It's that time of year when North German beer gets a flavoursome
and chewy boost – yes, as the nights draw in and the mercury
plummets, we get ready for warming Winterbocks and Weihnachtsbiers.
Of course there are other tasty Bocks produced year-round, but these
malty, brown, and often roasty, nutty and/or spicy brews are much
more seasonal in character – think of them as a dark step on from
the lighter Märzens of autumn.
|I didn't think to save a Flensburger bottle...|
- Both of them class as Doppelbocks, weighing in at 6.8% and 7%
respectively. Dithmarscher's Urbock (=original bock) is chestnut
brown with a little malt and a faint tang of orange on the nose. A
little sweet at first, you then find hints of orange and apricot and
it finishes with typically German herby-peppery hops and some burnt
caramel. The burnt caramel is a bit of a theme with these beers.
It's there in the 2012 edition of Flensburger Winterbock too, along
with fruity malt aromas that feed through into a nutty body with a
good alcohol bite, burnt caramel, and some peppery hops on the
- I also briefly met a third example of the style at the Hamburger Craft Beer Day - Ricklinger Weihnachtsbock. Rather darker, this dark 7%-er brought hints of treacle and roast
malt, with peppery notes.
- The next ones I spotted on the shelves were not one but two
examples from Einbecker – a 5.3% Weihnachtsbier and a 7.5%
Winter-Bock. The well-crafted amber Weihnachtsbier appears to be new
this year but is typical of that style, being fairly dry and toasty,
with burnt-bitter notes and some grassy hops layered over something
resembling a Vienna amber lager. This year's Winter-Bock is vinous
and slightly syrupy sweet, but the sweetness is well balanced with
notes of burnt raisins and barley, some dryish hops and a good
- Turning from the oldest to the youngest, Hamburg's Astra brand –
now owned by Carlsberg and used as the trendy face of Holsten –
has a 5.9% winter beer just out called Arschkalt. This literally translates to Arse-cold, which I guess is
a bit like British breweries calling their winter ales Brass Monkey
- The label is designed to look like it's been torn off and a new
logo scratched in. Fortunately, the contents mostly live up to this
arty conceit – the dark amber beer has a nice balance of hops and
caramelly burnt biscuit, with toasted fruit just about detectable in
the background. There's no great complexity there, but it's pretty
quaffable. Just don't do what the marketing idiots suggest and drink
it chilled, because then it merely tastes thin and burnt.
- As you may guess from the above, there is a fair degree of
similarity in all these beers, as if the brewers have been given a style guide
and told to stick with it. I guess that means at least you know
roughly what to expect when buying – and fortunately there is
still a little room for individualism.
- The best of the bunch? For me it's the Einbecker Winter-Bock,
though the Flensburger runs it close. Incidentally, Einbeck (which
is not far from Hannover) is regarded as the origin of Bock.
According to legend, its strong dark ale became especially popular in medieval times
at the royal court down south in Munich, where the local accent
turned its name into first Ein Bock (=a billy goat) and then just
Bock. The Bavarian brewers then copied the style and shifted it over
to bottom fermentation; even the northern examples are now bottom
fermented lagers rather than top fermented ales.