Mirroring the seasonal change in the hues of foliage, observant regulars in beer cafes in the Benelux, particularly the Netherlands, will note that there is a change to the seasonal ales each autumn too. A dark brew — bock beer — flows from taps in bars that pride themselves on serving quality ales.

Aficionados eagerly anticipate the beginning of the bock beer season. Sloshing around that first mouthful of the malty, flavourful and lightly hopped beer is a bit like strolling along a tree-lined park on a crisp, sunny morning and kicking a rustling path through fallen leaves. Will the experience live up to expectations?

Dutch bock beer is a style of top fermented beer to be brewed in the autumn, from the new hops and barley harvest. It had its origins in Germany but, in recent decades, has become established as a seasonal feature of the brewing scene in the Netherlands. According to legend, the first barrels of what we now know as bock beer, were brewed as far back as the 14th century in today’s Lower Saxony region of Germany.

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The city of Einbeck, a member of the Hanseatic League, exported its strong beer to Munich, where it became popular. There are various accounts of why the style became known as bock beer. Was it because of the Bavarian accent when pronouncing Einbock? Perhaps it was the result of some wit deliberately making a play on words? In German, the word ‘bock’ means ‘goat’. That explains why the labels of many of today’s bock beers display stylised depictions of the horned creature.
Some say the name is because bock beer can hit you like a charging billy goat; bock beer tends to be stronger than regular beer. From time to time, its effects can catch drinkers unaware.
The sweetish beer is packed not only with flavour, but with calories: so ideal for providing energy on autumn and winter days. The malty flavour pairs well with roasted game meat and geese, plus stews made from the meats of wild boar and deer — fattened animals that are traditionally hunted in north-west Europe before autumn turns to winter.

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Many Dutch breweries now release an autumn bock beer. These are three bock beers that have impressed beer lovers with their flavour and character:

– Hertog Jan’s Bock Beer (6.5 per cent), brewed in Arcen, close to the German border, is regarded as the first Dutch bock beer. The top-fermented beer is widely available on tap and regularly seen in bottles.
– Jopen’s Vier Granen Bock (6.5 per cent) is dark ruby in colour and has a delicious mildly toasted flavour. It is brewed in Haarlem using rye, wheat, oats and barley, hence its name (which means ‘four grains’ or ‘four cereals’).
– The Oersop Brewery, based in Nijmegen, produces a bock beer colourfully called Sexy Motherbocker. Packed with an alcohol volume of 8.4 per cent, ordering one is not for the fainthearted.

TEXT: STUART FORSTER | PHOTOS: HERTOG BREWERY

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