On March 8, Jim Klisch will once again don his monk’s habit and oversee the Blessing of the Bock, an annual event in which a Catholic priest — or in this case, someone dressed like one — imparts the grace of the Lord on the spring batch of bock beer.
This year’s blessing will be given at 6:30 p.m. at The Gig, a tavern located at 1132 E. Wright St. in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. The penitent will have from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to indulge in unlimited bock beer samples from more than a dozen breweries, for just $10.
Jim Klisch, who with brother Russ Klisch, is cofounder and co-owner of Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, started the blessing ceremony in 1988, two years after his brewery opened.
In previous years, the event was large enough to attract the services of ordained Catholic priests. It’s only been recently that the event has scaled back, forcing Klisch to develop the “habit habit.”
Although at first frivolous-seeming in a frat-boy sort of way, Klisch says the blessing is based on historical precedent.
“Monks have a long history of brewing beer,” says Klisch, noting that Belgian Trappist monks still produce some of the world’s most compelling brews. “During the Lenten fast, that was all many of them would consume.”
According to tradition, 17th-century Catholic monks often gave up solid food in a 40-day fast as a Lenten sacrifice. In its place, the monks consumed only water and dopplebock, a “double bock” beer with a heavier malt bill to fill the belly and a higher alcoholic content to, we assume, provide balm for the soul.
The practice explains the now-common reference to beer as “liquid bread.” Given the monks’ other deprivations, one can hardy argue with that.
Hence the blessing, which comes from the Sancta Missa Rituale Romanum, a Roman Catholic checklist that includes a wide array of blessings for everyday objects. In addition to beer, there are blessings for lard, salt and oats for animals, fire engines, seismographs and other assorted items.
Bock beer, a strong German beer generally produced in the spring, deserves to be blessed. It was first developed by 14th-century brewers in the town of Einbeck, then adapted to the new style of lager brewing then popular in Munich. In their strong Bavarian accents, Munich citizens referred to the beer as ein bock, German for “billy goat.” The name stuck, as did the frequent image of goats on bock beer labels.
In addition to traditional bocks and dopplebocks, many brewers also produce maibocks, a Helles-style lager brewed to bock beer strength and served at spring festivals. Some German brewers also brewed eisbocks, produced by partially freezing a dopplebock and removing the excess water to concentrate both the flavors and the alcohol.
Bock and dopplebock beers weigh in at 7-9 percent alcohol by volume. Eisbocks, on the other hand, can carry as much as 13 percent ABV, and one brand, Schorschbrau, holds the current world’s record with an eisbock weighing in at 57 percent ABV.
There likely won’t be any Schorschbrau on hand at this year’s blessing, according to “Whispering Jeff” Platt, head of the Riverwest Beer Appreciation Society and event coordinator. But bock beers from a host of local, regional and international brewers will be available for sampling.
At press time, the lineup contained traditional and innovative spins on the brand, including maibocks from Wisconsin Brewing Co., O’So Brewery, St. Francis Brewery, Sprecher Brewery and Capital Brewing Co. Bocks from Water Street Brewing Co., Milwaukee Brewing Co. and Potosi Brewery, and dopplebocks from Leinenkeugel’s and Andechs Brewing Co. also will be poured.
Klisch plans to have Lakefront maibock on hand for the faithful to try. He anticipates 50 to 75 participants for the event.
“This is designed to recognize the importance of bock beer to the Lenten season,” says Klisch. “It’s become a pretty laid-back event.”
If you choose to go, then go in peace. And bring a designated driver.
Traditional Catholic Beer Blessing
Priest: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
Priest: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.
Priest: Let us pray.
Lord, bless this creature, beer, which by your kindness and power has been produced from kernels of grain and let it be a healthful drink for mankind. Grant whoever drinks it with thanksgiving to your holy name may find it a help in body and in soul; through Christ our Lord.
— from the Sancta Missa Rituale Romanum
The annual Blessing of the Bock will be March 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at The Gig, 1132 E. Wright St., Milwaukee. Call 414-562-0219 for more details.