Six delicious Dutch bock beers to taste this autumn
The leaves are changing, the days are shorter and there’s a slight chill in the air. With autumn approaching, one way to celebrate the change in season is with a bittersweet Dutch specialty: herfstbocks!
Brewed especially for the fall, herfstbocks are a darker type of beer with German origins. Along with a hearty stamppot or stoofpotje, the amber coloured beer makes a perfect pairing for a cold day without being too heavy.
In the Netherlands, recent years have seen a sharp increase in both micro and major breweries offering their take on this traditional beer. Now with more than 50 editions being produced annually, the herfstbock is certainly one of the most popular types of beer to emerge from the microbrewery craze sweeping the Netherlands!
German to Dutch: herfstbock beer’s origins
The contemporary Dutch herfstbock is a strong lager that hasn’t exactly been loyal to its German roots. The precise history of the drink is a bit murky, but the first versions of bock beers were certainly brewed in the 14th century in the Germanic areas of the Hanseatic League.
Although Hamburg was the centre of beer exportation to the rest of Europe, bock beer has most often been attributed to the small town of Einbeck. As the style grew in popularity, it eventually reached Bavaria in masse where the town’s name was incorrectly pronounced as "ein bock".
A misnomer that would stand the test of time, the packaging of bock beers today still retain the picture of "ein bock" or "a billy goat". Traditionally produced for festive occasions that included Christmas and Easter, the style gained huge popularity in the Netherlands in the 1980s as one of the few widely available alternatives to the then lager dominated market.
Thanks to advances in harvesting and brewing techniques, a bock style beer was able to be made with a top fermentation (bovengisting) process and brought on the market earlier than the traditional December-January timeframe.
These new, non-conventional bocks opened the door for experimentation in the 21st century resulting in variants using different colours, spices, malts and hops.
What makes a beer a bock?
The Dutch beer consumer organization PINT has done their best in trying to agree upon criteria to define, without delimiting, what a bock beer is.
For herfstbocks, this begins with the period of sale. PINT advocates that herfstbocks should only be brought on the market between September 21 and December 21. Furthermore, the beer should be dark brown (between 40-100 ECB), have an alcohol percentage between six and eight and be free of any additional spices.
Of course, these are merely suggestions and certainly not rules as evidenced by the multitude of variations produced by increasingly creative brewers.
Today, herfstbocks range in colour from a deep, dark brown to amber and reddish shades and exhibit diverse flavours from sweet with hints of caramel to the more traditional malty versions.
However, coming as a surprise to casual drinkers, the beer isn’t as heavy as porter or stout and typically retains a smooth mouthfeel and body just full enough for a cold day!
Fall bock beers from major breweries
These beers are made for the mass market and are available all season long at chain supermarkets around the Netherlands.
› La Trappe Bockbier
A hazy bronze colour, it’s a wonderful Publishedbalance of Belgian yeastiness with hints of spice, fruity and malty flavours.
› Hertog Jan Bockbier
One of the classics, this bock from Hertog Jan is a deep amber colour, has a rich body and delicate hints of caramel.
› Amstel Bockbier
From one of the largest breweries, their sturdy, less sweet take on traditional bock is surprisingly flavourful qua price.
Best bocks from Dutch craft breweries
The following bocks may not be available everywhere, but are certainly worth a trip to the beer specialty store or the brewery itself to find one of these high quality beverages!
› Bronckhorster Ijsselbock
Pure and tasteful, this dark bock is old fashioned and delicious without added sugars or caramel.
› Texels Bock
Using hops right from the Dutch island, this deep reddish brown bock is sweet with the right touch of bitterness and slight hints of liquorice and cherry.
› Jopen 4-Granen Bok
Combining a fruity aroma with a subtle roasted malt taste, this ruby red bock is mildly sweet and very smooth thanks to the unique four grain mix.