March of Lagers: Doppelbock – The ‘Savior’ for Lent-Practicing Monks

Doppelbock at GameCraft. Photo credit: Charlie Perez

We’ve all heard beer referred to as liquid bread once or twice. This analogy can fit many styles such as a Bavarian Weissbier. But Doppelbock has a greater affinity to liquid bread than any other.

Lent begins this week (for those who participate), and this beer has a direct connection to that monastic practice, too. This beer style is often said to have originated in Munich, and monks are credited for its creation. Although technically true, the origin story begins in northern Germany, and the monks were from another European country.

We begin around the mid-1500s in the city of Einbeck in northern Germany. Einbeck was a thriving trade city, and its specialty trade item was beer. This ale was made with lightly kilned barley and wheat, and was generously hopped. Einbeck’s beer made its way into many cities, including Munich. The ruling family of Bavaria were particularly fond of the Einbeck brew, and they spent plenty of money on it. By the 1540s, some Einbeck brewers were brought to Munich to teach brewers a thing or two.

In 1612, Duke Maximillian persuaded Elias Pichler, a well-regarded Einbeck brewer, to move to Munich to improve the Einbecker clones. Pichler refined the brew to fit some specific parameters. This meant the Einbecker no longer contained wheat malt, as this was reserved for special beers made for the royal family, and lagering techniques were used because they were law by then and were well-established by Munich brewers. The resulting beer was released at the famous Hofbräuhaus in 1614, and it was referred to as brewed the “Einbeck way.” We now have the birth of what eventually evolved into what we know as Dunkles Bock, or Bockbier.

Now to discuss the monks. In 1627, they came marching in from Italy (yes, Italy!) over the Alps and took home near Munich. These monks were from the order of St. Francis of Paula. They began brewing shortly after arriving. These Franciscan monks established the Paulaner Brewery in 1634 and lay claim to the Doppelbock style. However, it went by another, more divine name.

A quick note on how Bockbier got its name. It is widely believed and accepted that it is a manipulation of the word “Einbeck” in the Bavarian dialect. This would make the word sound like “Ayn pock” and eventually evolving to “ein bock” (one bock). “Bock” is also the word for “buck” or “goat” in German, explaining why so many versions of Bockbier display goats on their labels. That is quite ironic when you consider the development of the Doppelbock style was a byproduct of a testament of faith, yet the goat has some satanic symbolism. Now, that’s metal! Moving on …

As with most devout Catholics, Lent was taken very seriously. During this time, the monks would not eat solid food, and only liquid could be ingested. With Lent being the longest period of fasting for these monks, plenty of liquid would be consumed, most of which was the bockbier they were already masterfully brewing. Over time and after receiving blessing from the pope himself to consume this during Lent, the bockbiers got stronger. This was literally liquid bread for the Paulaner monks. It was natural the stronger bockbiers were referred to as “Salvator,” as in “The Savior,” for obvious reasons. In 1780, Paulaner was finally brewed commercially.

After the brewery came under Napoleon’s control in 1799, it lay in shambles until 1806 and ultimately was privately purchased by 1813. After a stretch of legal battles, in 1837 Paulaner was finally was given permission by King Ludwig (we will learn more about him in the coming weeks) to brew “Salvator” without obstruction. Clones were soon being produced by other breweries. Paulaner trademarked “Salvator” in 1896 and is now the only brewery that can use the name “Salvator” for its Doppelbock. Therefore, we see other Doppelbocks with names keeping the “-ator” suffix because they cannot use the original name. Celebrator and Optimator are German examples, and here closer to home we have The Bruery’s Rueminator or Game Craft’s Goat Simulator.

If fasting isn’t your thing, pair your Doppelbock with game meats such a venison or wild boar. Fruit sauces are great complements to both the meat and the sweet malt character of the beer. For an interesting combination, try Doppelbock with earthy, smoky Mexican dishes such as Oaxacan mole. Don’t stop with the main course; try a caramel flan for dessert. Reach for Swiss gruyère for a cheese pairing.

Doppelbock at GameCraft. Photo credit: Charlie Perez

Doppelbocks are amazing and flavorful. With an ABV of 7 percent to 10 percent, these beers are made for slow sipping. Colors range from mahogany to deep garnet to almost black in some examples. Aromas are almost like rising bread in the oven. On the palate, you’ll get toasty, bready notes, slight caramel, and toffee sweetness, finishing with a moderate bitterness and a clean lager character. The darker versions have some chocolate flavors, too.

Both The Bruery and Game Craft’s Doppelbock exhibit these characters, with some slight variation between them. Ruminator is oak-aged, so it has a vanilla component, while Goat Simulator is a tad fruity compared to others. Serve in a traditional dimpled mug at 40 degrees, take your time, and enjoy what the monks gave us.


Editor’s note: Charlie Perez is an Advanced Cicerone® who covers the Orange County beer scene for the Booze Blog.

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