Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Drinkin' - Doppel Your Pleasure, Doppel Your Fun!

Ah, spring...

Finally, the winter chill seems to have left Ontario, leaving behind a grey, sludgy mess that will take a good month or so to clear out.  Homer Simpson was wise indeed when he coined the term "Smarch" to describe such drab late-winter weather.  Though there's still a bit of snow on the ground and a nip in the air, spring weather is just still around the corner.  Enough of the damn cliches - what this really means is that its time to roll over a new beer season on the calendar!

Though the stouts, spiced ales and barleywines of the winter will not be fully left behind in the coming months, I will nevertheless be moving my focus towards other styles more in tune to the new season.  For the more devoutly Christian among us (or merely those who feel like boastfully starting - and then immediately failing - a yearly period of asceticism), the change in the season heralds the beginning of the Lenten period, a time of fasting and repentance.  Since few people today are willing to truly fast during this period, most people instead choose to withhold from a particular something they enjoy for the forty day period.  Chocolate, fried food and the like.  Yet a few of the crazier folks out there go whole hog and do the unthinkable, and that's to give up booze for nearly six weeks.  Not only is this a terrible, awful choice, it's also not really appropriate for the season; if you don't believe me, consider the most devout individuals in Christian history - the monks.   As noted beer judge and author Randy Mosher observes, Christian monks throughout recent history have seen strong beers as being a sort of  "loophole" from the seemingly oppressive rules of the Lenten fast.  Learned fathers of the faith declared that "God somehow overlooked banning beer along with meat, and so took full advantage," bless them.  Since beer has been such a nutritious beverage throughout its history, monks were sustain themselves throughout the periods in which solid foods were forbidden by indulging themselves on strong lagers - the bock being the most popular of these in the German states - without violating the spirit of their vows.   Now I'm certainly not attempting to take away from the impressive display of piety displayed throughout Lent by the disciplined members of the various monastic orders; I'm merely trying to point out that giving up beer for Lent isn't something even monks are willing to do.  So, if you want to celebrate and honour Lent, pick something other than beer to give up.  Seriously. Please.

As I've mentioned before, bocks are strong lagers that are usually quite rich, malty, fruity and with only a mild hop character to them, if there is any at all.  Because lagers require cooler temperatures for the yeast to ferment properly, these beers were best brewed in the cold, winter months and would thus be ready just in time for the onset of spring and the Lenten season.  A popular variation of the bock style is the doppelbock, which originated from monks of the Paulaner order of southern Germany (the same folks who gave the name to Paulaner Weissbier).   Doppelbocks are, as you might expect, stronger and sweeter than your standard bock, but they still display the same malty, hearty flavors associated with the bock style.  The LCBO, as part of its spring beer release, has put forward a few lovely examples of doppelbock to herald the springtime.  Here are a couple of my favorites.  Both are terrific and are reasonably priced, at around 3-4 bucks for a tall bottle. 

Beer: Amsterdam Spring Bock
Brewery: Amsterdam Brewing (Toronto)
Type: Doppelbock
ABV: 7.4%

Amsterdam is a brewery that has yet to really impress me much.  While they might have the moves, they don't have the touch.  Now don't get me wrong, I certainly think they're alright.  But that won't satisfy the already snooty preferences of a John Q. Craftbeerman such as myself.  The standard slate of offerings that one might find in the LCBO or on draught in downtown Toronto are certainly fine, and I feel much better drinking something locally-made than the corporate junk that I usually find on-tap, but then again the brews aren't really impressive either.  While I've been very glad to see Amsterdam brews on tap at many a GTA establishment, what I've seen has been very run-of-the-mill stuff - a blonde, a nutbrown, a red, etc.  To be fair, this isn't a problem that's unique to Amsterdam, or even for Ontario craft breweries as a whole.  Indeed, there are scores of craft breweries that only seem to produce passable, unimpressive stuff, solely because it sells and keeps the business going.  I certainly realize the need to appeal to broader demographic of drinkers, and thus I will still support them nevertheless.  But it would be nice for a brewery to stand out not just by virtue of it being "craft" or "local", but rather because it brews exciting, terrific beer on a regular basis.  Thus my trepidation at seeing Amsterdam Spring Bock among the LCBO's spring releases. 

With this in mind, imagine my surprise when I see that Amsterdam has produced a terrific bock-style beer that is head-and-shoulders above the rest of their lineup - hell, it's better (and more ambitious) than a great many brews in the province I've encountered thus far!   This was a terrific little brew (now I shouldn't say "little" here, because it packs a punch at 7.4% ABV!) that truly followed the traditional German bock style.  Let's have a look!

Poured into a conical pint glass. A deep, chestnut amber brew, with the pour leaving a thick off-white inch of head. Decent retention, survived as a thin ring. Some lacing.

The nose is exactly what I look for in a bock - rich malt, raisins, pumpernickel bread, dark fruit, caramel and toffee. Off to a good start!

Amsterdam Spring Bock tastes as good as it smells, and is a stand-up bock all around.  Boozy, rich, big pumpernickel flavor, caramel and all the usual suspects. Finishes dry and slightly bitter.  The beer boasts a thicker mouthfeel, which is slightly creamy with mild carbonation.

This brew was a real surprise.  A great tasting bock, perfect for the beginning of the warm spring weather.  It drinks well, although one bottle at a time is certainly enough.  Easily my favorite Amsterdam brew I've had thus far. Would that they could brew their other fare this well!  I'll certainly be encouraging Amsterdam to keep brewing stuff like this by snapping up a few more bottles to keep me rolling through the spring! (Grade: B+)

Now from something from the old country itself...

Beer: Der HirschBrau - Doppel-Hirsch
Brewery: HirschBrau (Sonthofen, Germany)
Type: Doppelbock
ABV: 7.2%

This Christmas I received a gift pack from Der HirschBrau, a lovely little brewery about as far south in Germany as one can get.  Their doppelbock was my first brew from Hirsch, however; last spring I seem to recall drinking several bottles of it.  Time to rekindle that tradition.   

A lovely swingtop 750mL bottle.  Since the symbol of the bock beer is a stag, it's only appropriate that this doppelbock brew feature two stags locked in mating-season combat. 

Poured into a classic German-style beer mug I had kicking around.  A rich, dark ruby-chestnut - lovely when held to the light. Despite an aggressive pour, only about a half inch of head that quickly dissolved into a ring. A few flecks of lacing.

The nose opens in a big way with a huge whiff of caramel and toffee, followed by a touch of dark fruit and spices.  Pumpernickel bread and booze round things off.

Sweet caramel and chestnuts up front, then a fruity, spicy finish.  A bit of warming alcohol creeps in here, but the taste of it isn't unpleasant.  Rich, yet easy to drink.  Definitely a sipper - hearty and delicious. Thick carbonation, with a medium-thick body. Slighty creamy, chewy.

A great doppelbock, definitely one to keep in mind for cold winter/spring evenings.  It's a slow drinker to be sure, not something you want to power through due to the high ABV and hearty nature of the brew.  Indeed, after a single bottle of this, I was certainly half in the bag.  It's cellarable, so I might have to pick up a bottle or two for storage since the LCBO seems to be making a habit of releasing this beer each spring.

It may not seem like spring just yet, but there's still reasons to celebrate, and a rich hearty lager is a perfect way to usher in the new season.  Both brews are well worth picking up, and are each excellent examples of the bock style if its unfamiliar to you.   Drink heartily!

No comments:

Post a Comment