Fearful Symmetries

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28 March, 2016

Sure to Please Beer and Goat Lovers Alike: Heirloom Bock by August Schell Brewing Co.



Spring is now upon us and there is no shortage of bocks in the stores these days. Back in January Schell Brewing next door in Minnesota released a bock sampler 12-pack which was sure to please both beer and goat lovers alike. The only place in Madison that I saw the packs was at Woodman's on the west side. I was quite happy to find it as I was disappointed that New Glarus had decided not to brew Cabin Fever this spring and I believe that they skipped over Back 40 last year too.

Legend has it that "bock" is a Bavarian corruption of Einbeck, a northern German city which developed a reputation for brewing fine biers back in the High Middle Ages that were dark and strong. Moving ahead a few hundred years to the Renaissance, Bavarian brewers in Munich were busying themselves with adopting the style. Eventually the southern brewers adapted the traditional bockbier to trendy new lagering techniques producing the bock that we know and enjoy today.

Bock is what Germans call a starkbier or strong beer. I'm not sure if this more of a brewing term or more of a taxing term. My understanding is that bier was taxed (is?) in Germany by strength. Regardless, bocks are generally 6-7% A.B.V. and there are stronger doppelbocks (these are where fasting monks come in) and even more potent eisbocks. I can't find anything indicating what the proto-bock brewed back when von Eschenbach was writing Parzival tasted like but the modern bock is a bastion of malty goodness with varying levels of hoppiness, depending on the type of bock you're drinking. Generally speaking, lighter-colored maibocks are hoppier than their darker cousins that abound in the depths of winter. And, also generally speaking, American brewers seem quite keen on making any kind of bock quite hoppy with plenty of New World greens.

Schell's 12-pronged celebration of winter includes four different bocks: their current bock available as a winter seasonal, a doppelbock, a bock made with from a pre-Prohibition formula, and Heirloom Bock that is brewed with wheat and spelt, which is also wheat. A few German brewers still brew dinkelbier with dinkel being an heirloom variety of spelt so this is yet another instance of Schell's "German craft beer" mantra in action.

I began with the Heirloom Bock for no particular reason and it poured a lovely deep amber color that was crystal clear. It was topped with about a goodly sized head of frothy tan foam that proved in no hurry to go anywhere. There were plenty of bubbles inside the glass going upwards.

The aroma was a nice mix of malty scents along with a small dose of hops. Sweeter smells came first with a bit of caramel followed by plum. Roasted grains came next. And buried in there amongst the wheat, the other wheat, and the barley was a dash of grassy hop.

From what I've read, spelt is best suited for baking because it is very high in protein – hence the nice head, I would imagine. In brewing the surfeit protein can lead to haziness. Furthermore spelt apparently has a more husk than your run of the mill modern wheat varieties and the husk is loaded with tannins. I can't think of another brew I've had that contains spelt so I wasn't sure what flavors I'd be getting from it. (Do cicerones get tested on spelt in beer?)

What I discovered was that the bier tasted a lot like it smelled. There was a bit of caramel along with roasted grain and – quelle surprise – wheat. I also tasted a slight sweetness that wasn't like caramel or toffee but also not fruity. Just a grainy sweetness. This bier had a nice smooth, medium body. It just felt good on the tongue. A hint of carbonation helped keep the sweetness in line with the more savory malt flavors.

For the finish, the hops stepped up with a grassy flavor accented by a little spiciness. They were moderately bitter and lent some dryness as well. My glass was left with some large sheets of Schaumhaftvermoegen. Wheat beers are always some of the prettiest.

Heirloom Bock is awash in malt flavors but the sweetness is kept at bay. Instead gentle waves of grainy goodness wash over your tongue. This is not to say that it is thin or watery – it isn't – but it's also not chewy. You know how Led Zeppelin was "tight but loose"? Heirloom Bock is full-bodied but nimble.

Junk food pairing: Grab a bag of Kettle Brand Cheddar Beer potato chips to go along with your Heirloom bock. In addition to being meta, they're tasty.

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|| Palmer, 7:33 PM

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