Bottom fermented beer
Whatever you believe, most Bocks are strong, with an ABV of 6.5%. Most Dutch Bock beers are dark, slightly sticky from the malt sugars and with a slight bitterness. They usually appear dark copper to deep chestnut and sometimes quite auburn in colour. A foreign Bock however can have any colour and taste. Despite the robust flavours and strength, most Bocks, with the exception of Weizenbock, are actually bottom-fermenting Lagers. However, The Netherlands is undeniably innovative and resourceful where beer is concerned and often brew top fermented Bocks. They are fermented over a long time, and then aged in cold temperatures. This lengthy phase of lagering mellows the taste and smooths the intense flavours, creating a smooth, well-balanced beer.
Bock beer is very popular in the Netherlands. The Radlers, alcohol-free and low-alcohol beers have caught up with Bock beer in terms of volume, but the latter remains high up in the rankings at a respectable distance from what is by far the most popular beer of all: Pilsner.
And brewers often add their own twist to distinguish themselves from the crowd - this has resulted in bock beers with fig, plum, exotic hop varieties and other exciting additions. Today, many German breweries still have a 'Bock beer' as a heavier version of their regular beer. Take Weihenstephaner Vitus: a wheat Bock, a more robust version of their regular Hefeweizen.
Doppelbock and Eisbock
In addition to this, many German brewers have a Doppelbock in their range. The Einbecker May Urbock is a modern replica of the original, dark Bock beer. The brothers of the Paulaner monastery in Munich were the first to adopt a stronger beer using this style. The monks would brew this special strong beer as a symbol of better times to come, often consumed at Lent fasts, marking the departure from winter. They were not allowed to eat, but the sugar-rich beer acted as 'liquid bread'.
But it can get more complicated: take Schneider Aventinus Eisbock, for example. This classic is first brewed as Doppelbock, after its creation it is repeatedly frozen. The brewers will constantly remove some ice, this reduces the volume of water whilst the alcohol remains. The final alcohol content amounts to no less than 12 percent - it makes this an explosive taste bomb. The Dutch SNAB brewery has been winning prizes for years with their derivative IJsbok: indeed a Bock of great beauty.
Belgian brewers are often famed for their long-standing tradition with brewing heavy beers. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that they adopted the Bock beer tradition. La Chouffe was probably the first: Chouffe Bock is now a classic, while Barbar Bok (Brasserie Lefebvre), Maneblusser Bok (Het Anker) and Brugse Bok (De Halve Maan) are more recent. All these beers have been specially developed for the Dutch market: you rarely find them in their own country.
Since the Dutch Bock beer does not have to comply with many rules (it only needs to have more than 15 degrees Plato) the Belgian brewers did not find it difficult to reproduce. Instead they can, jokingly, put 'Bock' on most of their beers. But just like with Tripel (such a poorly described style) you recognise a Bock beer immediately when you put it to your mouth. If Duvel ever wants to promote his beer as 'Bock beer' then that is allowed - but nobody will believe it!