Bock auf ‘n Bock? (“Feel like a bock?”). You might hear this pithy question a lot around Munich at the moment as the annual Starkbierzeit (literally, “strong beer time”) celebrates the feisty German lager known as bock in a festival which launches the city – a little unsteadily – into spring.
Bock was popularized by fasting Bavarian monks as a hearty alternative to normal beer. Now, if you’ve ever experienced the annual beer blowout that is Oktoberfest, you probably think Munich needs extra-strength beer like Woodstock needed brown acid. But Starkbierzeit doesn’t have anything like the international profile of Oktoberfest so the participants are generally locals who know their brews and – just as importantly – their limits. Which is fortunate, as the world’s strongest bock – Schorschbock – has an eye-watering 43% alcohol content, making it stronger than Absolut vodka. A stein of that could land you in the krankenhaus but rest assured most of the brews on offer are in the 7-8% region.
Some Starkbierzeit fixtures are strictly for initiates, such as the “roast”-style events which take aim at local politicians; there nothing more alienating than watching someone you’ve never heard of being pilloried in a language you don’t understand. But until mid-April, beer connoisseurs and freelance devotees of that agreeable state we know as “drunk” can find a wide range of specialty varieties in Löwenbräukeller and other venues across town.
You might want to take it easy on the pretzels though; bock is known as “liquid bread”, so not only does it have a higher alcohol content than the average beer, it also has significantly more calories.