The real story about bock

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You get used to those bouts of bewilderment that plague enthusiastic beer-drinkers; chalk ‘em up to just another hazard of our chosen profession.

You know, what happened to my pants? How come I’m sleeping on the lawn?

And then there’s bock beer.

Somehow, even when they’re stone-cold sober, many beer-drinkers are convinced this strong, malty lager is made with the dregs of the barrel. It’s as if brewers each spring decided that, what the hell, instead of hosing out the vats, let’s make a beer with the leftovers and sell it to an unsuspecting public.

Now, that might work for scrapple, but if you’re making beer, you’d have the world’s weakest glass of suds. Dregs, by definition, contain little if any fermentable sugars; thus, dummy, no alcohol.

But it’s not all your fault. The very origin of bock beer is kind of sketchy.

Experts agree the style got its start in Einbeck, Germany, which was a worldwide beer capital even before Munich. Yet, its beers were made with wheat and known as light and hoppy. When the style was inevitably translated in Bavaria, the wheat was removed (by law) from the recipe and it was fermented at cooler temperatures. It grew darker and maltier and stronger. Brewers then lagered it over the winter months, finally tapping it in the spring.

And Einbeck beer eventually became known simply as Bock.

Which, incidentally, is German for goat.

And that, if you’ve been paying attention, is how we get around to this goat race they’ll be running out at Phoenixville’s Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery on Sunday.

Philly-area brewers are known for publicity stunts; every summer, for example, a bunch of them dress up like wrasslers for a knockdown suds brawl. However, it’s the rare brewer who will publicly engage the services of a four-legged farm animal.

But this is Sly Fox brewer Brian O’Reilly’s fourth year for this race, a fun afternoon event that marks the release of his annual flock of bocks.

“Each year, the race has just been growing,” O’Reilly said. “We’re looking for our biggest crowd yet.”

And they’re not there just to watch the goats.

This season O’Reilly will pour six different versions of his bock, ranging from the traditional version, known as Slacker Bock, to his Instigator doppelbock, a style that ratchets up the malt and the alcohol. The featured brew is the brewery’s pale, delicately hoppy Maibock which each year is named after the winning goat.

Beer freaks, though, show up early to sample the kegs of O’Reilly’s one-of-a-kind ice bocks. They’re made through an old technique in which finished beer is partly frozen and the ice is removed. Since alcohol doesn’t freeze till much lower temps, the resulting, condensed  brew is a good bit stronger than its original version, climbing from 7 percent alcohol into double digits.

Unlike many high-octane ales, there’s not much alcohol in the nose, O’Reilly said.

Because it’s a lager, “it’s a very mellow fermentation,” O’Reilly said. “It doesn’t smell alcoholic. But when you drink it, it just warms you in the chest.”

Curiously, bock presents a bit of a paradox for many beer freaks. They love its strength, yet it lacks the huge hop aroma and bitterness they’ve been suckled on. Some ale fans hesitate to drink it simply because it’s a lager.

Even O’Reilly concedes that “as a brewer, it’s taken me quite a few years to back off on the hops, slowly.”

But when Sly Fox opened a second, larger brewery in nearby Royersford last year, he began dabbling with different brewing techniques to produce beers with more complex character. Instead of merely adding different ingredients, O’Reilly is broadening his repertoire by tweaking his brewing methods.

That’s a subtle but important evolution for this award-winning brewer, though even O’Reilly couldn’t turn dregs into bock.

Goat Races

The Sly Fox Bock Festival & Goat Race begins at 11 a.m. Sunday with beer and plates of Weisse wurst, a traditional German morning sausage. Goat registration is at 12:30 and the races begin at 2 p.m.

The Maibock is tapped by the owner of the winning goat and christened with its new name after the race.

Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery is on Rt. 113 at Pikeland Village Square in Phoenixville. No cover, pay as you go. Info: 610-935-4540.

Can’t make it to Phoenixville this weekend? There are plenty of bock to be had this season.

        Here’s a sixpack of favorites

  1.   Paulaner Salvator – The original double bock, known as “liquid bread.” Its name, which is Latin for “the Savior,” led to the tradition of giving other double bocks the “ator” suffix.
  2. Heavyweight Cinderbock – A crisp, smoky bock from Ocean County, N.J. Pairs very well with grilled meat.
  3.   Kulmbacher Eisbock – With this much malt and alcohol, it’s a surprisingly smooth but complex lager.
  4.   Mahr’s Der Weisse Bock – Hazy and lightly hopped, it’s made with wheat in a handsome bottle
  5.   Hoss Doppel Hirsch – Pours and drinks like an ice cream soda.
  6.   Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock – Dark and rich, with soft coffee-like flavor. Bottled with a plastic goat around its neck.

Habeamus another round

I don’t know about his religious credentials, but the new pope has Joe Sixpack’s kind of beer-drinking roots. A sixpack of papalana

  1.     His name, Benedict XIV, is from the 6th century saint who laid out the rules for monastic life. Among them: “For then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands.” That, dear faithful, is what led to monastery beer, including Belgian-made Orval and Achel.
  2.    Followers of St. Benedict’s still brew at one of Germany’s last remaining monastic breweries, the Kloster Ettal. Look for its Dunkel, now available in America.
  3.    The brewery that produces Hoegaarden, built in a former 16th century cloister,  also tips its hat to the monks, with its St. Benedict Dubbel.
  4.    His hometown renamed its locally brewed Weideneder Ale in his honor, Marktler Papstbier. (That’s papst, German for pope; not Pabst, Milwaukee for beer.)
  5.    As for the former Cardinal Ratzinger himself, according to news reports, his favorite is Franziskaner Weissbeir from Munich.

Beer radar

Troegs’ Sunshine Pils should be showing up on local tap handles this weekend. Look a little closer, and you might find some leftover kegs of the Harrisburg brewery’s Dead Reckoning Porter, made in honor of the Brewers Association conference held in Philadelphia earlier this month…The 12 Beers of Summer, a new pack from Matt Brewing, is in town, too. The flavors, chosen by brewery’s fans at Club Saranac, includes several newcomers, including a kolsch, a Belgian white and a berry-flavored Mountain Ale. Also new in town: Russian River Damnation and Sanctification, and 16-ounce cans of lager from Yuengling…

It’s your last weekend to squeeze in a reservation for the Belgian beer menu at Meritage (20th and Lombard streets, Center City). The four-course meal matches traditional Flemish dishes with primo Belgian ales, including Kwak and Chimay. Info: 215 985 1922…

Locals have a leg up in the Brewery Ommegang’s Discover Hennepin on Draft sweepstakes. Players must collect passport stamps from five different bars, then enter for a chance at a number of prizes, including a trip to Niagra Falls and a canoe. Lucky for Philly, five local bars are pouring Hennepin; collect your passport and stamps at: Abbaye Bar & Restaurant (3rd and Fairmount, Northern Liberties); Bridgid’s (24th and Aspen, Fairmount); Grey Lodge Pub (6235 Frankford Ave., Mayfair); Monk’s Café (16th and Spruce streets., Center City); and Tria Café (123 S. 18th St., Center City).


Tomorrow – Manayunk Brewery (4120 Main St., Manayunk) 7th annual Brew Fest. Sample more than 30 different flavors from American microbreweries. Taps open: 12-4 p.m. Tix: $25, $35 at the door. Info: 215-482-8220.


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