Badgers, Muskies, and Dopplebocks

barley
Photo by Kyle Jacobson

Wisconsinites–—we’re proud of many aspects of our state: our parks, universities, dairy and other local foods, ancestry, and the Green Bay Packers to name a few. We’re also proud of our beers, but visiting microbrew enthusiasts aren’t always so impressed. They might be a hophead—an IPA enthusiast obsessed with IBUs and hoppy bitterness—or they may prefer maximum funk from sours and other brewing trends. Do we in Wisconsin do IPAs and sours? Absolutely. But where some of our most capable brewers shine is in their abilities to tie unique flavors back to the tradition they were brewed in. And when it comes to Lagers, we give the West Coast a run for its barley.

Out of the various styles in Lagers, there is one that holds a special place in my beer-drinker heart. Ashley Kinart, brewmaster at Capital Brewery, describes it as “usually a little darker in color, but some nice bright kind of ruby highlights and at least some kind of reddish tone. Then, with those reddish tones, I expect to have some malts that give some dark fruit flavors.” We are, of course, talking about the Doppelbock, which is the style that made me fall in love with beer. It’s also a style that can grab the attention of the hippest hopheads in town.

The innate appeal of the Doppelbock goes back to the 17th century, when Duke Maximilian hired Elias Pitcher from Einbeck to brew in Munich. Before then, Einbeck was known for great brewing traditions while Munich was…not. In fact, the talents of Munich brewers paled in comparison to the Einbecker bier. Thanks to Elias and a rather unfortunate fire that destroyed Einbeck after the Thirty Years’ War, Munich took the brewing traditions of Einbeck and made them their own.

Photograph by Kyle Jacobson

That only got the ball rolling. The pieces really started to fall into place when Franciscan monks from Paula, Italy, began brewing in Munich in 1627. The monks took the beer Munich residents dubbed Bock, a strong Lager that’s dark in color, and doubled down on it. The result was a smooth, moderately full body rich in toasty notes and dark fruit characteristics. This brought a new worry to the monks: how could they drink such an inspiring beer and suffer as their religion dictated? Simple, get the Holy Father in Rome to sign off on it. And the beer the monks called Salvator, translated from Italian to mean “Savior,” was born. Once commoners got their hands on the beer, most likely through less-than-legal means, they aptly called it Doppelbock.

Then, in 1780, Paulaner monks were given legal permission to brew Doppelbocks commercially. The celebration was short lived, however, as only 19 years later the monastery dissolved, and Napoleon Bonaparte came to control the brewery and secularized all business activities. His reign may have catapulted German intellectualism as a counter movement against French intellectualism, but for the sake of beer, it’s good Napoleon’s reign in Germany would not last forever.

Franz Zacherl, a local brewer, came to rent the brewery in 1806 and eventually buy it in 1813, the year of Germany’s Befreiungskriege, The Wars of Liberation, against the First French Empire. Through decades of fighting to get the rights to produce and distribute the fabled Salvator, the official name of the Doppelbock at that time, a light shone at the end of the tunnel. In 1837, King Ludwig I of Bavaria granted unrestricted brewing of the beer to Franz in that ancient brewery, which still brews Salvator to this day.1

When I think of Wisconsin, a state with strong German roots, I see that history as part of our own. Ashley says, “Everybody was German families coming over and doing what they do best, and that’s make beer. Everybody was comfortable with the beer [Lagers], so that’s what some of the smaller breweries started off doing, and everyone else everywhere else was doing all the Ales.” This is why the Doppelbock, the deified Lager, means so much. It’s a beer that a lot of other states don’t do right, whether because of the time and lower temperature it takes to ferment or inexperience with lagering. “In Wisconsin, we do Lagers so so well because all these other people are kind of just starting.”

Photograph by Kyle Jacobson

We also do another alcohol well as Wisconsinites: Brandy. When Ashley said the following, I found my beliefs in the divine relationship between Doppelbocks and Wisconsin validated. “To me, I like to hold it [a Doppelbock] in my hands and warm it up almost like Brandy or something. As you warm it up, you’re going to get some of that softness on the mouthfeel, you know it might release a little of that carbonation in there. And just warming it up a little bit just opens up some of those dark fruit flavors. I always encourage people to let their Doppelbocks warm up a little bit before enjoying.” On top of that, the stronger Doppelbocks give the same warm alcohol burn found in Brandy.

Doppelbocks are the beer that speak of our farmers, our educators, and at least one copy editor. When fads move other minds in erratic directions, we show up and do our job. It may not be glamorous, but it makes life about more than chasing falling stars. It takes an experienced palette to appreciate what’s always been right in front of us because we made it, we cultivated it, and we gave it meaning.

There are so many ways to do a Doppelbock, and each finds a way to pronounce a sweetness in the malt that other beers don’t. Then there’s the history and tradition behind the beer to consider. It’s seems that since we have the badger as the state animal, the muskie as the state fish, and the honeybee as the state insect, we should embrace our heritage and consider a state beer. I can’t think of any beer more deserving of this acclimation than the one that I see in so many of the people here: the Doppelbock.

Erst mach’ dein’ Sach
dann trink’ und lach!
First take care of business,
then drink and laugh!

Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

1 All About Beer Magazine . allaboutbeer.com/article/distinctive-doppelbock

Capital Brewery Doppelbocks

• Blonde Doppelbock
• Autumnal Fire – traditional Doppelbock
• Dark Doppelbock

Ashley Kinart’s favorite Wisconsin Doppelbocks

• Doppelbock – Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.
• Bamboozleator – Ale Asylum

Be sure to check out Great Dane’s Bockfest to have some great Dopplebocks, Eisbocks, and even a Weisen Doppelbock.