Bock beer’s popularity is understandable. Sure, you could point to the added strength of the brew, generally packing more punch for your money. Or the richness of its flavor, but really it’s probably just in the name, isn’t it? I could go on about the lineage of bock, dating back to 14th century Einbeck in northern Germany when all beers were ales but you can read about that elsewhere. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this fact is when brewers in Munich later adapted the top fermented style to their then “new lager” style of bottom fermentation, their dialectic pronunciation of Einbeck into “Ein Bock,” forever changed the course of the beer’s popularity. Few could resist a beer that was not only stronger but featured the lovable goat as its emblematic mascot.
Fast forward a few centuries and bocks are brewed all around the world and still very much in prominence in their homeland of Germany. While it’s true some fine bocks are still produced in Munich, some less famous ones are perhaps more interesting to the intrepid beer wanderer. One such brew is the rich dark bock from the Kneitinger Brewery in Regensburg. My first encounter with this magnificent beer was quite by accident. I was at the brewery’s hilltop beer garden in 2004, enjoying their anything but ordinary Dunkles when I noticed a sign heralding a Bockbier Anstich. This was one German word I’d never heard but my then German girlfriend and now wife explained it was a tapping of some kind. To be honest, she’d never heard of it either. It was in a couple weeks so we returned not knowing what to expect. When we arrived, it was packed and no seats were available so we gladly stood at one of the stand up tables made from an old wooden keg so typical of these types of breweries. Unfortunately, one of the waiters told us it was not allowed to stand for the event and my wife explained we had come all the way from Munich for it. So, he squeezed us onto a table of guys eagerly anticipating the arrival of the obviously much beloved bock beer. When it came, it was a sight to behold. Very dark, close to black with a rich nearly tan head. It smelled of licorice and though rich and malty, was supremely dry for a beer of its strength. Needless to say it went down all too easily.
Soon some food arrived without ordering it, a simple smokey pork dish with some potatoes. Not a gourmet affair but a very tasty meal well suited to (and much needed for!) the strong brew. After a couple hours and many beers, we had to catch a train home and I signaled for the bill. The waiter said everything was free. I tried to give him a €5 tip but he refused even that, saying it was truly free. And so, I fell in love with the Bockbier Anstich. I’ve never found anything quite like it again and even on returning to this event six years later, only the food was free. Now, you won’t find anything like this in Munich, the big breweries seem to think bock beer is just a way to make more money. In the smaller towns, though, bock beer remains a thank you from the brewery to its loyal customers. Even if it’s not free, it’s always fairly priced considering the obvious increased cost of brewing it.
Though my first Anstich was at the Kneitinger Keller in Regensburg, I had read about the true first Anstich at the “Mutterhaus” that annually occurred the day before. The problem was, it was fairly early in the morning so I couldn’t use one of Bavaria’s very reasonably priced tickets. Still, it reportedly featured a small parade led by a bock beer wagon. Now, this is not so unusual. Even the Oktoberfest in Munich has a parade with each brewery represented by horse drawn wagons with numerous wooden barrels of beer. The thing with this one though was the wagon was pulled by goats or bocks as they would be called in German. What could be more perfect than a team of bocks bringing the Bock to the Anstich?
So, last week I bought a regular ticket and boarded a 6:44 am train to Regensburg to finally see the spectacle. It was a cold dreary morning and I was there quite early so I tucked into the cathedral for a quick look before crossing the city’s famed Stone Bridge to walk along the other side of the Danube, enjoying the panoramic skyline on the way to the Mutterhaus, a gem of a brewpub dating back to 1530. I was still there in plenty of time and with the skies clearing, eagerly awaited the arrival of the bock with a small crowd of locals. Soon our furry friends were proudly marching up the street with the small wagon at their rear. They went off on their short parade route and I went inside to secure a spot and was happy to find one close to the large wooden barrel. Next to it was a brass spout and large wooden mallet I knew would be used to perform the Anstich.
Soon a man appeared with a leather apron and made an announcement before placing the apron on an older rather elegant woman standing next to him. I was expecting to get sprayed with beer. Funnily enough, when we we got married, my wife and I did an Anstich at the brewery we had our reception in. Having never done it, I didn’t fare so well and that leather apron came in handy! My concerns turned out to be unwarranted as the woman routinely pounded it in and soon the beer was flowing. At these types of events, the barrel keep flowing until it’s finished with someone constantly filling the glasses. Being so close, I got one relatively quickly. It was as I remembered, a dark beauty of great complexity, with some chocolate notes and a very dry finish for it’s 6.8% strength.
A Bavarian oompah band played and I noticed on the menu that the top meal had a price of €0 next to it. In the announcement preceding the Anstich, they mentioned a contribution to the children of Cambodia for €5 would be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, the food was to start at 11 and I had another train to catch to another Bockbier Anstich in Bamberg. So, I ordered a non-free plate of Regensburger Bratwurst and another beer and was on my way. I can tell you this, it won’t take so long for me to return to this great event. Who could resist a team of bocks pulling a wagon of one of the great Bocks of Germany? No longer I.