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Posts Tagged ‘heller bock’

The beer market in Germany today is slowly becoming a monopolistic beast.  The dominance of the top ten brewing companies in the country effectively limits the availability of smaller, regional breweries anywhere else besides their particular area.  Living in Cologne where the undisputed king of beer is Kölsch makes it even more difficult to acquire brews from other parts of the country.  Because of this limitation, every time I make a trip to another area of Germany, I try to find a good Getränkemarkt in order to pick up a few bottles of the local speciality.

Last month, while my parents were visiting us from the States, I took a day trip with my father up to Lower Saxony to check out my family’s ancestral castle (yeah, that’s right…we have a castle).  Now, Lower Saxony isn’t known nowadays for its beer.  In fact, outside of Bavaria, Franconia, and few other isolated pockets, the German beer landscape is surprisingly dull and monochromatic.  But, there is one brewery in Lower Saxony that has a good reputation, a rich history, and the beer to back them up – I’m talking about the Einbecker Brauhaus.

This modest regional brewery has a rather outrageous boast.  On the back of each of bottle they claim that the sleepy town of Einbeck is the home of Bockbier.  Their official slogan reinforces this boast reading “Without Einbeck there would be no Bockbier” (Ohne Einbeck gäb’s kein Bockbier).  In light of Bavaria’s well-known association with Bock, especially the delectable Doppelbock, such a claim seems a little far-fetched.  But, in actuality, the lineage of the beer we today call Bockbier can be traced to this small community.

The area that is today the federal state of Lower Saxony was not always a beer wasteland.  Long before Oktoberfest and the Reinheitsgebot, the region extending inland from the North Sea was the center of the brewing world.  Varieties like Hamburg’s wheat beer or Mumme from the city of Braunschweig, known throughout the Western world, were exported far and wide.  Much like Belgium today, every town had their own unique style of brewing.

Einbeck brewing at the time was actually a collaborative effort of almost 100 breweries in the city who were organized into a powerful guild which made it the most significant economic force in the region.  Fortune smiled on this small town in two ways that helped propel it to such prominence.  In 1368, the small town of Einbeck entered the Hanseatic League.  Membership into this powerful trading bloc guaranteed that Einbeck’s most important commodity became a household item by the 16th century.

On top of that, Einbeck was located in a region known for hop cultivation.  At a time when hops were replacing spices as the primary preservative in beer, Einbeck found itself uniquely situated.  The intense hop profile in Einbeck beer made it easier to preserve and therefore able to be exported great distances.  By the 16th century, Einbeck’s beer could be found as far as Jerusalem.

The Einbecker art had one particularly interesting patron.  Martin Luther was known to be a big fan of beer.  He once jokingly wrote that, “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”  It is said that on the evening of Martin Luther’s fateful meeting at the Diet of Worms, he received a special gift from the Duke of Braunschweig – a pot of Einbecker.  Although he preferred home-brewing (apparently, his wife, Katharina von Bora, was a heckuva brew master), Luther had a special fondness for Einbecker beer (great article on Luther and beer).

The destruction of the Thirty Years War and the subsequent downfall of the Hanseatic League ensured the end of Einbeck’s dominance.  Without the powerful backing of the League, the ability of Einbeck to export its brand quickly diminished.  But, they had one more part to play in German beer history.  When Duke Maximillian I of Bavaria realized that his supply of Einbeck’s finest was running dry, he brought the city’s chief brew master, a man by the name of Elias Pichler, to Munich in 1612 in order to develop the Einbecker speciality for himself.  Within a few years, the brewhouses of the city were churning out a decent version of the Einbeck original.  The word bock is, in fact, derived from the Bavarian pronunciation of Einbeck, or Ainbocker.

While the bock name grew to be associated with Bavaria, Einbeck and her beer sunk into relative obscurity.  By the end of the 19th century, only two breweries were operating in the town having only a modest reach in the region.  In 1920, these two breweries merged to form the modern Einbecker Brauhaus that we have today.  This is not all that changed either.  The modern Einbeck brewery eventually adopted the Bavarian lager method of brewing Bock.  The original medieval version, which was probably more akin to a Belgian Abbey Ale, has been lost to history.

So, what about the beer?  Right up front, I’ll say that none of their beers are going to win any awards.  That being said, their Bock offerings are really nice brews that certainly hold their own.  Along with their Bock beers, Einbeck also brews two types of Pilsner (of which, their Premium Feinherb is decent) as well as a Dunkel lager, all of which are not really worth going into.  So, for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the beers that were truly noteworthy – the Bock.

In harmony with the Heller Bock style, Einbecker’s Ur-Bock Hell has the best hop profile of their Bock line up.  It pours a pleasant crystal clear, golden color with a medium, off-white head.  The aroma really stands out with this beer.  Full of herbal hops and sweet malts, it hit my nose before I even finished the pour.  The flavor profile of this beer was pretty straight forward – nice malty sweetness with notes of cereal and citrus which is balanced very well with a dry, grassy hop bitterness.  The only compliant I had with this one was that there was a little bit too much alcohol flavor for a beer clocking in at only 6.5% ABV.  Regardless, this was my favorite of the batch.

Einbecker’s Ur-Bock Dunkel is the brewery’s nod to the original Bock beer.  This brew pours a very nice dark brown color with medium head.  The nose is a little weaker than the Heller, but pleasant nonetheless with a nice roasty sweetness.  The taste is fairly sweet with a significant dose of roasted malts and flavors of cereal and caramel with only a slight floral hop character to back it up.  The medium- to full-bodied palate leaves a nice and long-lasting sweet aftertaste.

Finally, I had the pleasure of sampling Einbecker’s winter seasonal beer, the Winter-Bock, which is their sole Doppelbock offering.  With a rich, dark brown pour and a hefty nose of fruit, caramel and roasted grains, this beer has a lot in the initial presentation beckoning you to taste.  Where it counts though – the flavor – it doesn’t match up to its famed Doppelbock cousins from Bavaria.  The taste is fairly simple – almost like a amped up version of the Dunkel.  Sweet roasted malts and caramel dominate the flavor along with a slight nuttiness and grassy hop bitterness in the finishing.  This is a great beer that is exceptionally drinkable.

Like I said, these beers are probably not going to be winning any awards.  But, what they lack in complexity, they make up for in essential quality and drinkability.  They are wonderful beers in an ever-growing sea of mediocrity.  The overall quality behind their brewing combined with the rich history of the city makes Einbecker one of my favorite German breweries.

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I’ve decided to start a periodical series of entries with brief notes of experiences on my beer journey.  Generally, they’ll be short clips of random beers I’ve been trying or perhaps a tidbit of trivia I’ve picked up along the way.  The mash tun refers to the vessel used in the brewing process where grains such as barley are steeped in hot water allowing them to germinate and release the simple sugars needed for fermentation.  So, the idea is that perhaps these small thoughts on various beer topics will provide some of the raw material for future, more in-depth studies.

Privatbrauerei Schwelmer
Living in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, you tend to get an ear full of the two dominant brewing traditions in the region: Altbier and Kölsch.  So, it’s nice to find a quality regional brewer in my area that’s producing something other than these two brews.  Although the town of Schwelm is less than 60km from Cologne, you surprisingly hear zip about Schwelmer beer where I live.  I discovered it while at my favorite specialty beer store in town and after a little research found out that there was some good buzz surrounding this traditional family owned brewery.

Out of curiosity, I picked up a couple of bottles of their Bernstein Bock, which is a traditionally brewed Heller Bock beer.  The brew pours a magnificent amber/copper color with a medium, dense head.  The taste was a definite change from the sweet and malty beers I’ve been having lately.  The Heller Bock is generally more bitter and less malty than its Doppelbock cousin, and this beer certainly fits that bill.  The flavors ranged from grassy and nutty on the front end with a hint of caramel to a very strong hop presence in the finishing.  All in all, it was a worthy representative of the style.  There will definitely be further sampling from this brewer on my wish list!

Our Salvator Is Nigh!
This is it, baby.  The original Doppelbock.  Whenever you hear stories of monks brewing liquid bread to sustain them through their religious fasts, they were originally referring to Paulaner’s Salvator.  My forays into the world of the Doppelbock have so far been pretty limited, but I am definitely a big fan of the style (especially Andechs offering, their Doppelbock Dunkel).  So, while I was shopping for beer the other day, I had some room in my crate, so I grabbed a few of these out of curiosity.

Salvator is actually Latin for Savior.  Not quite sure what the monks were trying to say when they christened this delectable brew.  In any case, the trend caught on.  It’s typical for Bavarian brewers to name their Doppelbocks with a variation on the -ator theme – such as Ayinger’s Celebrator or the Augustiner Maximator.  One US brewer even pokes a little fun at the usage by calling their Doppelbock Seeyoulator.

Well, when they call this stuff liquid bread, they were not kidding.  This is one rich, full-bodied beer. It pours a wonderful dark amber or brown color with light head.  The aroma is sweet and fills the air as soon as you open the bottle.  And, boy, the taste.  Quite sweet up front with notes of dried fruit and caramel, with a blast of wheat and bread in the middle, and a subtle grassy hop finish.  This is a complex, sippin’ beer.  Andechs’s Doppelbock is much softer and more subtle on the palate, so I would prefer it.  But, this one was definitely still pure beer-drinking delight.  The experience has all but guaranteed a future post on this amazing style.

Fellow Beer Bloggers
Recently, I’ve taken to patrolling the web finding interesting site on beer.  In particular, I’ve come across a few other bloggers who are doing a heckuva lot better job at this than I am.  So, I thought I’d pass on a few that I’ve really enjoyed.  I definitely recommend The Hopry.  These two Kerls out of Kansas City do video reviews of some of the best craft beers from around the world with a particular emphasis on brews coming out of the US of A.

Also, check out Tales of ales and more.  This guy is probably my Doppelgänger – an American living in London using his expatriate situation to explore the world of European beer.  He’s had some excellent posts on English beers as well as great info on beer drinking locales in London.

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