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The brewer's Lenten fare

With Lent upon us, I have been seeking a beer appropriate to this observance, and found it in the high street

For Lent, the proper beer is an extra-strong lager. For such a holy time, it must be an irreproachable generic example of the style. Popular British and Danish strong lagers are not worthy of the designation, being so candy-sweet as to suggest that they have been matured for days rather than months.

The term lager comes from the German word for "store". It implies that the beer has had a period of "storage" or maturation. This occurs at the brewery, before the beer is filtered. Once in the bottle, the beer will not continue to mature and can only go downhill. During maturation, a lager loses much of its sweetness and gains the roundness and cleanness that should define its character.


If I wish for a good strong lager, I look for the word "Bock".


If I wish for a good strong lager, I look for the word "Bock". This designation is a corruption of the last syllable of Einbeck, the town in Lower Saxony that made Germany's first famous strong beers in the 14th century. The town's last surviving brewery will be launching its Einbecker Ur-Bock in Britain shortly, probably through Oddbins at about 1.10 per 33cl bottle.

Because the word Bock also means billygoat, that animal often appears on the labels of these beers. Bock began to kick over the traces in the 17th century, when a duke from Lower Saxony married the daughter of a Bavarian aristocrat, and provided several casks of the beer for his wedding. Since then, the style has especially been associated with Bavaria.

Several variations are found there. A beer labelled Bock will probably be a lager of 6.75 to 7 per cent alcohol, sometimes golden but often dark brown. A Doppelbock will boast a hearty 7.5 or so. This style was created to provide liquid bread for monks during Lenten fasting.

The name Munich derives from the German word for monks, and the Augustine, Franciscan and Pauline orders founded some of the city's most famous breweries. The Paulaner brewery, now secular, will hold celebrations to launch its new seasons Salvator Doppelbock during the week of St Joseph's Day on 20 March.

At the end of April, some breweries will introduce a May Bock, often lighter in colour and strength, to warm drinkers who have ventured into the still-chilly beer gardens.

When the light beers of summer give way to winter warmers, try Weizenbock. This is not a lager but a Bock strength wheat beer, blending alcoholic flavours with chocolatey maltiness and grainy tartness.


The Germans often fail to appreciate the variety of their beers, and have been reluctant to share them with us.


The Germans often fail to appreciate the variety of their beers, and have been reluctant to share them with us. I was, therefore, delighted to see Sainsbury's "Pick of Germany' pack last December, an offer I hope the company will repeat. The pack cost 6.99 and contained six different beers, all from breweries in the Dortmunder Actien group.

I first opened the Heller ("pale") Bock, from the Allgauer brewery near the borders between Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland. This beer, at 7 per cent, has a aroma of perfumy hop, a lightly syrupy maltiness in the palate and a hint of alcoholic warmth as its slips down smoothly.

I sampled the rest of the range in ascending order of intensity of flavour - DAB Original (4.5), from Dortmund, is an everyday lager. In Germany, it is regarded as very ordinary, but its delicacy puts typical British lager to shame.

The local beer of Dortmund is Export, which usually implies a firm body and an alcohol content of 5.25 to 5.5. Here the Export came from Frankfurt, from the Binding brewery. At 5.3 per cent, it is malt-accented hut well-balanced; a soothing beer after a hard day.

A Pilsener lager should have an alcohol content of 4.5 to 5 per cent, with the hoppy fragrance of the Czech original. In this range, the example, was Radeberger (4.8) from Dresden. Radeberger was one of the few fine beers from the east to keep a reputation during the Communist regime. It remains a good manifestation of the Pilsener style, with a dry hop character.

Altbier is usually copper-coloured and is the German counterpart to British ale. The style is most strongly associated with Dusseldorf, but in this selection the entry again came from Frankfurt It is called Kutscher Alt (5), and marries a lightly tofteeish palate with a more-ish dryness. Try this with a hearty stew or braised meats.

I left until last the Hefeweizen, a yeast-sedimented wheat beer light in body but full of flavour. The example was from the Schofferhofer brewery of Schwetzinger, near Heidelberg.

We may be seeing a greater diversity of German beer styles in Britain. The Central Marketing Organisation of German Agricultural Industries will be showing a fuller range next week in a spring fair for the British drinks trade. It would be nice some time if Belgium, Britain or the United States would highlight their beer styles in mixed packs.


Published Online: MAR 23, 2000
Published in Print: MAR 4, 1995
In: The Independent

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