Don’t waste the bock of the barrel

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Winter’s over, and that means those springtime favorites are sprouting, and I don’t mean daffodils.

It’s bock time – the strong, dark lagers that were traditionally brewed in observance of Lent. Contrary to longstanding belief, bock is not the dregs from the bottom of the barrel. The hearty flavor and brownish color is mostly due to the use of darker malts.

The story goes that German monks used to brew the hearty “liquid bread” for those long, hungry weeks when eating meat was forbidden.

Of course, not being a German monk, Joe Sixpack was spared the wrath of God when a recent sampling of these strong beers was accompanied by a delicious plateful of pulled-pork spatzl at Ludwig’s Garten (1315 Sansom St., Center City).

This excellent Bavarian restaurant features the city’s best selection of German tap handles (16 of ’em), and a healthy choice of hard-to-find bottles. The details escape me now, but I do recall a mammoth mug of Spaten Optimator that filled me like a loaf of something baked by Amoroso’s.

Look around, and you’ll find Ayinger Celebrator, Paulaner Salvator, Augustiner Maximator and the locally made Dock Street Illuminator.

I wouldn’t turn my back on any of those. But, for me, the best of this style is Schneider Aventinus, a double bock made with wheat. Look for its distinctive purple label and be prepared for 30 minutes of unmitigated mouth joy.

If you’re not a big fan of dark beers, you can still enjoy Spoetzl’s light Shiner Bock from Texas. For a little more beef, reach for Stoudt Blonde Double Maibock, brewed in Adamstown. (As always with Stoudt’s, I look first for the big, 25-ounce bottles, which are unpasteurized; the smaller, 12-ounce bottles – contract-brewed in Wilkes-Barre – cost less, but seem somewhat less flavorful.)

Also, Downingtown’s Victory Brewing bottles three bocks: St. Boisterous, St. Victorious Doppelbock and a powerful Moonglow Weizen Bock.

Great ideas, Part I

This is either lame-brained or brilliant: an all-you-can-drink pub. It’s called Stechuhr, which means “stopwatch” in German.

The London Evening Standard reports customers at the German tavern chain receive a time card when they enter the pub – and must clock in before they start drinking. Men pay the equivalent of $6.50 for the first hour (women pay $3.25), then the price decreases.

A pub like that would last about 10 minutes in Roxborough.

Stechuhr reminds Joe Sixpack of the Old City bar that took a stab at standardized beer pricing a few years back. Customers paid the same price for all beers, whether it was Yuengling or an imported Trappist ale.

The owner hoped his dim-witted Bud drinkers would subsidize those with refined palates. Turns out his customers were smarter than he thought and guzzled the underpriced premiums.

The experiment ended in less than a month.

Great ideas, Part II

Can’t afford a flight to Frankfurt? Don’t know any stupid tavern owners? Here are a few underpriced gems you’ll find around town (thanks to Beer Philadelphia’s Jim Anderson for help):

  • Yuengling Lord Chesterfield Ale, $6.55 a sixpack. Enough taste for an empty-pocketed hop hound.
  • Leffe, abbey-style from Belgium, $26 for case of 12 ounce bottles.
  • Ommegang, the Belgian knockoff from Cooperstown, N.Y., $5.50 for a 25-ounce bottle – about half the price of the real thing.
  • Sterken double, another Belgian, which I’ve seen for as little as 20 bucks a case.
  • Schmucker Double Bock, “an 8 percent beer for $20 a case. That’s unheard of,” Anderson says.

Beer case

In Brazil, an ex-brewmaster successfully sued Brahma brewery for turning him into an alcoholic. The former senior brewer said he had spent 20 years tasting up to 3 gallons of beer A DAY!

The poor guy says he was forced to retire because of drinking problems at the age of 40. The courts ordered the brewery to pay him $30,000 in damages and a monthly pension equal to his salary of about $2,600.

Twenty years of free beer and a lifetime retirement fund? Guy must’ve had a Philadelphia lawyer.

Book it

Just arrived: “The Beer Lover’s Guide to the USA,” ($14.95, St. Martin’s Griffin) by hubby/wife suds-scribes Stan Hieronymus and Daria Labinsky.

This excellent guide includes 4,000 places to grab a craft brew, which might seem like overkill unless:

  1. You are extremely thirsty.
  2. You are trapped in Buffalo and the Temple Owls just lost to Seton Hall.

Both of which applied to Joe Sixpack a couple of weekends ago. Thankfully, this guide led me out of Bud Light Hell and into the cozy confines of the Lake Erie burg’s Pearl Street Grill & Brewing Co. upstairs billiards room. A decent bitter and an even better game of nine-ball took the sting out of the Owls’ sad defeat.

Locally, Monk’s Cafe (16th and Spruce streets, Center City) and Northeast Taproom (1101 N. 12th St., Reading) grab four stars.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Spaten Optimator.

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