‘Tis The Season for Strong Ales

24 02 2010

Last Wednesday was the beginning of the Christian fasting season of Lent. For forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, many Christians fast or sacrifice a beloved activity. Many modern Christians give up alcohol for Lent. But that was not always the case. In the Middle Ages, much of the brewing in Europe was performed in monasteries by priests, monks and nuns.

Photo Credit: Sarah McD

While the clergy would abstain from food during lent, they would continue to drink beer as many water sources were not potable. In order to replace their caloric deficiencies, brewer monks would increase their mash sizes to boost their original gravities. That is why late winter and early spring are the traditional strong beer seasons in the brewing world.

In the Northern German town of Einbeck, monks would boos their mashes with an increased grain bill and a decoction mash technique. Decoction is a process where the brewer boils the grain in water in order to reach the correct scarification temperatures instead of adding boiling water to a grain bed. The result is higher efficiencies in converting carbohydrate starch into fermentable sugar. The style spread like wildfire becoming all the rage in the Bavarian brewing capital of Munich. The beer from “Ainpock” or “Oanbock” (Einbeck in the Bavarian dialect) was so popular, it was simply known as “Bock“. Bavarians wanted to know the secrets of bock beer so much, they even hired away on of the best brewers in Einbeck.

Photo Credit: Sarah McD Creative Commons

Over the years Munich perfected the bock technique. Its brewers were able to blow the beers up, boosting the ABV from 5-7% to 8-10%. These beers were known as dopplebocks (Double bocks). The name “dopple bock” is a bit of a misnomer as it doesn’t really have “double” of anything. However, it is known that dopplebocks are stronger than bocks. The Munich brewery of Paulaner, run by the monks of St. Paul, still brewed their beers for Lent. So it should come to no great surprise that they called their beer “Salvator” or “Savior.” Since then, Dopplebocks are usually named with an “-ator” in recognition of the Paulaner Salvator–the first dopplebock.

I don’t usually practice Lent. It is not in my spiritual tradition. However, my partner does. She is Catholic and you can read about her experiences with Lent at her blog, Mustard Seed Musings. This year, I have decided to have a “Lenten Experiment.” I am going to attempt to only drink bocks and dopplebocks  for Lent. If you are interested in drinking some good bocks and dopplebocks this year, please look below.

Notable bocks and dopplebocks:

Dirt Cheap:
Michelob Amber Bock, Shiner Bock, Spaten Optimator, Samuel Adams Double Bock, Weihenstephan Korbinian
Ayinger Celebrator, Paulaner Salvator, Moretti La Rossa, Rogue Dead Guy, Bell’s Consecrator
A Pretty Penny:
EKU 28, Schorchbock, Victory St. Victorious




2 responses

24 02 2010

I really enjoy your blog. The history and science behind the beer is what interests me the most. I’m just glad it tastes good too. Keep up the good work.

25 02 2010

Thanks for the feedback. I grew up in Costa Mesa. Your first post made me want to hop on the first flight back to John Wayne in order to try that place out!

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