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.
On cold winter nights, wine aficionados have luscious ports and sherries to sip by the fire. Spirits drinkers have elegant cognacs and smoky single-malt scotches.
But what is there for the beer drinker?
Thanks to the rapidly growing craft beer movement, there are quite a few beers suitable for the setting. Beers today are every bit as complex as wines and spirits, and the right beer can be every bit as good if not better as an after dinner sipper.
One of the best is New Glarus Brewing Co.’s Winter Warmer ($9.49 per four-pack). It’s part of brewmaster Dan Carey’s Thumbprint series, a line of infrequently brewed specialty beers. A scotch ale by nature and a powerhouse by design, the malty Winter Warmer pours dark with an off-white frothy head. Its flavor palate is redolent of vanilla, toffee and spices. At 9.25 percent alcohol by volume, it has a kick. And aged for a year before this release, it also has great finesse. This beer is going fast, if not already gone. Snap it up if you see it.
Speaking of scotch ales, Whole Hog Wee Heavy Scotch Ale ($6.99 per four-pack), from Stevens Point Brewery, is a bit lighter on all counts. It’s 6.5 percent ABV and has a lighter malt body. But it still pours dark and rich, with notes of caramel and toffee on the palate. Big Eddy Wee Heavy Scotch Ale ($10.99 per four-pack), brewed at Leinenkugel’s Milwaukee brewery, draws greater presence from its cherrywood-smoked malt and greater strength from its 9.5 percent ABV. Both of these ales are suitable for fireside sipping.
Porters, too, can make fine winter warmers. Developed in 18th century London as a hearty drink for local workers, porters have come into their own for beer lovers who enjoy a robust brew with a fine dash of hops. One of the best comes from Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland. The Edmund Fitzgerald Porter ($8.49 per six-pack), named for the freighter that sank in Lake Superior in 1975, has a complex, roasted palate and pours nearly opaque. A gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival, “Fitz” features a bold hops presence dressed with overtones of chocolate and coffee. The brew is 5.8 percent ABV.
Speaking of coffee flavors, Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery brews up one of the best with Fuel Café ($8.49 per six-pack), a blend of organic roasted malts blended with coffee from the city’s own Fuel Café. The beer pours dark with a creamy head, its roasted malt and light hops providing an excellent canvas for robust coffee flavors. At 6.4 percent ABV, Fuel Café pairs well with desserts or simply as an after-dinner drink.
Want something with a little more kick? Lakefront can provide that, too, with Bridge Burner Special Reserve Ale ($4.99 per 22-oz. “bomber”). The award-winning assertive amber ale combines a dominant hops profile of citrus and pine with a rich caramel malt backbone. The components offset for a pleasing brew that at 8.5 percent ABV makes a formidable impression.
We recently discovered Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout ($9.99) and were delighted by the creamy smoothness that its 10-malt blend produced. At 6.1 percent ABV, the beer still creates a strong statement. But it’s a subtle flavor, emphasizing essences of cocoa and just a touch of espresso on the palate. The Kalamazoo, Mich., brewery, best known for its Two Hearted Ale APA, Oberon wheat ale and a host of highly hopped specialty beers, has a quiet hit on its hands with this one.
Speaking of highly hopped brews, Wisconsin beer lovers are huge fans of Three Floyds, the Munster, Ind., brewery. Its flagship brands include Alpha King ($9.99 per six-pack). At 6.66 percent ABV and 66 international bittering units, this American pale ale blends Centennial, Cascade and Warrior hops for a beer that will knock the socks off any India pale ale or American pale ale lover.
For an even more pronounced hop presence with an additional kick in the alcohol department, look no further than Satisfaction Jacksin ($11.99 per six-pack) from Madison’s Ale Asylum Brewery. Brewmaster Dean Coffee’s double IPA weighs in at 8.25 percent ABV and more than 100 IBUs, resulting in a subtle powerhouse with a barleywine-style sweetness.
Speaking of Madison and imperial styles (read: higher alcohol), Capital Brewing is breaking new ground under the hand of relatively new brewmaster Brian Destree. Eternal Flame ($6.99 for a 22-oz. bomber), now in its third iteration, is an imperial stout that combines six malts, roasted cocoa nibs and habañero peppers for a unique drinking experience. Weighing in at 8.8 percent ABV, the beer is surprisingly subtle despite its strength and content.
If any beer says nightcap, Eternal Flame is it. But it also offers beer lovers a bright start to a well-hopped new year.