Do you have March 19 marked in your calendar? Your friendly liquor reporter certainly does. The more devout readers in the audience may recognize March 19 as Saint Joseph’s Day, husband to the slightly more famous Virgin Mary.
However, your hedonistic liquor reporter has a much more secular explanation for this particular date in the calendar – it is also the traditional day that Bock beers are released!
Never heard of a Bock? That’s not too surprising, as the North American palate has never become accustomed to this high-gravity beer with a long and colorful history.
The Bock beer style came from the German city of Einbeck in the 14th century, and was first brewed by Catholic monks for consumption during Lent. Since the monks were required to fast during Lent, they brewed a high-alcohol beer that contained more calories than standard beers as a way to keep their strength up.
Reports that some of the more progressive cloisters used this as justification for a 40-day beer bash tend to get to get swept under the rug by the church, so I will leave it as a mental exercise for the reader to figure out just how many pints those monks guzzled each day.
Traditional Bock beers tend to have a low hop bitterness, so the sweet flavors of the malted barley are usually the dominant taste in this style of beer. The alcohol content is generally 6% to 7%, making it stronger than most mainstream brews.
Over the centuries, a few different styles of Bock have popped up. One of the more popular in Alberta is the Maibock (pronouced may-bok) style. Generally released in the month of May, Maibock is a pale version of a traditional Bock, with a noticeably more bitter flavor. The alcohol content tends to be slightly higher, and there is a more distinctive hop finish.
Maibocks are often dry hopped, which adds hops after the wort has been boiled. This imparts a more intense flavor and aroma to the beer, but does not increase the bitterness released by the hop oils during the boiling process.
Calgary’s own Big Rock Brewery put out a seasonal Maibock brew for their 20th anniversary back in 2005, and has just re-released an updated version called Helles Bock, which is available by the six-pack and on tap at select watering holes across western Canada.
The name Helles Bock is something of an enigma, much like the beer itself.
Helles is the German word for bright, indicating that this is a light blonde lager, to contrast the more common dark and cloudy Bock beers.
This particular recipe, crafted by the mad geniuses deep in the bowels of the Big Rock Brewing industrial complex, is a light-coloured lager, brewed to the full-bodied and high-octane kick of a Bock beer.
At a robust 6.66% ABV, this devilish brew is packed heavy with sweet malts, making for a rich and grainy mouth feel, with only a slight hop bitterness on the finish.
Made with traditional Hallertau hops from Germany, along with good old Alberta barley, the Helles Bock is a majestic blending of the old world of master brewers with the modern day.
As a beer with a relatively high alcohol content, it is best enjoyed with food to avoid a visit from the hangover monster.
A full-flavoured beer like this should not be paired with mild foods. Rather, a nice spicy sausage, sauerbraten or donderblitzen is needed to complement such a rich beer.
Your humble narrator was on hand for the launch party that Big Rock threw back in the middle of January, and much of the fine grog was enjoyed by the eager media wonks, hipsters, and socialites. It was much as I would imagine a shindig hosted by Andy Warhol at The Factory in the swinging 60’s.
Although the colour of the Helles Bock is similar to that of an innocuous Blonde Lager, this is definitely one of those naughty blondes who make you feel used, dirty, and perhaps even a little shaky after a wild night together.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and this fine beer is no exception. As a seasonal brew, it will only be available throughout western Canada only until May, so pick up a six-pack today, or you might miss out!