Best Bock Beers 2009

By AML Publisher
Photos courtesy of Bernadette Uzcategui

Bock beers pair best with sausages, schnitzels and cheeses like Gruyère or a smoky gouda.  Beer and cheese parties are all the rage around the Main Line and an innovative way to introduce Bock beers to your friends and family.

Bock beers pair best with sausages, schnitzels and cheeses like Gruyère or a smoky gouda. Beer and cheese parties are all the rage around the Main Line and an innovative way to introduce Bock beers to your friends and family.

I recently sat down with two of the Main Line’s top beer connoisseurs, Matt Guyer and Andy Dickerson, to learn about the fascinating history behind Bock beers. After an afternoon of tasting close to twenty of these intriguing ales, Guyer and Dickerson picked their elite eleven below–with a little input from the Bock beer novice, yours truly! If you are looking for the perfect seasonal lager to enjoy on your back porch on a lazy spring weekend, serve at your très chic beer and cheese cocktail party or pair up with mom’s Wiener Schnitzel, look no further than this great selection below.

Prost!
Sarah Lockard
AML Publisher

The Best Bock Beers 2009
Courtesy of Matt Guyer, owner of Wayne’s The Beer Yard & Andy Dickerson, co-owner and chef partner of Teresa’s Next Door in Wayne.

Bock

Traditional Bock beers offer a complex malty flavor dominated by the richness of Munich and Vienna malts, which contribute toasty flavors. Traditional Bocks have a low hop bitterness, usually enough to not overwhelm the malt flavors, allowing a slight sweetness to linger into the finish. The color of traditional Bock will range from a light copper to brown with a nice creamy, off-white head of foam.

Dynamic Duo TND co-owner/chef partner Andy Dickerson and The Beer Yard’s Matt Guyer

Dynamic Duo
TND co-owner/chef partner Andy Dickerson and The Beer Yard’s Matt Guyer

Pandora’s Bock
Breckenridge Brewery, Breckenridge, CO
www.breckbrew.com

The traditional Bock that gets the nod from Dickerson and Guyer is Breckenridge’s Pandora’s Bock. With a 7.5% ABV, it follows a custom Bock flavor profile, very mild in taste with a caramel base, as Dickerson points out. “Bock beers pair perfectly with German fare-sausages, schnitzels, veal and the like and most definitely mild cheeses. Dark chocolate can be a nice compliment with a beer, like this great one Breckenridge produces. It’s a beer that has broad appeal and is very good for a party crowd,” advised Guyer.

Maibock or Heller Bock

The Maibock style is a pale version of a traditional Bock. Frequently associated with springtime, ‘Mai’ is the German word for the month of May. Alcohol content ranges from 6.3% to 7.4% ABV. The flavor is typically less malty than a traditional bock, and may be drier, hoppier, and more bitter but still with a relatively low hop flavor, with a mild spicy or peppery quality from the hops or alcohol content. There is some dispute as to whether the Heller (“pale”) Bock and the Mai (“May”) bocks are the same style, but they are generally agreed to be the same.

Golden Fleece Maibock
Erie Brewing Company, Erie, PA
www.eriebrewingco.com

With a brilliant gold color and 8.5% ABV, the Golden Fleece Maibock made the cut. “Erie Brewing Company does a fantastic job with their seasonal beers and are, always, among my favorites. This has an alcohol tone to it, typically Maibocks are a bit on the dryer side which Golden Fleece definitely delivers,” said Guyer. Erie’s Maibock has a sweet malty flavor with a light hop finish. “It has a bready-malt up front and is very clean in its profile; I definitely taste aged hops on the other side. This is a very well balanced, well constructed beer,” said Dickerson.

“Bocks are sometimes akin to drinking a loaf of bread, these are complex and heavy beers...so they have to be treated in that fashion,” explained Guyer.

“Bocks are sometimes akin to drinking a loaf of bread, these are complex and heavy beers...so they have to be treated in that fashion,” explained Guyer.

Double Blond Maibock
Stoudt’s Brewing Company, Lancaster, PA
www.stoudtsbeer.com

Available from March through May from Stoudt’s Brewery, this spring is, unfortunately, the final hoorah for the company’s popular Double Blonde Maibock. With honey costs skyrocketing, the brewery has decided to retire one of their most successful seasonal ales. The four-time Great American beer festival winner and two-time World Beer Cup Winner, with a 7.0% ABV, Double Blonde is brewed with the finest two-row barley and a perfect touch of clover honey.

Scientists are still baffled by the sudden decline in honey bee populations, a phenomenon they started to notice in 2006 which is known as Colony Collapse Disorder. It’s having a direct effect on breweries which rely on honey as an essential ingredient for many specialized ales. “It’s a phenomenal beer, but now its cost prohibitive to brew this type of ale. Honey prices have doubled for me in the last year, they are exorbitant. And, maple syrup has gone through the roof. So, that has a huge effect on the beer industry,” explained Dickerson. Ideal with hearty stews and desserts, Main Liners can scoop up the last shipments of Double Blond at Guyer’s Beer Yard in Wayne (www.beeryard.com). “This is a very dangerous beer because it’s super drinkable and it has a decent ABV, it will sneak up on you. You have to watch yourself with Bock beers that are this clean-because they can fly by in a heartbeat. This Stoudt’s is definitely one I will miss,” said Guyer.

Domestic Double Bock

Referred to by the monks as “liquid bread,” Doppelbock or Double Bock is a Bavarian specialty beer that was first brewed by the monks of St. Francis of Paula in 1634. Alcohol content ranges from 6% to 10% ABV. Historic versions of Doppelbock had lower alcohol content and higher sweetness-most versions are dark colored, but pale renditions do exist.

Troegenator Double Bock
Troegs Brewing Company, Harrisburg,PA
www.troegs.com

Troegenator is a year-round beer from Troegs Brewing Company and a gold medal winner at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival. Renowned beer writer Lew Bryson (lewbryson.com) awarded Troegenator the title of ‘Best Beer I Had In 2004.’ The clever label, with a mythical grey-bearded man sporting horns, communicates this is a Bock that doesn’t mess around. With an ABV of 8.2%, Troegenator is a deceivingly smooth, strong lager with a subtle, dry spicy flavor profile.

Traditionally, Monastic brewers ended the name of their Double Bocks with a suffix “ator.” “This beer from Troegs proves once again what great beers can be found just in this area of Pennsylvania,” explained Guyer. With a bready malt aroma, chewy rich body and subtle spicy flavors, Troegenator’s big beer profile pairs best with traditional beef dishes, such as grilled steaks and hearty stews. It can also serve as a creative compliment to sweet, fruit-based desserts.

Fisherman’s Navigator
Cape Ann Brewing Company, Gloucester, MA
www.capeannbrewing.com

Fisherman’s Navigator is a winter seasonal produced by a Massachusetts brewery, thus the brand’s labels sports the classic yellow raincoat-laden New England fisherman steering his boat out to sea. “Double Bocks are a lot stronger, they are heavier in their malt content so you get a lot more sweetness. Contrast that with the two Maibocks we chose, which had more of an emphasis on aged hops which mellow the flavor out,” said Guyer. With Fisherman’s Navigator, its toasty biscuit, butterscotch flavor makes it a classic German style and easily pairs with a variety of fare. “Bock beers follow along the same path as far as what they present flavor wise, and how they match up with food. This is a narrow category of beer so this is not the same as picking Christmas ales-those can be all over the map. What we are looking at here, to determine if it’s a good Bock beer, is if it’s a well made and well constructed beer. We’ve had a few that were clearly not meeting the expectation of others so we won’t mention those beers,” said Guyer.

St. Victorious
Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, PA
www.victorybeer.com

Beer connoisseur Michael Jackson once deemed this Double Bock as “One of the best German-style Bocks made in the U.S.” A rich, dark lager of sublime complexity and character with a 7.6% ABV, St. Victorious is created from multiple German malts. “This is a phenomenal German-style beer, Victory keeps rolling out fantastic beers. St. Victorious is complex; the diversity of the malts used in this beer create a more rounded feel and a full bodied profile,” said Guyer. St. Victorious’s well known blond brother, St. Boisterous, is a very popular Maibock that Guyer can barely keep in stock once it’s delivered to the Beer Yard.

Sam Adams Double Bock
The Boston Beer Company, Boston, MA
www.samueladams.com

Part of the new Imperial Series launched by Sam Adams this February, which offers its beer lovers an intense version of an old favorite, the brewery has taken one of its most successful recipes and amped it up. On the market for twenty years and usually only available for a six-week stint, Sam Adams has decided to make their Double Bock available year round with the other big beers in the series. It’s a very high octane beer that uses half a pound of two-row malts per bottle and delivers a 9.5% ABV. With Sam Adams Double Bock, the brewery uses only the first runnings of two different mashes, so they don’t water down the grain to pull off trace sugars left in the mash. This makes for a very big beer that makes quite a statement. “Wow, this is very boozy! For years, this beer has been one of my favorite Double Bocks. It delivers a different profile than the other beers we are sampling because of the sheer amount of malt in it. That’s where the strong personality of this Double Bock stems from—because they use a lot of malt, it has more sugar in it and a much higher alcohol content,” assessed Guyer. Sam Adams Double Bock, with its deep mahogany color and intense flavor-profile complimented with citrus undertones, pairs best with rich meats (like quail, duck or pork tenderloin) and rich desserts such as crème brulee or cheesecake.

Imported Dopplebock

All three German Dopplebocks that Guyer and Dickerson recommend are available year round at the Beer Yard.

Paulaner’s Salvatore Doppelbock

Paulaner’s Salvatore Doppelbock

Paulaner Salvator
Paulaner Brewery, Munich,Germany
www.paulaner.de

This is the ale that, according to Guyer, put Bock beers on the map. Paulaner is a German brewery established in the early 1600s by a group of friars. The order and brewery are named after Francis of Paola, the founder of the order. This imported Dopplebock’s name stems from the Latin term, Salvator, which translates to ‘Saviour.’ “I’m surprised it’s pretty mellow-for 7.9% ABV, this could be dangerous. This is a good choice to put your training wheels on for Double Bocks,” said Guyer. With any Bock beers, Dickerson recommends pairing them with either mild cheese or stinkier cheeses, like a Limburger, Taleggio, or Muenster. (For beer lovers who appreciate a delicious, accommodating cheese plate with their lager, Teresa’s Next Door currently offers half-price off their cheese menu every Sunday night, one of the restaurant’s most popular specials to date.)

Optimator
Spaten Brewery, Munich, Germany
www.spatenusa.com

Spaten, one of the five major Munich breweries (the other four being Paulaner, Augustiner, Löwenbräu, and Hofbräu), brews Optimator—a Dopplebock that, in 2008, Joe Sixpack (The Daily News’ Don Russell) recognized as one of the top ten value buys. “It has a lot of malt, it’s heavier for sure and you can recognize the hint of molasses. I buy a case or two of Bock a year and take it home and work through it. Bock beers can have a six to twelve month shelf life. This is not the type of beer you pick up and watch with an Eagles game. Bocks are sometimes akin to drinking a loaf of bread, these are complex and heavy beers…so they have to be treated in that fashion,” explained Guyer. Optimator is sold in half-liter bottles, and should be poured into either a glass of that size or a one-liter stein. Boasting an 8% ABV, it’s meant to be poured with and consumed through a thick head of foam.

Dickerson gives a nod to Ayinger’s Celebrator, as his top choice for 2009.

Dickerson gives a nod to Ayinger’s Celebrator, as his top choice for 2009.

Celebrator
Ayinger Brewery, Aying, Bavaria
www.ayinger-bier.de

The Ayinger Brewery (pronounced “eye-ing-gr”) is a medium-sized German brewery located in Aying, Bavaria, about fifteen miles outside Munich. Ayinger beers have been frequent award winners in international beer competitions. Over $80 a case at the Beer Yard, it’s a top of the line treat and perhaps not the Bock beer you reach for all the time. Guyer acknowledged Ayinger as the ‘benchmark’ by which all Doppelbocks are judged. “It’s a very rich, very full-bodied beer and very stylistically correct. Ayinger is well known for their Doppelbocks. When I first received a case of Ayinger at the Beer Yard about ten years ago, I thought every bottle was broken, that’s because the signature plastic Billy goat charm (they are known for) was bouncing all around. I’ve had some customers say they drank a few cases of Celebrator and used the charm as a Christmas ornament!” With a 6.7% ABV, Ayinger’s Celebrator has been ranked among the best beers in the world by the Chicago Testing Institute. “I think this has the most complex, roasted flavor out of every beer we’ve had this afternoon, and is one of the best. I would choose this as my favorite of the bunch,” affirmed Dickerson.

Wild Card

Oaked Butt Head Bock, Tommy Knocker Brewery, Idaho Springs, CO

Oaked Butt Head Bock, Tommy Knocker Brewery, Idaho Springs, CO

Oaked Butt Head Bock
Tommy Knocker Brewery, Idaho Springs, CO
www.tommyknocker.com

Guyer strategically saved one of the most interesting Bocks (in name and style) for last. Hiding the label, I was asked to give my immediate feedback on the mystery ale. “I’m not so sure about this wine,” was my Freudian slip as my two partners in crime laughed. “Actually, you are not so far off the mark. This is a Bock beer that has spent part of its life fermenting in an oak barrel. So, it’s not so much a mistake to reference it back to smelling like a wine. What you are calling wine is the essence of the oak,” assured Guyer.

The newest specialty beer from Colorado’s Tommy Knocker Microbrewery, Oaked Butt Head Bock has an 8.1% ABV with a discernable smoky wood flavor. Guyer explained that American breweries are aging their beers in creative ways to set themselves apart from their European counterparts. “Now the Belgium brewers are producing American IPAs. That’s proof that, if you look at the big picture, the U.S. is developing an exciting niche. And, that’s why I chose this Bock beer to finish off our tasting-it is distinctly different than anything we’ve tried this afternoon and stands on its own.”

Teresa’s Next Door Bar is located at 126 North Wayne Avenue in Wayne, PA. TND is open Monday thru Thursday 4pm-1am, Friday and Saturday 11:30am-1am and Sunday 11am-3pm for brunch. Sunday dinner is from 3-11pm. Visit teresas-cafe.com or call 610-293-0119.

The Beer Yard is located at 218 East Lancaster Avenue Wayne, PA behind the Wayne Starbucks. Call 610-688-3431 for or you can email Matt Guyer directly at info@beeryard.com.

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Vince Says:

    Im a beeryard regular and know a lot about bock beers but appreciate the guidance and history

  2. steve beppel Says:

    Matt and the Beer Yard rock. great place to learn about new beers in the area. I’ll have to taste some of dese Bocks!

  3. ashley kopp Says:

    If you like Bock beer make sure you check out the Bock Festival and goat races (yes you read that correctly) at Sly Fox Brewery in Phoenixville on May 3.

  4. Anthony Says:

    Forget not the grand champion not for the faint of heart, Schneider’s Aventinus! Wheat doppelbock

  5. Anthony Says:

    For a less exotic option in the weizenbock mold, go to downingtown, pa’s victory for Moonglow…

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