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The barrel’s been tapped – let the bock beer flow!

I quite like being alone. Peace and solitude can in my opinion have something truly relaxing about them. But as Seneca said back in antiquity, you have to combine and alternate solitude and socialising. True to this motto, I recently attached myself to a throng of beer-lovers who were shivering in backyards and in front of breweries, toasting each other with bock beer to usher in what for many is the nicest season in Franconia. In my early days as a student, I couldn’t see much point in these gatherings – but better late then never, wouldn’t you agree? Now, after I’ve taken the plunge, I have to say it’s quite an experience – especially in a beer-steeped city like Bamberg. But what I then asked myself was: what’s so out-of-the-ordinary about this beer? And why exactly is it brewed precisely in this chilly time of the year? So I looked more closely into this for you …

What exactly is bock beer?

A bock beer is in most cases a dark, full-bodied beer with a strong flavour of malt. Often, too, it tastes pretty sweetish and hoppy. Most bock beers are bottom-fermented, although there are definitely top-fermented high-strength beers as well. Each brewery also has differences in terms of the beer’s coloration and its abv – the colours range from golden to dark-brown. At around 7.5 per cent, though, this strong yet quaffable beer generally has a pretty high alcohol content.

What is the original gravity, and how high is it with bock?

The original gravity is the proportion of all constituents that are dissolved in the wort before the fermentation process begins. These include primarily maltose, but also proteins, minerals and vitamins. The dissolved sugar is then during fermentation converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The size of the alcohol content, by the way, depends on the proportion of dissolved constituents. To put it briefly: the higher the original gravity, the higher the alcohol content of the beer. In the case of bock beers, the original gravity is around 16 % and for double-bock beers it’s even about 18 %. The high original gravity, by the way, gives bock a longer shelf-life than conventional beer.

How long has bock beer been around?

Back in the Middle Ages (especially during Lent), bock beer was already extremely popular. Although Lent begins in spring, of course, bock beer was traditionally brewed in the autumn, and stored over the winter. The brewing time, though, has much more to do with the harvesting season for hops and cereal grains. Back then, the monks kept up their strength during the Catholic fast of Lent by consuming generous amounts of this sustaining bock beer. So faithful to the motto of “Liquida non fragunt ieunum” – “Liquids do not constitute a breach of fasting”, bock beer was enjoyed in copious abundance. I’m sure that there was plenty of good cheer in the monasteries – at least as far as the beer was concerned. 🙂

Meanwhile, of course, it’s technically possible to brew and buy bock beer all the year round. But I think it’s rather like mince pies. They’re already in the supermarkets by the end of August, but they don’t taste really good until we get to December. 🙂

Well, that’s enough theory for now, I think! The ceremonial tapping of a bock beer barrel is an experience you shouldn’t miss. I was amazed how quickly the people here invite you to clink mugs with them and you get into conversation. It’s really true, you only meet so many nice, convivial people when (bock) beer is involved.

So if you are now keen to enjoy your first bock beer experience as well, there are still abundant opportunities in Franconia up to the end of November – and elsewhere too of course 🙂

Here in Regensburg, by the way, one of the best-known bock beer tapping ceremonies is held in spring – the “Palmator” will doubtless be a familiar name to many of you.

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