Q. As a young man, I enjoyed a beer beverage that was dark and strong. It was called Bock Beer. I was born and raised in Chicago and it was always available at the local taverns around late spring. I have not seen it advertised for decades! Is it still brewed?
-- Martin Bertulis, of Belleville
A. Oh, man, you haven't enjoyed this nectar of the brewing gods for "decades"? Well, don't waste another minute. Get yourself to a store that specializes in fine beer and wine and drool over the excellent selections that are available right now. (I'll give you a few suggestions in a second.)
Better yet, if you're looking for a special weekend getaway, put Cincinnati at the top of your list. Besides being home to WKRP, the city has turned great bock into almost a religion. At this very moment, brewers and beer connoisseurs are busily counting the minutes until Cincy's annual Bockfest March 1-3.
Yes, Mr. Bertulis, you're obviously long overdue for one of these refreshing brewskis, dude.
First, though, a bit of a beer primer. Forgive me if I misunderstood, but from the way you wrote your e-mail, you made it sound as though bock is a brand of beer. It's not. It's simply a style of beer, brewed to produce a rich, malty, low-hop treat that has become a favorite among beer aficionados.
It was first brewed more than 600 years ago at the Einbecker Brewery (which, by the way, is still in business) in Einbeck, Germany. That's according to Michael Jackson's "The New World Guide to Beer," which Diane Hamilton at The Cheesekeeper in Belleville was kind enough to loan me.
Brewed first as an ale, the dark, malty brew caught on and, two centuries later, brewers in Munich adapted it to their lager-style of brewing. But, as the story goes, because of their Bavarian accent, the burghers in Munich pronounced Einbeck as "ein Bock (German for goat)." Hence, the beer became known as bock and even the Cincinnati Bockfest uses the billy goat as its symbol.
Like egg nog, bock is traditionally brewed for celebrations and holidays -- especially in the winter and early spring when you want a heavy, filling, full-bodied drink. In fact, because of its higher nutritional content, German monks reportedly would enjoy it to skirt the fasting requirements surrounding Lent, according to the Bockfest folks, who carry on the tradition by holding their celebration during or just before Lent.
Over the years, brewers have even developed various varieties of bock to satisfy different palates. If you like a lighter beer, there's Maibock (May bock) or Helles (German for "clear" or "bright"), which often are brewed later in the spring.
If you like a stronger quaff, ask for a "doppelbock" (double bock), which is maltier, stronger and often darker in color. Among its beers, the Cheesekeeper at 6500 W. Main usually handles the Paulaner Salvator, one of my favorites.
But if you really want a powerful brew, go for an Eisbock (ice bock) if you can find it. These are doppelbocks that have been partially frozen and some of the water removed. What's left, as you might guess, is even richer with an alcohol content that is usually 9 percent to 13 percent but can go as high as nearly 100 proof. So, be careful if you don't want a bottle to knock you on your can.
As I said, you should have no problem finding bock -- especially this time of year. A visit to Grappa Growlers at 1501 North Belt West in Belleville last week found at least five different brands, including Ayinger's Celebrator, which earned a perfect 100 rating at www.ratebeer.com.
"That's a phenomenal score," owner Jodi Gleeson said.
She is also high on Abita's seasonal Mardi Gras, a Maibock from New Orleans ("a great beer," according to Gleeson), as well as Dead Guy Ale from Rogue Ales in Oregon. Also in stock are Perkulator from the Dark Horse Brewing Co. in Michigan and, from deep in the heart of Texas, Shiner Bock.
So that you're not full of hops when you talk about various bocks, try such sites as www.beeradvocate.com, www.ratebeer.com and www.bockfest.otrbrewerydistrict.org. Otherwise, sit back, pop open a cold, frosty one and reacquaint yourself with an old friend. As my old Waterloo German Band buddy Harry Wolf would say, "Prost!"
In what city would you have had to feed the world's first parking meter? What year?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: When Pittsburgh's Willie Stargell slammed a second-inning home run during the 1965 All-Star Game at Bloomington, Minn., he certainly put a lot of oom-pah-pah into it: A marching band was in the right-field bullpen and the ball landed in a tuba, according to John T. Bird's "Twin Killings: The Bill Mazeroski Story." Stargell, by the way, hit the first home run at Shea Stadium on its opening day (April 17, 1964) and he was also the first to hit a ball out of Dodger Stadium. He reportedly remains the only man to hit two balls out of Chavez Ravine.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com