There is a website called the Wayback Machine that allows you to view pages from websites frozen in the past. From a practical sense, it can be useful to retrieve or view content that has been overwritten or lost, but for most users of the site, it’s more like a virtual museum tour of the internet from days gone by.
While reminiscing with friends about how the beer scene has changed over time, I used the Wayback Machine to access BeerAdvocate.com, a website that aggregates user-provided reviews of beer and hosts beer-related discussion forums. I went through the archives as far back as I could until I found an old list of the top 50 beers in the world from 2002. While there were some notable and famous IPAs on the list, it was filled mostly with stouts, Belgian and Trappist (Monk-brewed) beers, and other imports. What caught my eye, in particular, was a style of beer that made two appearances in the top 10– including the No. 1 spot — that are nearly absent in the U.S. beer market today: the doppelbock.
Bock beers are strong German lagers often brewed for various religious and seasonal festivals, especially springtime, and have been made for centuries. The paler and slightly hoppy bocks were intended to be consumed in the spring and at festivals, and they’re a bit lower in alcohol to make them eaiser to drink. Oddly enough, the name “bock” comes from a mispronunciation of the town in which the beer was brewed (Einbeck) and also happens to translate to the word “goat” in German. The name stuck after that connection was realized, and many bock beers feature goats on their labels as a result.
The doppelbock (also known as a double bock) is its stronger cousin that is darker in color and higher in alcohol, a malt-forward beer with notes of caramel and slight roast. The origin of these styles of beer is in the Franciscan monasteries in the 17th century. The doppelbock, in particular, was brewed for the purpose of replacing bread during times of religious fasting when eating actual bread was not allowed. Because they served as replacement meals, dopplebocks were brewed to have a higher alcohol content (over 7 percent) than typical beers of the time, giving it a richer, sweeter malty taste. The lagering process, though, provides a clean flavor profile and a drier finish than something like a malty brown ale.
These beers are still traditionally made in Germany, with recipes that have remained nearly unchanged over time. At the top of the 2002 Beer Advocate list of the best beers in the world is Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, which was first brewed in 1878 but can still be found in any craft beer bottle shop that has an imported beer section. It is easy to pick out on a shelf of imports because of the large gray goat on the label, standing up on its hind legs.
So where can you go out and get an American-made version of a doppelbock this spring? Well, that’s a tricky one. There may be several contributing factors, but finding a U.S.-brewed bock of any kind is rare. I think it is a combination of the beer consumers’ growing love of hops and the early 2010s boom of imperial stouts that may have overshadowed the more malt-forward styles. There was a trend toward strong and extreme flavors, not tasty and complex ones, as craft beer started to expand. The other argument I’ve heard from brewers is that there are a handful of readily-available imports that are of such high quality that they don’t know what they would offer in brewing the style that isn’t already there.
Some, though, have given it a try. Definitive Brewing Co. and Bunker Brewing Co. collaborated to brew a doppelbock that they have released on tap and in limited cans. They’ve named it Congratulator Doppelbock and have brewed it “to help usher in the sun” this spring. The beer was lagered for five weeks and is a rich copper color. It has all of the complex malty notes, including a really pleasant toffee flavor that makes the beer slightly sweet.
If sweetness isn’t your thing, you can find another bock variant on tap at Liquid Riot, the Rauchbock. This version of a bock has been smoked (the rauch prefix translates to “smoked”), giving it a roasted taste and reminding me of the feeling of early spring, where it isn’t quite warm enough outside to leave your coat behind, but you sure wish you could.
Until my journey through the Wayback Machine, I had nearly forgotten about the style, being tempted by so many other styles that have eclipsed them in popularity. I was thrilled to discover they were once the G.O.A.T., and that they are not completely extinct.