Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Designing a Great Bock Beer

Bock can be a confusing beer for the casual drinker. Sometimes it's light-colored (Maibock), sometimes it's dark, thick and rich (doppelbock), and sometimes it's sweet and incredibly strong (eisbock). Worse, the most widely available "bock" in the United States is Shiner Bock, which isn't even a bock (it's just another dark American lager, like Michelob Classic Dark).

This weekend, I went to a moderately well-stocked beer store, and could not find a single tradtional bock on the shelves. The closest thing I could find was Rogue's wonderful Dead Guy Ale, which is similar to a Maibock, but brewed with ale yeast, and a couple doppelbocks.

If I want a great bock, it seems I will need to make it myself.

There are 4 varieties of bock beer. Maibock is moderately strong, pale-colored version of traditional bock beer, with less malty flavor. Traditional bock is the original rich malty German lager, originally brewed in the town of Einbeck in the 1300s. Doppelbock is a dark, rich, malty loaf of bread in a bottle, developed by monks who wanted to get a full meal while avoiding solid food. Eisbock is doppelbock which has been concentrated by freezing and draining away the rich bock concentrate which did not freeze with the water.

I want to make the traditional bock. I've never made one, they're hard to find, and wonderful to drink.

In designing a homebrew recipe, you start with your malts. A good homebrew shop will have a selection of dozens of malts, some of which are meant to be the backbone of a beer (base malts) and some of which are meant to add flavors (specialty malts).

Some "traditional bock" recipes use a fair amount of pilsner malt, which is a (generally) high-quality, very pale grain that was developed in the 1800s and made it possible to make very light-colored lagers. It's a great product, but it wasn't around when bock beers were originally made, and it also needs to be boiled 50% longer than other malts to avoid developing a cooked vegetable taste and smell in the beer. While some award-winning bocks are made with pilsner malt, I'm not going to use it. Instead, I will rely on some of the other interesting European malts available.

The classic malt for bock beer is Munich malt, a slightly darker malt. Weyermann's is a good brand I can buy at my local homebrew shop, and it comes in a light and a darker version. For my 10 gallon batch, I will be using 15 pounds of the lighter version, 10 pounds of the darker version, and 3 pounds of Vienna malt, which is similar to Munich, but gives a bit of a toasted flavor I enjoy.

For hops, I will use just enough German hops to add enough bitterness so that the sweetness is not overwhelming. I will probably add 3 ounces of Hallertau hops, the first hop variety known to be cultivated. I will add them all at the beginning, so that the boil will drive off most of the hop flavor, which would only distract from the maltiness I'm going to be seeking in this beer.

For water, I will use good old Kansas City tap water, filtered through carbon to remove the chorine.

For yeast, I will be using a special variety from one of the big yeast companies, available only temporarily. It is called Hella-bock, and it should "produce rich, full-bodied and malty beers with a complex flavor profile and a great mouth feel." That's what I'm looking for, and I have a batch of Oktoberfest fermenting on it right now. After I keg that beer this weekend, I'll put the bock right on top of the yeast. The more yeast, the better for a strong beer like a bock, and there should be plenty of yeast left over after fermenting the Oktoberfest (yeast doesn't get "used up" when fermenting, it multiplies).

I'll ferment this beer in carboys (large glass bottles) placed in a chest freezer I converted to maintain a temperature of around 48 degrees, which is the temperature this yeast likes to work at. It should produce a rich, clean lager profile at the temperature, without any of the fruitiness or esters that an ale yeast might produce. After a few weeks of fermenting, I'll keg it and store it cold for as long as I can bear. If I were well-disciplined, I would save it for 6 months or more, but something tells me we will be pouring this one at our Mardi Gras party.

Any suggestions for improving this recipe? Any questions? I'll probably be brewing this one on Sunday - let me know if you want to come over and watch the process.

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