Session #11: Doppelbocks

It’s time once again for our eleventh Session, and this time around we’re highlighting Doppelbocks courtesy of this month’s host, Wilson at Brewvana. I recently spent two weeks in the home of Doppelbocks — Germany — when many breweries I visited were just debuting their winter seasonal, which more often than not was a doppelbock.

Their history is, of course, reasonably well settled, with the Pauline Monks of Munich making the first example of the style around 1780. By the Napoleonic Era, the brewery had become secular and brewmaster Franz-Xaver Zacherl began selling his strongest beer around Easter-time each year, calling it “savior,” which in German is “Salvator.” Other breweries began adopting the name and it was in danger of becoming generic when, in 1894, trademark law made Paulaner the only brewer legally allowed use the name. As a result, countless other doppelbocks renamed their beers but continued using the suffix “-ator,” possibly to denote strength, but more likely to continue associating themselves with Salvator. The traditional reason for brewing this beer at this time of the year was for the forty days — not counting Sundays — of fasting just prior to Easter, known as Lent. The monks wanted something heartier to drink while they weren’t able to eat. This period also became known as “strong beer season.” This year, strong beer season will begin February 6.

As fate would have it, last night was the bimonthly blind panel tasting at the Celebrator Beer News and one of the two styles we tasted was doppelbocks. Of the seven we sampled, I decided to write about three common German examples, the original Paulaner Salvator, Spaten’s Optimator and Aying’s Celebrator.

So let’s drink some doppelbock, shall we?
 

Paulaner’s Salvator bright amber in color with a tan head. It has sweet, toffee aromas with alcohol quite evident in the nose. The alcohol — at 7.9% abv — carries over into the taste profile and bites tartly against the malt backbone, which has a hint of candied sweetness. The finish lingers and continues to bite back long after it’s left.

 

Ayinger’s Celebrator Doppelbock was a very dark brown, almost black, with a rich tan head. The nose was predominantly sweet malt with touches of earthy, herbal aromas. Creamy and chewy, with a gritty effervescence that dances on the tongue, the flavor is a big wallop of malt with a restrained smokiness hiding underneath. The finish is clean with a touch of tartness.

 

Spaten’s Optimator was dark brown with a thick ivory head. The nose was dry with aromas of lightly sweet malt with just a touch of smoke or roasted toffee. The flavors were likewise sweetly malty. At only 7.2% abv, the alcohol was somewhat less evident in the taste and there was a little astringency, possibly from the hops. Overall it was full-bodied and rich and the finish clean.

 

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