Bock Beer is King! Part Two of Three

More on the History of Bock

by Church Street Brew’s own Charles E. Fort

Where did the goat come from?

Not withstanding Part One’s logical explanation, the absolute origin of Bock’s name is impossible to prove although some interesting explanations have been suggested over the years. Many of them focus on the fact that ‘Bock’ in German also means ‘billy goat’ which is probably why so many Bock beer labels feature goats. But where’s the beer-goat connection? One theory suggests that the traditional time to brew Bock beer was under the sign of Capricorn, the goat. Another tells an amusing story of a drinking contest between a Bavarian duke and a knight from Brunswick. Each was given a cask of beer from his opponent’s store. After a few drinks the knight found himself on the ground while the Bavarian remained in his seat. The embarrassed knight blamed a goat that had found its way into the courtyard. The Bavarian, who also happened to be a brew master, laughed and told the knight, “The Bock that threw you over was brewed by me.”

Of course, there are many other interesting and imaginative stories about the naming of Bock Beer that run from mildly amusing to down right silly, including one claim that the Roman Emperor Julian (the Apostate who lived in the fourth century A.D.) was the one to give Bock Beer it’s name. No explanation was given as to how he could name something that nobody would know about for 1000 years.

Another fanciful story goes as follows: following the destruction of the Einbeck brewery after the Thirty Years War, nearby brewers would compete in an effort to brew as fine a beer as had the Einbeck Brewery. The brewers met in the town of Einbeck each spring and compared the beers they had brewed during the winter months. A festive spirit prevailed, as the brightly clad couples gaily danced around the tables at which the drinkers were seated. Amidst the celebrating, a bock entered upon the grounds unnoticed and knocked one of the drinkers off his feet. And that my friends is what put the ‘Bock’ in Bock Beer.

“Bock” does mean “goat” in German, and it’s not surprising that someone drinking this beer would feel a “kick” and make the verbal connection. This may be what caused the strong association formed between Bock beer and the goat, an association that continues even today. The most widely accepted explanation of Bock’s naming holds that Bock is simply a derivative of Einbeck. This makes a lot of sense especially when you consider that to order this style of beer in the local German dialect, you would say, “Ein Bock” instead of “Ein Beck”. Since Bock also means goat in German, the connection is made.

Why Bock Beer in the Spring?

If you ask my neighbor why Bock beer is served in the spring, he’ll go into the popular American urban myth that Bock Beer is the result of spring cleaning.  The story goes that the brew masters go in and clean the muck out the beer tanks every spring and then sell it to the locals to try and make some money. And we wonder why some Americans are drinking skunky beers out of green bottles and getting excited over triple hopped beer.

In order to really answer this question, we need to look at it from a historical perspective. In the time before refrigeration, Bock beers required long periods of cool storage (Lagering) before they were ready to be served to the local citizens. Thus, they had to rely on mother nature to provide the proper conditions, which means you lager in the winter time and then drink it in the spring. But relying on mother nature does have its problems especially with the mid 19th century warm up marking the end of the little ice age. It was 1842, and the time was right for Munich brewer Sedlmayr to begin creating his own ice age all year long by using a new cooling technique he learned while visiting in England. Winter ice was cut from local ponds and stored in caves creating a year round cool environment that was ideal for the production of high quality beer. Local German brewers began digging caves into hillsides all over the country and planted fast growing trees around the entrances to provide shade. During the spring, locals would gather in these shady areas to enjoy the Bock Beer,which which had been lagering all winter long, and walla – the Bavarian Beer Garden was borne.

The Bavarian beer industry began to grow rapidly then as it absorbed knowledge from all over Europe, and eventually became home to the most technically advanced breweries in the world. As time went on, many of these breweries, located mainly in Munich and in Kulmbach, ended up producing over 40 different styles of beer. And if that’s not enough, a brewing university was established in Eihenstephan that still attracts brewers from all over the world.

Stay tuned for Part Three – Different Types of Bock Beer


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