Vermont is perhaps best known for its charming small towns, exquisite maple syrup and roving throngs of bearded hippies. But Vermont is also home to several outstanding microbreweries, one of which is Otter Creek Brewing Co. in Middlebury. Otter Creek started as a small microbrewery in 1991, long before the craft beer craze really took hold. It was recently acquired by Long Trail Brewing Co. (also in Vermont) and has since added new fermenters and a high-speed bottling line to bump up the brewery’s capacity to 60,000 barrels. No longer humbly “micro,” these guys are really beginning to make their presence known in the burgeoning craft beer market.
I was fortunate enough to stop by Otter Creek’s table at the American Craft Beer Festival May 31 and June 1 in Boston. Having visited them early in the festival, I was sober enough to recall that they produce some pretty solid beers. Their Russian Imperial Stout was among my favorites of the evening. I was thus inspired to review one of their limited seasonal offerings, the Spring Bock.
A few weeks ago I reviewed a rather unusual lager, the Anchor Steam Beer from Anchor Brewing Co. in California. Today we’ll look at an example of a slightly more traditional lager style known as bock. The bock style is so-named because the Bavarians, who speak a dialect of German distinct from their northern countrymen, pronounce the North German town of Einbeck as “ein bock.” The wonderful lager beer they enjoy from Einbeck became known as bock.
As an interesting historical note, it turns out that Bavarian brewers used to begin their fiscal year in October. As soon as their Oktoberfest hangovers had worn off, they fired up their boil kettles and mash tuns and began turning freshly harvested grain into bock beer. After cold-conditioning (“lagering”) in cellars for several months to soften out the intense flavors, the bock was ready to be enjoyed in the winter and spring months. Bocks are characterized by an intense malty flavor and relatively high alcohol content. The best bocks combine rich malt character with mellow warmth, resulting in a smooth and enjoyable beer. Otter Creek’s Spring Bock is a modern domestic example of this great style.
I poured the beer from a 12-ounce bottle into a tall pint glass, revealing its deep orange hue. The beer was very clear and left a lasting fine white head. The aroma was dominated by rich malt notes, with a grainy character that I can best describe as fresh. The hop presence was subtle in both aroma and taste, but the real star here was the hearty malt flavor. The biscuity aftertaste and lingering sweetness were pleasant and invited further imbibition of this wonderful beverage. The smooth, unobtrusive carbonation makes this a very drinkable beer, but this is certainly a full-bodied brew with lots of flavor.
Otter Creek’s Spring Bock is a great introduction to the bock style and simply a delicious beer to enjoy during the warm days of spring. See you next time, and as Arnold Schwarzenegger once nobly proclaimed, “I’ll be bock!”