, while it remains an audacious name, the beer itself is bock lite. Forget about doppelbock. This stuff is light for regular bock.
It has a great flavor and is clean and obviously, as the label states, “carefully brewed,” but it just does not have the depth of character it once had, and that anything calling itself a doppelbock should have. The bock flavors are there, but they dissipate quickly in high effervescence.
The next day I went back for a bottle of the Hinterland Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock, just to get my mind right.