Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beer History, doppelbocks

The world of beer is full of a lot of soft history. There's the romantic story of IPA's; the story of Dame Matilda losing her ring and a fish bringing it up; Bridget turning her bathwater into beer; that the Reinheitsgebot was a law to keep beer pure (instead of beer); that English Ale Connors had to sit in puddles of beer to check the gravity; there are romantic and usually false stories about most everything. It would be nice if those stories were completely true, there may be a bit of truth to each of them, but by and large, it's a myth.

Some of the beer stories are actually true. Russian Imperial Stouts were sent to the Russian court; beers became clearer with advances in glassware; and monks made doppelbocks to survive in Lent.

Bock beer started in Northern Germany in Einbeck. It is a lager or bottom fermented beer. Regular bock beers are generally darker than other varieties of lagers. Doppelbocks are literally, double bocks. Bock means "goat" in German, which is why you will often see a goat on a bottle of bock beer. Bocks usually have an ABV around 6 to 7%. It has a large malt presence, with little hop bitterness.

There are several different styles of bock beer, traditional, Maibock (hellerbock), doppelbock, and Eisbock (icebock) (that's another soft history story).

The first doppelbock was brewed by the monks of St. Francis of Paula in 1773, by a monk named Brother Barnabas. Paula became or is Paulaner. The beer was brewed for the Lenten season (which this year, started yesterday). During Lent, the monks were required to fast (not eat). They were allowed to drink. They were allowed to drink BEER! The monks didn't just drink beer, they also brewed beer. They knew that beer contained nutrients, so they figured if they used more ingredients they wouldn't starve during their Lenten fasts.

So the monks went to brewing, they added more of their dark malts and created a really thick beer. Modern doppelbocks normally range in ABV from 6 to 10% (with some much higher). Originally, the monks didn't make it that high of alcohol, they wanted to keep the sugars in the beer so they would get the nutrition from it, instead of the yeast getting it. That first doppelbock was literally "liquid bread", or in modern vernacular, a "pork chop in a can". Those first Paulaner monks named their beer "Salvator", stating that the beer was their savior (Salvator means "savior" in Latin).

For the first 7 years of Lent, Salvator wasn't allowed to be sold to the general public. That was changed in 1780. The monks sold it anyway.

Many doppelbocks have names that have the suffix -ator. This is in homage to Salvator. If you see a beer that ends in -ator, it's probably a doppelbock: Spaten Optimator, Tuch Bajuvator, Troeg's Troegenator, Augustiner Maximator, Hebrew Rejewvinator, Ale Asylum Bamboozleator, Destihl (in Bloomington) had Destihlinator, Bells Consecrator, Lefthand Goosinator, Dark Horse Perkulator.

There may be some soft history about the origin of doppelbocks, Einbeck Bock Beer was brewed in Hannover in 1352. There's no reason to believe that in the 400 years from Einbeck to to Brother Barnabas that no one ever made a thicker version of the beer.

Lent is the period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. People traditionally give up something for Lent. If you fast, go ahead and drink. If it's good enough for monks, it's good enough for you. Just try not to gain too much weight while you are fasting.

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