By Andy Symmonds
Before you ask, this is not the more colourful sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s an introduction to the seasonal specials that are produced every spring and autumn by the brewers in the Netherlands. Also to a lesser extent by the Belgian and other brewers around the world. I have to confess that the original plan was to visit the Bokbierfestival in Amsterdam. This plan went astray at the hands of the Rugby World Cup semi-finals. Drinking bokbier whilst supporting South Africa seemed so appropriate. With a dose of hindsight, this was not the ideal platform while planning to attend a beer festival.
Bock beer is a strong lager originating in Germany way back in the 14th century. It was originally a dark, malty and lightly hopped ale brewed in the Hanseatic town of Einbeck. This style was then adopted by the Bavarian brewers of Munich in the 17th century, who adapted the style to the new lager style of brewing to make the new beer an early hybrid. Einbeck was pronounced ‘Ein bock’ by the Bavarian locals (a billy goat in German), and the beer ended up being called simply a bock.
To this day, bok beers are produced around the world, usually linked to the season or religious festivals such as Easter and Xmas. This is again linked to tradition. Bavarian monks drank bok beers as a source of nutrition during periods of fasting. Knowing this does open up the possibilities of (yet another) new diet for people to try if they tire of eating what a caveman would have eaten, or avoiding carbohydrates at all costs. Our focus is naturally on the beers brewed in the Netherlands, as they are relatively easy to find.
Every autumn, the bars and shops start to feature these delicious brown beers that vary in strength (% alcohol) from an almost refreshing 6% to a slightly worrying 11.5% (Imperial Dubbelbok from Brouwerij Emelisse). The supermarkets seem to stock an increasingly broad selection of beers these days, so you can find a rich selection of bokbiers in your local Albert Hein. All the big players are represented this year (even Heineken join the party with their Tarwebok), but the refreshing news is that more and more of the smaller breweries are now getting supermarket shelf space.
The highlights of 2015 to date have been the beers from Brouwerij ‘tIJ (IJbok), the Bok from the Jopen Brouwerij, and the Brand Bok. Brand are making a good range at the moment, which also includes a tasty IPA. This leaves me to declare that the Best of the Boks so far in 2015 has been the La Chouffe Bok 6666. This is well worth looking for and an excellent beer, as could be expected from the team at Brasserie D’Achouffe. It has a fresh, fruity nose with a lovely roundness, and it’s not so strong (6.666% alcohol) by the usual standards of the brewers.