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Traditional Bock

by Ray Daniels

As cold settles into much of the country, a brewer's thoughts turn to beers with a bit more potency and bock is generally near the top of the list. December is a perfect time to brew bock beers because you'll still be able to lager for about two months before the traditional mid-March tapping date.

History of bock

The beer that we call bock today has its origins in the north-German town of Einbeck. As early as 1325 the beer of Einbeck enjoyed a good reputation and -- for that time -- widespread distribution.

During the 1500s Historian Heinrich Knaust described the Einbeck beer: "Of all summer beers, light and hoppy barley beers, the Einbeck beer is the most famed and deserves the preference. Each third grain to this beer is wheat; hence, too, it is of all barley beers the best . . . People do not fatten too much from its use; it is also very useful in fever cases."

Thus the original bock was made from at least one-third wheat malt in addition to barley. Other sources tell us that it was top-fermented and well bittered.

Anyone familiar with contemporary bocks realizes that the beers of Einbeck bear little relationship to the style as known today. Indeed, the term "bock" probably had not been coined before Einbeck's virtual demise during the Thirty Years' War. To bridge this gap in both brewing and linguistics required the people -- and brewers -- of Munich.

Prior to the 16th century, the beer made in Munich was not highly regarded, even by the local folk. Many imported beers were enjoyed and the beer from Einbeck was highly favored. As the 17th century dawned, the Munich brewers "bent all their energy to brewing a beer as good as that of Einbeck." This effort failed until a brewer from Einbeck was drawn to Munich in 1612, and lent his skills to the cause.

Of course, the original recipe could not be reproduced precisely. The malts made in Munich were darker and wheat malts could not be used by regular breweries, thus the Munich beer was darker than the Einbeck original. In addition, the high carbonate levels of the Munich water produced a harsh bitterness in highly hopped beers, so the hopping levels were substantially reduced, yielding a malt-balanced beer. Finally, lager fermentations were common in Munich by this time, so the bottom-fermenting yeast was used.

Although the Munich copy of the Einbeck beer bore little resemblance to the original, the resulting beer was still named after the city that inspired it. In the Bavarian dialect, it was called "Ainpoeckish Pier." The beer was enjoyed by the citizens of Munich and soon replaced the original. Not long after, brewing ceased in Einbeck as a result of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and the name of the Munich-produced beer no doubt began to drift from "Ainpoeckish" to simply "Poeck" and ultimately to the "Bock" we know today.

Of course this is not the only story told about the naming of "bock" beer. Those who have spent hours on end enjoying this fine beverage no doubt used their uninhibited imaginations to create fanciful stories about its naming. One even attributes the naming to the Roman Emperor Julian (the Apostate) who lived in the fourth century A.D. -- long before the advent of brewing in Einbeck or Munich.

"Bock" does mean "goat" in German and its not surprising that someone drinking this beer would feel a "kick" and make the verbal connection. Once this was done, a strong association formed between bock beer and the goat -- an association that continues even today.

Brewing bock beers

Most beer recipes use a lightly kilned malt, i.e. pilsner, lager or pale ale malt, for the majority of the grist, but bock can be something of an exception to this rule. When making bock, many brewers look to Munich malt to play the lead role.

Bock was created before the days of specialty malts when things such as chocolate malt, roast barley and even crystal malt were unknown. As a result, most beers were made from a single type of malt. The flavor and color of the malt -- and therefore the finished beer -- were determined by conditions during malting, especially the kilning temperatures.

The Munich malt we use today appears to be a direct descendant of the malts once used in all Munich beers, including the bocks created in that city. Thus the use of Munich malt as the primary grain for a bock recipe is historically accurate. In addition, it provides a unique flavor and color contribution to the beer. One caveat: be sure to use only a Munich malt made from 2-row barley -- generally this means going for the imported products.

After Munich malt, the most common grain in bock recipes is crystal malt. If you select Munich malt as your base malt, you should use dark crystal malts for 6 to 10 percent of the grain bill. On the other hand, if you select pilsener malt as the base for your bock recipe, you'll need a bit more crystal, usually 15 to 20 percent.

The next grain that you will want to include is chocolate malt. Most recipes employ a small portion, ranging from 1 percent to 4 percent with an average of about 2 percent of the total grist bill.

The majority of all bock recipes have grain bills composed of just these four grains: pilsener or two-row malt, Munich malt, crystal (or caramel) malt and chocolate malt.

Of course bock recipes are the perfect place to use some malt extract. The higher gravities required by the style sometimes stretch the limits of mash capacities. An excellent bock beer can be made using a small mash and a generous dose of extract.

As for hops, bock beers require a light touch. Bitterness levels are low and little or no hop flavor or aroma should be detected. Classic German aroma varieties are favored such as Hallertau, Hersbruck, Tettnang, Spalt and even Saaz.

Build a recipe

When we put all this advice into practice, we can formulate a couple of different recipes. All are shooting for an original gravity of 1.066 to 1.068 and the formulations shown below are for a 5 gallon batch.

All-grain approach





9 lbs

1 lb

Munich Malt

2 lbs

11.5 lbs

Crystal Malt (90-120L)

2.25 lbs

1.25 lbs

Chocolate Malt

8 oz

4 oz



As mentioned above, classic German aroma hops are generally used for all of the hop additions in bock beers. The European varieties I would recommend are: Hallertau, Hersbruck, Tettnang, Spalt, and Saaz. Workable American-grown alternatives are Liberty, Crystal and Mt. Hood.

For bittering, you'll want 5 to 6 alpha acid units -- that's one ounce of 5% to 6% alpha acid hops, two ounces of 2.5% to 3.0% alpha acid hops or any other combination where the alpha acid percentage multiplied by the ounces equals 5 to 6. Boil these hops for 45 minutes to one hour.

If you want, you can add a small hop addition about 15 minutes before the end of the boil. Use one of the varieties listed above and add no more than one-half ounce. \


The critical part of bock fermentation is achieving proper lager fermentation temperatures. If you can achieve 50 to 55F, use a lager yeast that emphasizes malt complexity, such as the Wyeast Bavarian Lager yeast.

Strange as it may sound, if you are not able to achieve these cool temperatures for fermentation, you might want to make this beer using an ale yeast. The American Ale or Chico Ale yeast strain is typically very clean and can give you a somewhat lager-like product, especially if fermented at temperatures of 62 to 66F.

Regardless of which yeast you use, you'll want to allow a period of lagering after fermentation. For lager yeasts, this phase should be conducted at 35 to 40F. If you use the ale yeast, you might allow for a slightly warmer lagering temperature, say 40 to 50F.