Serious Beer: Doppelbock
[Photograph: Nick Leiby]
Doppelbocks are lagered beers originally brewed as liquid bread—they were the only permissible calories for monks of the Paulaner monastery who were fasting during Lent. The monks called their Vatican-sanctioned brew Salvator, or Savior. As an homage to this original, many breweries have since named their doppelbocks with the suffix 'ator'.
Meant to be sustaining, doppelbocks tend to be heavy and rich. They often have flavors of caramel, molasses, bread, and dried fruits, and weigh in heavy, around 7% ABV and up. Their richness makes them good after-dinner drinks, and they pair well with buttery cheeses (think Brie or Camembert) or chocolate.
Be sure not to drink these beers too cold—you should serve them around 45°F or 50°F, not straight out of the fridge. Good things come to those who wait—though fasting is optional.
Serious Beer Ratings
5/5 Mindblowing; a new favorite
4/5 Awesome, stock up on this
3/5 Around average for the style
2/5 There are probably better options
1/5 No, thanks, I'll have water.
We tasted 17 different doppelbocks from around the world, a few at a time, and judged them based on aroma, flavor, and overall drinkability. Strict adherence to the doppelbock style wasn't necessary, and we tried to note where the beers varied from tradition. Here they are, in order of preference.
Pennsylvania, 8.2% ABV
Balanced and rich, the Tröegenator is a definite winner. Its yeasty, bready scent has hints of cinnamon and vanilla. The taste is all sweet caramel and biscuits up front, with figs and cherries rounding out the end. There is just enough alcohol and carbonation to lighten the sweetness and give the body a soft, creamy feel. This was dangerously easy to drink, and all of the tasters wanted seconds.
Germany, 6.7% ABV
Intense and smooth, Celebrator is a coffee-colored beer with chocolate and roasty aromas taking center stage. Any hop bitterness in the flavor is understated, and sweet molasses flavors linger, with caramel and plums peeking through. With a lower carbonation and ABV than some of the others, this is an easy-drinking beer. After dinner, skip the coffee and pair this with pastries and desserts.
New Hampshire, 8.5% ABV
For a beer that smells like brown sugar and caramel, the sweetness in S'muttonator's flavor is remarkably restrained. It manages to taste like caramel, rum raisin, toffee, and chocolate truffle without being cloying. Spicy hop flavors and alcohol make their presence known in a drawn-out aftertaste, especially as the beer warms up. With the S'muttonator, not only can you skip the after-dinner coffee, you can skip the dessert.
Germany, 7.4% ABV
A gorgeous beer with a very dark mahogany color and a tan head that sticks around. The flavors and aromas of the Korbinian define the style—caramel, molasses, raisins, and nutty malts. The carbonation is mellow and creamy, and the finish has a spiciness that reminded us of rye whiskey.
Capital Brewery Blonde Doppelbock
Wisconsin, 7.8% ABV
The Blonde's golden color and aromas of champagne and apples stood out. Long, sweet honey flavors end cleanly with an herbal bitterness and a warming alcohol burn. Some sulfur flavor and a prickly, fizzy carbonation reminded us of lighter German lagers. If I was going to drink any of the doppels out of an overflowing stein in the beer garden, it'd be Capital's Blonde.
Sprecher Dopple Bock
Wisconsin, 7.8% ABV
We smelled raisins and plums in this beer, and tasted the same. It's sweet and fruity at first, like jam on toasted bread. Then there's a dry, warming alcohol finish, leaving behind raisins and licorice. I could eat jam and toast all day, but in liquid form? That's something special.
Great Lakes Brewing The Doppelrock
Ohio, 7.8% ABV
The Doppelrock's finish got our attention—a distinct pecan flavor with a white-pepper spiciness from the hops. The rest of the aromas and flavors are par for the doppelbock course- caramel and bread, with more subtle biscuit and cocoa notes. They are nicely blended, though, and hide the alcohol well, producing a smooth, easy-drinking beer.
Michigan, 8.0% ABV
Consecrator is a lively, lighter doppelbock. It's chestnut colored, with visible carbonation and smells like caramel and grapes instead of the more common raisins. The aromas come across in the flavor, along with molasses and brown sugar. Some alcohol burn and active carbonation give Consecrator vim and vigor.
Thomas Hooker Liberator
Connecticut, 8.0% ABV
We had a hard time pinning down all the aromas in this one, but we got cocoa, vanilla, coffee, burnt nuts, and rye. Toffee, bread, milk chocolate, and licorice are all identifiable in the flavor. These varied tastes work well together, but there is a definite sourness and leafy bitterness in the finish which some tasters thought was too strong.
Cape Ann Fisherman's Navigator
Massachusetts, 7.0% ABV
This is a thinner, drier, crisper doppelbock. It has all of the bread, caramel, and raisin notes of the other doppelbocks, but is dialed down a bit. It comes in six packs, and as it's not overwhelming—we could certainly drink more than one.
Capital Brewery Tett Dopplebock
Wisconsin, 8.0% ABV
Our tasters who grew up in the South were pleasantly surprised by the sweet tea aromas in this beer, infused with Tettnang hops. We also smelled pine and resin as it warmed. The flavors are all caramel and toffee up front, with pine and citrus peel bitterness keeping the beer from feeling too sweet.
Germany, 7.9% ABV
We expected more from the '-ator' that spawned all of the imit-ators, but it's still tasty. Its caramel and yeast aromas accurately predict a caramel and yeast flavor that lasts forever. The alcohol is completely hidden, and the beer is very smooth. What Salvator lacks is some of the complexity that its younger relatives have cultivated.
Sam Adams Double Bock
Massachusetts, 9.5% ABV
The high alcohol is noticeable, and makes this a very warming beer, perfect for colder nights. There are some cherry and prunes in the aroma and flavor, but it's mostly a pleasant caramel across the board. The finish has some licorice notes, and the alcohol helps dry out any residual sweetness.
Germany, 7.6% ABV
The aromas are subtle, but the flavors are bold. An herbal bitterness fades to a strong caramel and malt finish, with some roasted notes along the way. Strong alcohol and sharp herbs force more delicate flavors into hiding. The Opimator is a solid beer, but lacks the subtlety to make it great.
He'Brew Rejewvenator 2010
California, 8.2% ABV
Labeled as 'Half Doppelbock, Half Belgian Style Dubbel', and brewed with a heavy dose of Concord grape juice, this one is more than a little different. Malty aromas hit you first, but they're swept away by spicy notes of a Belgian yeast and the grade school smell of juice box. The flavor is less complex than the aroma, with a sourness fading to malt and burnt toffee in the aftertaste. Tasters were divided in their opinions of this beer, perhaps not surprising given its multiple identities.
G. Schneider & Sohn Aventinus
Germany, 8.2% ABV
Brewed using ale yeast and a heavy dose of wheat, some beer nerds argue that this isn't a doppelbock, but rather a weizenbock. However, Georg Schneider (and sons) have called it a doppelbock since 1907, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Aventinus is murky red-brown, with clove, banana, and wheat aromas. These scents are also present as flavors, joined by lemon, with malty and caramel flavors only emerging in the finish. Doppelbock or not, the spicy yeast flavors were too much for us—it wasn't our favorite beer.
Thomas Creek Deep Water
South Carolina, 6.25% ABV
This isn't a good example of a doppelbock, but it's not a bad beer. It smells roasted, and much less sweet than the other examples we tried. Syrupy, brown bread flavors have coffee and bitter chocolate accents. The sweet flavors reminded us more of cocoa than of caramel. A metallic, lingering bitterness and a very light body knocked this beer down a couple of notches for us.
We tried 17 examples of doppelbocks, but there are many more out there. What is your favorite dopplebock?
Disclosure: The Ayinger, Capital Brewery, Sprecher, Great Lakes, Bell's, Cape Ann, He'Brew, Sam Adams, and Thomas Creek beers were provided as samples for review.
About the Author: Nick Leiby is a Boston-based scientist and homebrewer. When he's not drinking yeast, he's probably studying it in lab.