Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

March 15, 2007

Home Brewin’:

It’s My Bock, Brew Your Own!

Early spring is the time of the mai bock, a noble brew with a rich tradition that suits Midwestern weather perfectly.
by Jug Dunningan

Jug Dunningan is just here for the beer.
Contact Jug»
The days are getting longer and the temperatures are getting warmer, and this can only mean one thing—it’s mai bock season! Before spring truly arrives, us zymurgists need to take advantage of what’s left of winter.

Mai Bock was first brewed in the 14th century in Einbeck, Germany and literally translates to “May goat.” The goat represents when the beer was brewed, under the sign of Capricorn the Goat (December 22-January 19). May refers to when the brew becomes prime for the drinking.

Now before you think this is some pagan, voodoo brew there are some things you need to understand about mai bock and lager beers in general. Keep in mind sanitation and cleaning agents were unheard of in the 1300s, and yeast cultivation was in its infancy and without the benefits of labs or microscopes.

How It Works
All bocks, including mai bocks, use lager yeast. Lager yeasts have evolved into a bottom fermenting strain that can work in temperatures much cooler (35-50 F) than ale yeasts(60-75 F). Most bacteria and wild yeast are incompatible with these cooler temperatures, and this fact helped greatly to reduce contamination in the early days of brewing before sanitation was much of a concept. Lager yeasts also produce less esters and naturally make a “crisper,” cleaner beer.

It took years for zymurgists to isolate these “new” lager strains, and even then the quality of the yeast was a far cry from the microbiologically refined strains we use today. Therefore it took many months of cold storage (lager is German for “to store”) for the yeasts to complete their work, hence the wait until May before consumption. Although records of the 14th century are spotty at best, it’s believed most brewers of the time lacked refrigerators, so the late winter temperatures were a perfect time to keep these prized new beers cool for lagering. Thus the birth of mai bock season. Mai bock has a noble history and has been regarded as a prized brew over the ages, so it’s little wonder the tradition still lives to this day, despite the modern convenience of refrigeration.

What does all this mean to us home brewers? If great beer and tradition aren’t enough for you, we Midwestern zymurgists have an opportunity to make a classic lager beer the way it was meant to without the need for an extra refrigerator. After brewing your mai bock, it should take little effort to find a cooler spot to let it ferment: garages, basement floors, and foyer closets are the usual suspects. Even without these relatively cool places to plop your fermenter, wonderful mai bocks (or any lager) can be made at room temperature. It will just have more “ale” like qualities, but by no means will the beer be ruined. Just keep in mind that the cooler you can keep it the smoother it will be.

Mai bock was once brewed only for German royalty so don’t miss out on your chance. Get a batch in the garage fermenting for Jug and I’ll come visit for tradition’s sake.


Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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