In Bavaria, as in much of Europe in the Middle Ages, monastic brewing was prevalent and reputable. Franciscan monks from Paula, Italy settled at Neudeck in Munich in 1627 and began brewing. They were required to subjugate themselves by fasting during Advent and Lent and allowed no solid food. Already brewers of Munich’s finest dark, strong lager (bock), they decided to make it even more robust and sustaining (doppelbock)—literally “liquid bread.”
The uplifting quality of the beer led them to question whether this was indeed not truly suffering as religiously dictated, so they sought to have it sanctioned by the Holy Father himself in Rome. When given the dispensation, they began referring to it as Salvator (Savior). Some was served up to the public, perhaps illegally, who dubbed it “double bock” because of its noticeable fortification.
The Paulaner monks received legal permission to brew commercially in 1780. These endeavors were short-lived however, as the monastery was dissolved in 1799, and the brewery came under control of Napoleon Bonaparte, who secularized all business activities.
The brewery lay fallow until it was rented by local brewer Franz Zacherl in 1806, and purchased by him in 1813. Though he continued to produce the beer known as Salvator, he had to endure years of legal wrangling, as city factions fought over brewing rights and such. Finally, in 1837, King Ludwig I of Bavaria allowed Zacherl unrestricted brewing of the beloved Salvator. It was around this time that the beer was officially recognized by that name. Many imitators were spawned in light of the popularity of Salvator. The original is still brewed on location and lagered in the world’s deepest cellars, 72 feet below ground.
Doppelbock is often given a name that ends in the suffix “–ator” as a reverent nod to the original brew and the divine symbolism, making for easy identification of the style. “Bock” is also German for billy goat, a symbol of vigor that occasionally graces the label.
The Gentle Giant
Doppelbock may be one of the few beer styles that very closely resembles its original blueprint. In a sense, it is still made the way it was by the monks of St. Francis of Paula, when specialty malts were nonexistent, but all beers were made with single malt formulations. Munich was made famous by its dark lagers, those made entirely of its namesake Munich malt. It is kilned to deep amber or brown color, with the side benefit of acquiring superb depth of toasted malty flavors and a full mouthfeel.
Today’s Munich malt may be a little smoother around the edges, given the technological advances in kilning over the past 200 years, but nonetheless it is made with a single purpose, to give that luxurious complexity associated with doppelbock. Pure malt flavors are difficult to achieve, and paradoxically hard to explain. The sensation and perception is of something sweet and thick, without the unpleasant, cloyingness of syrup. The malted milk aroma and flavor is inimitable. Decoction mashing and an extensive lagering period add measurably by exaggerating the malt and smoothing out the profile.
Unobtrusive hop dosage brings this malty character to the forefront. This is not to say that a lighter shade of base malt or even some caramel malt isn’t in the grist, but the star is the Munich style. By law, wort with a minimum original gravity of 1072 must be used to produce a doppelbock. Most are around 6.5 to 8 percent ABV, but stronger versions at 10 to even 14 percent do exist. The lower strength versions hide the alcohol quite well, but the lavish nature of the brew encourages deliberate sipping. The heftiest ones, like Eggenberger Samiclaus (14%) and EKU 28 (11%), are incredibly malty with a noticeable alcoholic character. They range from copper-red to chestnut to deep mahogany in color.
It is worth mentioning the fortified offspring of doppelbock, eisbock. Legend has it that in 1890 a feckless brewery worker at Kulmbacher in Bavaria left some casks of doppelbock outside on a frigid night. The partially frozen kegs burst, and as punishment, the worker was forced to drink the concentrated liquid that separated from the ice crystals. Surprisingly good, this serendipitous brew became a regular product, and is still produced today. It is simply a slightly concentrated form of the base doppelbock, and rather formidable at 9 to 14 percent.
The quest for bigger brews has been the impetus for many to expand their horizons, and brewers are more than happy to accommodate. Some of the frontiers however, were breached some time ago, with no refinement necessary to satisfy the tastes of traditional and new style lovers alike. With a touch of divine guidance, doppelbock is such a timeless brew, not to mention timely, as winter arrives and eventually melts into spring.