From the Bottle Collection: Bock to the 70s

Written by Ken Carman

Without intent, I have collected well over 1,000 beer bottles since the early 70s. When something finally had to be done about the cheap paneling in this old modular, I had a choice. Tear down the walls while, oh, so carefully, replacing the often rotted 1X3s. Or: cover them with… The Bottle Collection.

My first experience with true dark beer was in Montreal; a little second story Irish pub called Finnegans; probably named after the Irish song most notably made famous by Tom Makem and the Clancy Brothers before they broke up and followed another cliche’d Irish tradition… had a brawl over the rights to songs that in many cases were odes to drunkenness. Common guys, great way to confirm our often wrong preconceived notions about certain heritages.

That was Guinness Foreign Export.

But I was headed that way already. You see: I thought I hated beer. Pretty much all that was available at the timm in Upstate was the lighter fare: lager clones of Bud, or Bud itself. Same style, ever so slight variations. Even Cream Ale… as in Genny Cream for example, while being an ale, is a stylistic attempt to create a more lager-like beverage out of an ale yeast.

I didn’t know at the time that not all Bocks were dark. That’s just all that was sold locally. Never heard of Blonde Bock back then; or Eisbock, or Doppelbock. But Bock; even the only Bock we could buy in the early 70s, while still a lager, has a bit of a more complex malt bill hiding a sulfur-like lager yeast tang that annoys me. It also seems to limit the DMS taste that’s a bit like drinking water out of a can of unsweetened/”low sodium” corn. In almost every other style it’s called a defect at the high levels that especially corn-adjunct brewed lagers have. Rice is problematic too, in my opinion. Body suffers where there was little body to begin with. Make it thinner? Oh boy. Like going out of your way to make Twiggy-like creatures seem voluptuous.

While I drank a lot of these back when we were closer to the days of Marilyn Monroe than Marilyn Manson, I’m not sure they were real Bocks. I suspect these days I’d be repelled because what was available in Upstate NY was probably more food coloring-driven than a beverage brewed with a more complex, malt bill. But at the time it actually made beer worth drinking as long as “other” was occasionally available too. Previous to that I spent more time in a place I never visit anymore: mixed drink land.

Bocks that I remember were available to mid-Upstaters at the time include…

Genny Bock (As in Genessee Cream Ale.)
Pabst Bock
Miller Bock
Strohs Bock
Schaefer Bock

That’s pretty much all I remember. Utica Club had had a Bock, but I believe it was gone by the early 70s and I lived in Utica while going to college, came back to visit my soon to be wife when I went to Plattsburgh, and we both lived there before we moved South. So if it was around distribution really stunk.

(Must be asked at this juncture… Why is it when you live in a town where a product is made it’s often more expensive than anywhere else?)

Of course the comment you heard all the time back then; even occasionally now…

“Oh, Bock. That’s from the bottom of the barrel.”

So much wrong with that statement. It’s either a damn lie often pushed by sneering quaffers of spritzy urine colored beverages, or outright ignorance. It also assumes the bottom of the barrel is worse than the top. Hey, even in bottles with live cultures that settle; a moderate amount of the right yeast can be the best part!

Or…

“That’s what they bottle when they clean the tanks.”

No. We’d be dead, especially back then. Now we did get a bit sick from time to time, but no more so than our pansy taste bud-ed brethren. (Sisters included, though we usually spent more time talking to each other about things other than the color of our beer. And when we weren’t talking, well let’s just say beer wasn’t the focus.)

I seem to remember that Genny Bock was marginally the better of the Bocks that were available at the time. I believe it was slightly more “hoppy.” Strohs was harder to find, so I can’t really comment… though I suspect it was almost as good, maybe better. They had a “fire brewed” slogan that I think probably had to do with just a bit of caramelization to the malt that made their Bud clone alone stand out a tad. Miller was unremarkable. This is news? Pabst was a bit better than Miller: not much. Schaefer? No clue. I’m guessing unremarkable. I would remember otherwise and would have bought more of it.

All these brews offered a slight hint of darker, more complex, malt bill; though no where near as much Vienna or Munich as the style often required. Low on the melanoidin scale compared to what they should have been, style-wise. (No, a “melanoidin” is not some redneck cuz to the Dominos Noid.) The hopping was often low, as expected, and they were obvious spin off of their regular bland brothers. But the difference was appreciated by this quaffer of things more complex.

Genny Bock is back, though I haven’t tried it. I’m guessing after I return from my next trip up north I’ll have a profile on site.

Were they traditional Bocks? I suspect: Hell, no. For one they had loads of less than creamy foam, more like the tiny bubbles of the regular Bud clone fare’. But in the more radically risk adverse brew dynamic of the “we make slightly different versions of the same beer” early 70s, the difference was much appreciated.

Perhaps too much.

I’m sorry, officer. I will go home now. Don’t know how I got here. Do you know where my clothes went?

Ah; Bock to the 70s.

Sidebar: ironically these clones I mentioned are actually bad clones of the original Bud; Budweiser Budvar… a much better beer, in the Bohemian Pilsener style category. Of course since then Standard American Lager has become a style all its own. And in a rather mean spirited turn around AB disinherited Budvar by forcing them to sell their Bud’s Great Granddaddy in this country as Czechvar. Lind of like telling your Granny she doesn’t have a right to share your name anymore because you’re too important to respect where you came from. One of the many reasons I loath AB.