03 March 2017

Bockbier bugbear

Session logoThis month's Session is being hosted by what I think is the world's longest-running beer blog, Jon Abernathy's Oregon-based The Brew Site. Our topic is bock, which is a bit of a four-letter word for me: monosyllabic and stark, conjuring up equally stark, harshly bittered, sticky golden beers. I do not usually have a fun time with German bock. Dutch autumn bock I do quite like, but I think that's out of bounds for today.

Instead of drinking it down like a big boy, I have to have my bock adulterated with a qualification. Maibock? Sometimes. Dunkelbock, sure. Weizenbock: getting better, and Doppelbock, yes please. Eisbock? Maybe too far. But you get the idea: the prefix is where a lot of the fun to be had with German beers is happening. The epitome is Gänstaller Bräu's truly epic Affumicator, which they badge stylistically as a driedoppelrauchbock. Pick the bones out of that, BJCP. That's the kind of bock I can do business with.

Unfortunately I've had only fleeting dalliances with Affumicator so I need something else to write about for this post. It was a difficult search for something new: bock-style beers aren't as common on the shelves in Dublin as they were seven or eight years ago. There was one hold-out, however. I had passed by Weissenoher's Bonator many times, having had an unpleasant experience with some of the brewery's other beers. In fact, they all had that harsh waxy musty German bitterness that is exactly what bothers me about bock. Bonator is a doppelbock, however, so surely that's a safe space?

On pouring, it struck me immediately as a little pale for the style: I was expecting dark brown instead of this burnished garnet amber. There's a strange and disconcerting mish-mash of aromas: herbs, caramel, acetone and twigs. Going in for the first mouthful I was apprehensive to say the least. The foretaste pummels the palate with equally dry and sticky cereals, then there's a whoosh of alcohol and a rasp of green noble hop flavour. Then suddenly it all calms down and integrates into a single stream of golden syrup and chocolate sauce. Intensely sweet but with echoes of the dusty grain and bitter hops to balance it. It's still as unsettling and difficult as the other Weissenoher beers, but it's interestingly complex with it, aided I'm sure by that whopping 8% ABV. With every mouthful I'm thinking "Ugh, I hate this" followed, after swallowing, by "That's pretty good actually." So I dunno. It's big and it's odd and it's quite different to most doppelbocks I've met.

I guess, like the totemic goats that usually adorn its marketing, bock has its uses, can even be quite cuddly, but is never to be fully trusted.


  1. Great post Mr. Nut. We generally like our beer writers to have a firm opinion on the beers they review (just tell us if we should like it!) but the truth is that sometimes beers really are confusing on first encounter. Nice to see this so well reflected here. Sometimes that initial, confusing complexity rewards repeated exploration. Reminds me of the many times I’ve grappled with ‘difficult’ new music only to be rewarded eight, nine, ten listens later when somehow the pieces magically fall into place to reveal the hidden genius (of course sometimes it just stays impenetrable).

    Either way I’ll be seeking out a bottle of Weissenoher's Bonator. I’ll just have to figure out for myself whether I like it.

    1. Cheers Nick. This blog is scattered with negative reviews of beers I later came to love. The main thing is never to trust anyone's opinion on anything, least of all one's own.