Winter To Spring: and Transitioning from Ale to Lager
March 25, 2013
By Jeffrey M. Gredlein
It is a bizarre time of year, possibly the strangest of all. The transition from winter to spring is often a rough one. As folks begin rousing from their hibernation, searching for those rare days of sun and 60+ degrees, Mother Nature is at her most schizophrenic. Flurries and blustery wind one day, rays of light and pollen the next. Damn woman.
It’s a wild and crazy in the beer world as well. Most of you know that I’m partial to ales, and this warm-fermented type of beer makes up the bulk of winter offerings. As we move toward summer, the lighter and lager options abound. But what to do about early spring? The lager beer made for March is a family of German favorites – Bock.
Bock is a lager beer of strong flavors, rich amber colors and higher alcohol content than many of the other styles of Germany’s lagers. Malts dominate the flavor, with sweetness to varying degrees, but they offer little or no noticeable hop presence. Alcohol is typical in taste and smell, but blends well with the strong malt content of the beer. Although the color, taste, mouthfeel and alcohol level may make these beers seem like an ale, bocks are bottom-fermenting lagers, but they take quite a bit longer in the cold storage than your typical yellow lager beer.
The bock family contains quite a few different varieties, including Maibock, Traditional Bock, Doppelbock, and Eisbock. Whereas Maibocks (May bock) are lighter and hoppier, the strongest are Eisbocks that employ a method of freezing off a portion of the liquid, mostly water, from the beer, to concentrate the remaining product.
Bocks, especially doppelbocks, are great ‘transition’ beers from winter to spring. Malty, dark and rich, yet they are lager beers, so they will have a certain zing about them that the cold fermented kind of beers do, a carbonation and bite that ales tend to lack.
Still, these lagers will contain a huge amount of malt, noticeable in all aspects of the beer. Hops are rarely perceptible, with sweetness being obvious. Colors are frequently thick and deep ruby or brown. Dopplebocks will have a definite alcohol presence.
These hearty and powerful brews were considered a ‘liquid bread’ of sorts, and were an even bigger version of the bock lagers that were served during the spring. The style first brewed by the monks of St. Francis of Paula, and made specifically to help them through the fasting during Lent, would come to be known as the style of beer we today call doppelbock.
The original doppelbock was Paulaner’s Salvator. However, the gold standard for doppelbock and one of the world’s great beers is Ayinger’s Celebrator from Brauerei Aying in Germany, a 6.7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) beer that will not let you down as a velvet smooth mouthfeel plies one with molasses flavors over dark fruits, spice and a touch of earthy smoke.
While American brewed versions exist, they are often inferior to the German classics. The most widely available example is Boston Beer Company’s Sam Adams Double Bock, now a member of the brewery’s Imperial Series, clocking in at 9.5 percent ABV, it’s worth a shot, as is Great Divide’s Wolfgang doppelbock lager. For best results this spring, stick with ze Germans. Enjoy the brews … Cheers.
Gene’s Haufbrau has at more than 200 beers in bottles or on tap. While they don’t have every beer the Beer Snob writes about, they probably have most. Gene’s is located at 817 Savannah Hwy. 225-GENE. E-mail the Beer Snob at firstname.lastname@example.org.