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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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