What does Doppelbock have to do with Lent?

Since it’s Lent for many people, the Church Street Brewing Company thought perhaps a quick side-story surrounding the origins of ‘doppelbock’ might be in order. For many, Lent also means it’s time for ‘doppelbock’ beer – okay, maybe not… But, let’s explore the origin of the style nonetheless because there is some correlation and it’s a fun story.


The history of ‘doppelbock’ beer can be traced back to the middle ages. The precursor to the style was first brewed during the 14th century in a town called Einbeck, located in what is today northern Germany. The citizens of Einbeck brewed dark, hoppy high gravity wheat ale known as Einbecker beer. At the time Einbeck was part of the Hanseatic League, which had an impressive trading network spanning northern Europe. This resulted in widespread popularity of Einbecker beer.


In the 17th century, Munich brewers set about creating their own version of Einbecker beer. The beer was different from its northern counterpart. While it was still a dark, high gravity beer, it was made with considerably less hops, no wheat, and bottom fermented. The result was a deep amber lager and named “ein bock” beer, or literally “billy goat” beer. It’s unclear whether this new name was an inadvertent misunderstanding or intended as subtle mockery (you see, Munich is located in southern Germany, as opposed to Einbeck located in the North). Regardless, the name stuck and was eventually shortened to simply ‘bock’.


Around this same time a group of Franciscan monks from Paula, Italy resettled in Munich. During Lent the monks were required to fast and therefore could not eat any solid food. The monks decided to brew a very high gravity ‘bock’ beer to serve as “liquid bread” and sustain them during the fast (Lent is a time for fasting). Due to the heavy and high ABV nature they decided to call it ‘doppelbock’, or literally translated “double bock.” The resulting brew was so good the monks were certain they wouldn’t be allowed to drink it and sought dispensation from the pope. Here’s where the story becomes a bit fuzzy – so, take it with a grain of salt:


Apparently the monks sent a sample of their beer to the Holy Father in Rome. Along the way it passed through the Alps, where it was very cold and the beer froze. By the time the beer had arrived in Italy it was already summer and the hot weather further damaged the aging beer. Finally it arrived in Rome and the pope, who only ever drank wine, was so disgusted he spit it out and offered the monks special dispensation should they be willing to drink the vile substance. Again, this is uncorroborated, but a fun story nonetheless.


In celebration of receiving dispensation from the pope, the monks named their beer “Salvator,” which means savior, due to the nourishment it provided during long periods of fasting. Also, since these monks were from Paula, and the German word for someone from Paula would be called a Paulaner, the original ‘doppelbock is therefore Paulaner Salvator – and is still made the same today as it was over three hundred years ago.


As time passed and the beer grew in popularity, other Munich brewers sought to duplicate the style. Seeking to identify with the original name Salvator, it was common for breweries to give their doppelbock a name ending in ‘–ator’, a tradition we have carried on at the Church Street Brewing Company with our own doppelbock, which we have named the Pontificator.


So as this lent season begins, grab a pint of doppelbock, or come on over and try our Pontificator. Prost!

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