Mr. Bierhalter, what is bock beer?

As bock season kicks into high gear — Earth Rider celebrates this weekend; Fitger’s is waiting until April this year — we look back 110 years to get Fitger’s brewmaster John Bierhalter’s definition of the strong, dark beer traditionally brewed in fall and consumed in spring.

From the March 11, 1913 Duluth Herald:

“What is bock beer?”
Duluth brewmaster explains that it differs from ordinary beer only in being more “highly tried.”

Many have asked, as each spring arrives, “What is bock beer?” This spring The Herald has received a communication demanding an answer. People face the “booze clerk” casually, look at a sign with a goat’s head on it, and say:

“Hello, Harry, is the ‘bock’ on?”

“Yep — have one on the house. Believe me, the bock this spring is the best I ever tasted.”

And so it goes. The same conversation every spring.

But as to bock beer, The Herald inquired of Mr. Bierhalter, brewmaster of the Fitger Brewing company. Here is his explanation and he talks as though he knows his business:

“Bock beer is a much heavier beer than the ordinary lager. You often hear that it is a sort of spring tonic. That is the truth, for hops are a tonic anyway, taken in the raw or brewed in some form or other — like senna tea, for instance. Well, bock beer is simply stronger than the ordinary beer in the way of hops. It is what we call in the business ‘highly tried’ beer. That means that it is heavier in hops and more strongly brewed. Men who take beer judiciously — and they should take any kind of beer that way — will find that it is good for his insides in general. As to its strength in alcohol, it must be conceded that it is stronger in alcohol than the general run of beer. This, however, is purely on account of the stronger brewing of the hops, which contain alcohol in ample quantities. The ordinary beer ranges in alcohol power from 3 to 4 per cent. Well, bock beer is about three-tenths of 1 per cent higher in alcohol.”

How the custom of brewing bock beer in the spring only originated is not known, but Mr. Bierhalter says it is an old one and has existed in Germany for as long as he can remember.

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