Note: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, the Bock category was removed and the individual styles were split up among other categories.
In the most recent BJCP Style Guidelines of 2021 you will find the various Bock biers in the following categories:
- Category 4 – Pale Malty European Lager – Style 4C Helles Bock
- Category 6 – Amber Malty European Lager – Style 6C Dunkles Bock
- Category 9- Strong European Beer – Style 9A Doppelbock & Style 9B Eisbock
- Category 10 German Wheat Beer – Style 10C Weizenbock
What Is a Bock?
Put quite simply, a Bock beer is a strong beer from Germany, usually a darker lager. Several sub-styles exist which is where the Bock style can often be confusing.
The Bock beer is one of the most diverse German beer styles with sub-styles including:
- Maibock (May Bock) is a paler, more hopped version of the Bock generally produced for consumption at spring festivals. With its lighter color, it’s also referred to as a Heller Bock from the German word for light – hell.
- Doppelbock (Double Bock) – a stronger and maltier version of the Bock.
- Weizenbock (Wheat Bock), a Bock bier which use 40% – 60% wheat in its grain bill.
- Eisbock (Ice Bock), normally the strongest of the Bock family, undergoes a process of freeze distillation with the ice that forms being removed.
Traditional Bocks were generally brewed using Vienna and Munich malts, although many of the sub-styles will now add different malts or grains depending on the style of beer required.
For example, a Maibock will use less of the darker and caramel malts, perhaps using more of a pilsner malt or Light Crystal malt for the paler colors.
A Weizenbock, as the name suggests, will use more wheat grains than your traditional barley-based Bock.
Continental hops, especially the German Noble hops, are known for their milder character, resulting in a lager that is cleaner, rounder, and less harsh than some other continental European lagers.
The processes of boiling and mashing tend to be longer when brewing a Bock to help bring out flavors of caramel and melanoidin. Fruit flavors are normally kept to a minimum just like the hoppiness of these styles.
The History of the Bock (And What’s With That Goat?)
The Bock beer is said to have originated in the 14th Century from the small German town of Einbeck, found between Hannover and Kassel. The earliest mention of beer being produced in Einbeck can be traced back to records from 1378.
The entire town of Einbeck was involved in the brewing of beer. One of the reasons the beer was so successful was the strict brewing regulations the city council imposed to ensure the utmost quality of the beer.
Although the bourgeoisie of the town were allowed to malt their own grains and brew beers in their own cellars, no one was allowed to own a brewery or brewing equipment.
Instead, the city council had a monopoly on the brewing equipment and would hire professional brewmasters to deliver the brew kettles to the homes of any bourgeoise who wanted to brew.
The brewmaster would also be responsible for the inspection of the malts used and a final check on the quality of the beer before it was shipped off to market. All these regulations ensured the beers produced in Einbeck were of high quality regardless of who brewed them.
When Einbeck joined the Northern German merchant community, the Hanseatic League, their main trading commodity was the superior darker beers they produced.
After quickly traveling outside of Germany to markets where dark strong ales were popular like England, Russia, and Scandinavia, the beers eventually made their way to the south of Germany too.
The beers were so popular in Bavaria that the rulers of Bavaria began to brew their own versions. Not only would this keep a large portion of the coffers from going north, but it would also bring new jobs and revenue to Bavaria.
The beer became so popular that Duke Maximilian I wooed a brewmaster from Einbeck to Munich in 1612 to make a version much closer to the original. The strong, dark beers of the north changed into a strong lager brewed in the south, and this is what we now call Bockbier.
Due to subtle differences in the language and regional accents, Bavarians would pronounce Einbeck to sound more like “Ein Bock,” which translates from German as “billy goat”.
The name “Bock” stuck, as did the image of a billy goat, which still features on many Bock labels to this day.
Bockbiers are truly seasonal beers in Germany. When the last of the Oktoberfest celebrations were finished and the new malts were in the breweries, it was then time to brew the strong beers (starkbiers) for winter.
The winters in Bavaria were brutally cold, and the people preferred to sip strong beers by the fireside. The various Bocks were brewed for different parts of the cold season.
Each type of Bock had a different color and strength. Typically Bocks were brewed to about 6.5% ABV, but some could get as high as 13% ABV. All Bockbiers tend to be strong and malty but very smooth beers to drink.
The bitterness is gentle and subdued with almost no hop aroma. The beers brewed for Christmas and Easter tend to be darker than the traditional Bockbiers.
As summer came closer, the beers start getting lighter and lower in alcohol. The Helles Bock is sometimes compared to a Munich Helles brewed to Bock strength.
What is a Traditional Bock Profile
Let’s take a brief look at what you should expect from a Bock beer and its basic characteristics.
The dominant flavor of all Bock styles tends to be one of well-rounded malt due to the months of cold-storage lagering.
Low on hoppiness and with just a low to moderate bitterness, they can be easy-drinking lagers – just watch out for those high alcohol-by-volume contents, normally at least 6.5% ABV.
You may even notice some undertones of caramel in the darker Bocks and even the occasional fruity ester.
Most Bock styles tend to be amber to gold in color but can also be found as black or red beers depending on the region where the beer was brewed.
Whatever the color, you will recognize a Bock by its intense malt notes, full body, and moderate sweetness. Bock beers are normally clear, as with most bottom-fermenting lagers, despite the darker colors, and they have no residual cloudiness.
The smell of toasty malts is instantly recognizable in a traditional Bock beer.
You may also catch a whiff of the alcohol and, if you try hard enough, some fruity esters and melanoidins.
As the beers are quite moderate in their hoppiness, you won’t be inhaling aromas of hops as you sip a Bock.
Upon your first sip of a Bock, you will be enjoying a medium-bodied feel which will be smooth without any bitter off notes.
A medium to low carbonation level gives a crisp finish whether drunk cold or warm.
The Different Styles of Bocks
Bock beers come in several different styles dependent on the malt variety used and the flavors.
Let’s take a look at the most popular styles along with the vital statistics for each Bock style from the 2021 BJCP Style Guidelines.
Perhaps the most well-known style of Bock in the US, this beer was first produced by the monks of St.Francis of Paula who built their own brewery in Munich in the late 17th Century.
The “liquid bread” which they produced could be a substitute for solid foods during their lent fasting period.
The Bocks brewed by the monks were strong-bodied beers that were high in residual sugars. The historic versions of this beer were less attenuated than modern-day interpretations.
Only a small amount of the sugars were converted to alcohol, resulting in a less alcoholic but much sweeter beer that was to become known as Doppelbock.
Doppel is the German word for double, and today Doppelbocks have double the amount of malt and often double the amount of alcohol.
Ranging from pale to darker colors with whichever malt has been used, the beers have a heavy malt flavor rather than hoppiness, with underlying hints of chocolate, roasted caramel, raisins, and toffee.
|SRM||6 - 25|
|OG||1.072 - 1.112|
|FG||1.016 - 1.024|
|ABV||7% - 10%|
Helles Bock or Maibock
At the other end of the scale, we have Helles (meaning light in German) or Maibock which are brewed using lighter Pilsner malts in addition to the traditional Munich and Vienna malts.
The resulting beer is a paler lager with colors that range from light amber to deep gold.
Helles Bock was traditionally brewed in the winter months for consumption in the month of May and is most often seen even today at larger beer festivals in the spring.
Like all Bock-style beers, the Maibock/Helles Bock is quite malty but has slightly more of a hoppy taste than the other Bocks.
This style of Bock can be traced back to the days of the 16th century when Munich’s city council bosses brought brewmasters down from Einbeck to help improve the quality of the local beers.
Being a paler beer with a slight hop profile, this tends to be one of the more popular Bocks with US beer fans. Well-known commercial examples of a Maibock include Maibock Hurts Like Helles by Jack Abby and Dead Guy Ale by Rogue Beers.
|IBU||23 - 35|
|SRM||6 - 9|
|OG||1.064 - 1.072|
|FG||1.011 - 1.018|
|ABV||6.3% - 7.4%|
Not easily found outside of Germany, Eisbock is, without doubt, the rarest of the Bocks. “Eis” is German for ice and this Ice Bock uses a method of freeze-distillation to skim the frozen water out of a Doppelbock or Maibock for a more concentrated beer.
Removing some of the water creates a beer that is higher in alcohol and ramps up the malty flavors of the beer too.
Freeze distillation is still prohibited in the US, so it’s unlikely you will find many of the beers in the beer fridge at your local bar.
Examples of the few commercial Eisbocks which have been imported from Germany, and which you may find on the shelves of your local beer distributor, include Kulmbacher Eisbock and a wheat beer-based variety of the Eisbock, Schneider Weisse’s Aventinus Eisbock.
Normally the strongest ABV Bock beers on the market, some brewers have even made beers with an ABV of over 40% using the freeze-distillation method.
|IBU||25 - 35|
|SRM||17 - 30|
|OG||1.078 - 1.120|
|FG||1.020 - 1.035|
|ABV||9% - 14%|
The wheat beer member of the Bock family, the Weizenbock is also the youngest of all the Bocks, first being brewed in 1907. Unlike the rest of the Bocks which are all classed as lagers, Weizenbock uses ale yeast and is a top-fermented beer.
The Weizenbock is basically a Doppelbock that has been brewed with higher proportions of wheat and uses the same ale yeast as Hefeweizen, the more well-known German wheat beer.
Distinct clove and banana flavors come from the yeasts used, and some brewers even produce Weizenbock with underlying flavors of other darker fruits such as grape, raisin, and plum.
Definitely the fruitiest of all the Bocks!
Basically a Weissbier but brewed to Bock strength, although Schneider also brews a Weizenbock to an Eisbock strength too.
Aventinus Tap 6, Glockenspiel, and Thumbprint Imperial Weizenbock are just a few of the more popular Weizenbock you may find on the market.
|IBU||15 - 30|
|OG||1.064 - 1.090|
|FG||1.015 - 1.022|
|ABV||6.5% - 9%|
The last member of the Bock family of beers we need to mention is the Dunkles Bock, a direct successor of the traditional Bocks brewed in Einbeck all those centuries ago.
Dunkle means dark in German, and the Dunkel Bock boasts a rich malty profile, contributing to this beer style’s dark, toasty caramel appearance.
Dunkles are rarely seen outside of the German markets but a few American craft brewers have tried their hand at a Dunkles Bock including New Glarus and Moeller Barn Breweries.
They are darker, with a richer malty flavor and less apparent bitterness than a Helles Bock, with Less alcohol and malty richness than a Doppelbock, and stronger malt flavors and higher alcohol than a Märzen.
They are richer, less attenuated, and less hoppy than a Czech Amber Lager.
|IBU||20 - 27|
|SRM||14 - 22|
|OG||1.064 - 1.072|
|FG||1.0913 - 1.019|
|ABV||6.3% - 7.2%|
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