As the third wave of the pandemic continues to rock Alberta, we are enjoying the dubious honour of being the COVID hotspot of North America for the third week in a row. I remain safely cloistered away in my windowless wine cellar, emerging only to accept the weekly deliveries of groceries and libations.
The most recent delivery from the hard-working folks at SPUD included a Bock beer that I had been waiting for all year. Venturing out onto my patio for a brief dose of sunshine and fresh air, I cracked open a can of Maibock, an ancient beer style historically brewed in the winter and released for consumption on the first day of May each year.
Back in the middle ages, Bock was traditionally brewed in the Winter or Spring seasons, using dark roasted malts and very little hops. This resulted in a slight caramel flavor in the beer, and very little bitterness.
Bock beers were originally very dark in color and had a relatively high alcohol level. In the 14th century, Bock beers were brewed and consumed primarily by Catholic monks. As the monks were required to fast during Lent, they soon found the sweet and malty Bock beers to contain more food energy than lesser beers, and began referring to Bock as liquid bread, which was able to sustain them without becoming sickly with malnourishment during their long fast.
Remember, this was in the days before refrigeration, so beer could only be brewed in the colder months, as the wild yeasts and microorganisms in the air during the summer would spoil the beer.
That’s where Maibock comes in. In preparation for the coming of spring, a large batch of beer would be brewed up around Easter, then saved for the spring festivals to celebrate the arrival of the warmer seasons. Since this beer was cracked open at the beginning of May, it became known as Maibock.
Eventually, a particular style evolved for this first beer of spring, with a much paler color than the traditional Bock beers. Like other Bocks, Maibock is still a high-alcohol beer, generally around 6-7% ABV. While all Bocks have a relatively sweet taste, Maibock is slightly more hoppy, with a cleaner and slightly spicy and aromatic finish.
The true origins of the Bock name have been lost in the beer-soaked mists of time, but the most popular assumption is that Bock is a corruption of the word Einbeck, the small Bavarian town that invented this particular style.
Interestingly, Bock is also the German term for a male goat, so the high-alcohol brew is often assumed to have the kick of a billy goat. Further in line with the whole goat mythos, Bock is normally brewed while Capricorn (aka the goat) is ascendant in the heavens, so you’ll just have to pick the story you like best.
Fortunately, many Alberta breweries are producing one-off seasonal Bock beers, so you will not have to go all the way to Munich to try one. My local favourite is the unimaginatively named German Bock from the slightly confusingly named Born Colorado Brewery, which despite its name, is located in Calgary’s so-called Barley Belt, home to a few dozen craft breweries.
Weighing in at a hefty 6.7% ABV, the German Bock from Born Colorado poured a deep amber into my glass, with aromas of fresh baked bread on the nose from the sturdy malt bill. This beer style is malt-forward, with the hops used primarily for aromas and palate complexity, but very little bitterness.
My favourite seasonal Maibock comes from Brauerie Fahr in Turner Valley, the most authentic German brewery this side of Munich, and their seasonal Weizenbock. For those who do not sprechen deutsch, weizen is the German word for wheat, so this is a wheat-based beer, made from locally grown Alberta wheat, and very different than the barley-based Bock from Born Colorado.
Wheat beers tend to produce frothy head, and this was no exception, with two fingers of lacy foam quickly appearing as I poured into the glass. Notes of fig and banana on the nose came from the unique yeast strain, with hints stewed plums and toasted grains adding complexity to the malty backbone.
Maibock beers are only released once a year, so find one quickly at your friendly neighourhood booze merchant or delivery service while you still can!