I have always had a particular fondness for the emphatic malt character, smoothness and underlying elegance of noble hops in ordinary German biers. I was especially enamored with bocks and that pure expression of malt. Bocks are beers of extraordinary finesse in spite of their fortitude. Brewing them at home can be something of a challenge, and it is critical to follow the bullet points for successful lager brewing outlined in another recent column of mine; short lag time, steady fermentation, diacetyl rest and proper lagering. German beer styles are generally considered fairly rigid in their composition, but bocks offer some room within the styles if you are interested in classic recreations, and are excellent for experimentation.

Bock Basics

Bockbier began in Einbeck as top-fermented wheat and barley beer, was later brewed in Bavaria with dark malts and bottom-fermentation, and eventually made stronger by Paulaner monks for Lent fasting to become doppelbock. Maibock and Helles Bock evolved as a strong version of Munich Helles, and Eisbock is rumored to have been serendipitously produced by a feckless journeyman who allowed his precious cargo to freeze. Common among them is an unwavering commitment to juicy malt character, a supportive hop presence, medium-to-full body, and refined, well-rounded flavor. The key to brewing them is a relatively simple malt bill and proper malt selection. Extract brewers have available products made from authentic Pilsner and Munich malts. Judicious use of character malts, such as crystal/caramel, aromatic and chocolate, fills out the palette. Hops, though generally reserved, need not be an afterthought entirely. Subtle hoppy aromatics can greatly enhance dark bock, and a more assertive noble bouquet accents pale bocks exquisitely. As for the yeast, I prefer the malt-enhancing Bavarian and Munich strains (Wyeast 2206, 2308 or Whitelabs 830,838), but Czech and Bohemian Lager yeasts can be used for a crisper finish without compromising malt. Whitelabs WLP833 is a bock-specific strain. California Lager yeast is suitable in a pinch if temperature control is an issue, and Fermentis Saflager 34/70 dried yeast is an excellent no-fuss option. As always, visit the yeast suppliers’ websites for the fermentation and profile specs. For successful fermentation, vigorous aeration is an absolute must, as is a healthy, high cell count yeast starter. Always perform a diacetyl rest, and cold-condition (6 to 8 weeks or more) as best as possible since bocks as much as any beer will benefit proper lagering.

Helles Bock and Maibock (Pale Bock)

As the names suggest, this group of bocks is fairly light-colored and/or brewed for late spring. Color ranges from bright, full gold to light amber. Helles Bock (gold) and Maibock (light amber) can be segregated by color, and brewers will generally follow this rule when naming them. For all grain brewers, blends of Pilsner, Vienna and Munich can be used without any character malt, leaving the body lean, and the malty flavor polished and clean. My favorite combinations are half Pilsner and half Vienna for full gold color and lightly kilned flavor and aroma. Pilsner/Munich and Vienna/Munich blends enrich the color, offer fuller body and greatly enhance spicy, toasted maltiness. SMaSM brewers can use either Pilsner or Vienna malt alone. Mash in the low 150s F, and you’ll have enough body to back up the gravity. Extract brewers are best served with combinations of Pilsner- and Munich-based extract, the latter comprising 10 to 25 percent of the total, augmented with light crystal or Carapils for body. Original gravity should be 1.064 or more. Hop up to 35 IBU, with a firm aromatic addition.

Traditional Bock

If the Helles Bock can be thought of as a strong Munich Helles, then traditional bock could be thought of as a buffed up Munich Dunkel. These were the original bocks of Bavaria, local interpretations of the Einbecker model, and the template for big brother Doppelbock. Still rather modest by “strong” beer standards at OG 1.064 and above, Traditional Bocks will test your mettle in homebrewing extra-malty beers. Use aromatic malts (must be mashed) to accentuate this malt component on top of toasty, well-kilned base malts. Once again, combinations of Pilsner, Vienna and Munich types can be used as the base, but this is a real chance to showcase Munich malt. My preference is 50/50 Vienna and Munich at about 90 percent of the grist, with the remainder Special B, Aromatic and Caramunich III, and sometimes chocolate. The color should be medium to mahogany brown. Mash at 154 to 155º F to get maximum mouthfeel. Extract brewers can follow the same strategy, with Pilsner and Munich extracts, the latter being up to 100 percent of the extract component. Add complexity and depth with Caramunich, medium to dark crystal and perhaps a small measure of Special B or chocolate as steeping grains. Melanoidins from kettle reactions should be a primary component. A prolonged boil or vigorous boiling of the initial runoff can greatly aid the richness of Traditional Bock. Hop rates are low to mid 20 IBUs.


In this homebrewer’s opinion, a stellar Doppelbock is not only the ultimate beer style, but also one of the most rewarding beers to craft. Light lagers are probably harder to make, but Doppelbock embodies more of the artisan virtues than any other style. Patience, creativity and full command of brewing skills are needed. Most Doppels are full amber to deep reddish brown, but blonde doppelbocks also exist. The name itself can only be applied to lagers of minimum OG 1.072 in Germany, and rarely do they exceed 1.080. With these parameters in mind, this is truly a classic lager style that can be made entirely to the brewers whim. After all, Doppelbock was designed as liquid bread. Use the Pale Bock approach for Blonde Doppelbock, but mash high for mouthfeel and increase the gravity to at least 1.075. For amber Doppelbocks, use Vienna and Munich alone as the base and prolong the boil (always helps flavor development), or augment with Caramunich or medium caramel and/or aromatic malts for complexity. For darker color and even more depth, use Special B and chocolate malt for plum or raisin notes to go along with the sweetish, opulent malt and melanoidins. Hop in the low to mid 20 IBUs.

Mouthfeel can be from medium to full, the former partnering well with amber       Doppelbock and the latter a perfect match for dark, authentic historical renditions, shades of 17th century Munich. The real challenge is to make this ultra-clean with impeccable and complete fermentation. Residuals should not be too sweet, but manifested in body and a big malty profile of aroma and flavor. Expect to ferment for a month and lager for at least 8 weeks. Never will a strong yeast starter, full aeration and proper diacetyl rest be more important. Bavarian, Munich and Bock yeasts are optimal.

Variations and
One-Off Bocks

About every fourth beer that I make has an “experimental” component to it, and bocks are not excluded from this. Try cocoa nibs, regular cocoa, chocolate syrup or chocolate at knockout, in the secondary or during aging. Another one to try is Black Bock or “Schwarzbock,” a variation that I have had great luck with. Add up to 5 percent Carafa of your choice and a touch of chocolate malt (up to 1# total in extract recipes per 5 gallons) for this roasty edge. It will remind you of Baltic Porter. Other malted grains, such as wheat or rye will add some creaminess, a bit more complexity and some flavor. Perhaps the best bock I’ve ever made, according to competition judges, was a Doppelbock made with malted rye (25%), Munich, Aromatic and Chocolate malt.

Now is the time to get that Doppelbock recipe together, since it will be ready right about Lent. And if all goes well, think about following that up with a Maibock, perfect for transitioning into summer.

Schwarzbock (extract)

5 gallons, OG 1.075, 25 IBU

Steep 1# Caramunich® III, 0.75# Carafa® I and 0.5# Special B for 20 minutes at 155º F

Rinse steeping grains and top up kettle to 5 gallons

Add 8# Munich LME and bring to a boil

Bittering hops: 1 oz Perle, 60 minutes

Flavor hops: 1 oz Tetnanger, 20 minutes

Aroma hops: 1 oz Tetnanger, 5 minutes

Ferment with standard lager procedures with one of the yeasts described above

Classic Doppelbock (partial mash)

5 gallons, OG 1.080, 25 IBU

Mash 1# aromatic malt, 1# Caramunich® III, 3# Munich malt and 3# Pilsner malt at 154º F for one hour

Collect 5.5 gallons of wort and dissolve 5# Munich malt extract in kettle

Bittering hops: 1.5 oz Hallertauer, 60 minutes

Flavor/Aroma hops: 0.5 Hallertauer, 10 minutes

Ferment with standard lager procedures with one of the yeasts described above

SMaSH Maibock (all-grain)

5 gallons, OG 1.070, 33 IBU

Mash 14# Vienna malt at 153º F for one hour

Bittering hops: 2 oz Hallertauer Mittelfruh, 60 minutes

Flavor hops: 1 oz Hallertauer Mittelfruh, 20 minutes

Aroma hops: 1 oz Hallertauer Mittelfruh, 0 minutes

Ferment with standard lager procedures with one of the yeasts described above