Dutch Bokbier Tasting 2004
Introduction - tasting notes

Beurs van BerlageEvery year (well at least the last two) I try to blind taste as many Bokbiers as possible. It's not generally as much fun as it sounds.

The 2004 vintage follows a familiar pattern: a couple of excellent Boks, half a dozen OK ones and a lot of undrinkable rubbish. The most notable changes from last year are:
  • a dramatic improvement in Heineken Tarwebok and Bavaria Hooghe Bock
  • an equally dramatic drop in the quality of Drie Horne, Jopen and 't IJ
  • no general increase in sweetness (though, admittedly, that would have been difficult)
My top six (if I exclude those not tasted blind) has two beers from SNAB and two from Heineken. I'm not sure what this tells us about the state of Dutch brewing. The low quality of some beers from both micros and established breweries is disturbing.

Because the characteristics of Dutch Bok are fairly well established, it's quite easy to spot beers which are not as the brewer intended. Sadly, I would say that these make up more than 50% of the examples I've tasted.

A bottom-fermenting brewery should be able to knock off a reasonable Bok without too much trouble. Yet most of them can't. Their attempts taste like a pils with a bit more alcohol and added caramel. Hertog Jan (owned by Belgian giant Interbrew) has this year released a beer that is obviously infected and unfit to drink.

PINT stand in the beursI hope that this page will be helpful for visitors to the 2004 Bokbierfestival in Amsterdam. Far too often my enjoyment of the Bockbierfestival been ruined by sampling nothing but Sarson's (that's a brand of vinegar for those from outside the UK) all day. These notes should save you from this sad fate.

I'm brutally honest: if a bok is rubbish, I say so. Avoid anything with a score of less than 40.
me writing notesHow do I perform the tastings?
Here's my usual tasting procedure:
  • 5 or 6 beers in one set
  • beers served in identical, numbered glasses
  • beers served at cellar temperature
  • I note down my opinionated tripe on a form

What do my scores mean?
< 20 cut out the middleman and pour straight down the sink
21 - 30 pretty nasty, gulp down quickly or hold your nose
31 - 40 chill heavilly and pray
41 - 50 can be drunk unchilled without evoking nausea
51 - 60 safe to drink
61 - 70 you might actually enjoy this
71 - 80 can survive a serious examination
81 - 90 don't swallow too quickly
91 - 100 treat like 50 year-old Islay
What is Bockbier?
The tale with which discussions of bock usually start, is the one of how beer from the North German town of Einbeck, or Einbecker beer, was exported to Bavaria. They got a taste for the strong dark beer, corrupted the name to 'Ein Bock' and started brewing it themselves. I must say that this story has always sounded a bit dodgy to me and doesn't seem to be backed by much in the way of contemporary documentary evidence. It strikes me that a goat ('Bock' in German) is also a pretty obvious symbol for strength and virility, so why look for any more complicated explanation of the name?

Whatever the origin of the term, from the 16th century bockbier was well-established in Bavaria as a seasonal strong beer. In fact the seasonal nature of bock is one of the few consistent characteristics it displays across the various countries where it's brewed. In Bavaria, the season is in March. Christmas and Easter are when bocks usually appear in Austria. Holland plumps for October and November, though I'm not sure of the precise reason for the choice.

Though perhaps Autumn hasn't always been the Dutch Bokbier season....

Dutch Bokbier around 1900
Bokbier was originally announced at the end of February. The release date gradually became earlier and by 1913 it was the middle of January. The wholesale price for Bok was 15 cents a litre, compared to 13 cents for Pilsener. (Source: "Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873 - 1948" p.218)

It seems that Dutch Bok was once served in March, just like Bavarian Bock.
Bokbier today
Between 1988 and 1995 production of bockbier increased from just under 30,000 hl to a little over 85,000 hl. Increased interest in beer in general and the European-wide fashion for seasonal beers were no doubt both factors in bock's success. No brewery can afford to miss out on the extra publicity and attention the annual release of the new season's bocks generates. All the established lager brewers have had a bock in their porfolios for a good few years. Not wishing to miss out on the fun, the small micros soon followed with bocks of their own.

Now this was all very well, but the small breweries had a problem: bock is a bottom-fermenting style but they only had the equipment to top-ferment. No problem, just brew a top-fermenting version then. Well, it isn't quite that simple, as the often bizarre results have demonstrated. As time has gone by, microbreweries have made less and less effort to mimic the traditional style. Which leaves us in the current situation, where these beers bear almost no resemblance to the classic bock. Dark and 6.5% alcohol are about as much as most can manage - and not always even that.

The lager breweries, who had had a fairly good grip on the basics of the style started to lose the plot in a different way. No doubt encouraged by the success of the (once) untypically sugary Grolsch Bokbier, they began to increase the sweetness of their own beers. Where once achieving a bitter-sweet balance had been the objective, now producing a beer version of Pepsi was the aim. Same colour, just as sweet and without any of that nasty bitternes that makes beer so unpleasant.
What's Bokbier like?
Let's continue with the specific qualities which a Dutch bock should demonstrate. These are what I would consider its defining characteristics:
  • dark in colour (red-brown to black)
  • strong in alcohol (6.5 - 8%)
  • sweet on the tongue (but not ridiculously so), with optionally a little bitterness, too
  • a mixture of bittersweet flavours - toffee, raisin, coffee, chocolate, burnt, liquorice - but with the bitterness deriving from dark malts rather than hops
  • be balanced between bitterness and sweetness so that neither predominates
  • have a mouth-filling rich texture
That doesn't sound all that demanding, does it? No outlandish flavours, no exotic ingredients required, no special, complicated brewing process. So why do so many of the beers given the name bock fail to meet this specification?

Dutch Bokbier Tasting 2004
The results

  2003 2004
Brewery / Beer
score (100) score (100)
Pelgrim Bockbier - 80
Groningsche Hanzebock - 80*
SNAB Ijsbok 82 78
SNAB Ezelenbok 23** 75
De Snaterende Arend 't Swarte Schaep 65 70*
Halve Maan Zondebok 18 69*
Brand Dubbelbock - 69*
Utrechtse Special - 68
Bavaria Hooghe Bock 43 66
Mieghelm Bokkedonks Bockbier - 64*
Amstel Bock 79 64
Groningsche Hunebedbock - 62*
Heineken Tarwebok 31 62
Huttenkloas Winterbock - 61*
Oirschots Bok - 60*
La Trappe - 60
Hoeksch Bokbier 34 58
Kruier - 57
Bok Ros - 56
Budels Bock 32 56
Texels Bock 81 54
De Lekkere - 48
Us Heit - 47
Klein Duimpje Slobberbok 37 45
Het Brouwcafé Bockbier - 44
Gulpener Herfstbock 32 44
St. Servattamus Skendelse Bock 20 42
Albert Heijn Herfstbock 45 40
Leeuw Herfstbock 40 39
Drie Ringen Bock 39 39
Lindeboom Herfstbock 26 39
Scheldebrouwerij Wildebok 52 39
Alfa Bokbier 20 37
Het Ij Bockbier 61 36
Grolsch Herfstbock 13 36
3 Horne Horn's Bock 70 35
Maasland Ossebock 10 34
Dommelsch Jonge Bok 52 33
EleganT - 31
Moerenburg Bokbier - 29
Jopen Viergranen Bokbier 66 24
Uden's Bockbier 14 24
Hunebed Bockbier - 17
Volenbock 44 17
Hertog Jan Bockbier 30 16
Grunn Bock Primeur 46  
Kemphaan Herfstbok 31  
Haerlemsch Herfst-Bock 8  

* Sampled draught at the 2004 Bokbier Festival
** my 2003 bottle was corked


Amstel Bock
7% pale brown, clear dates, caramel, toffee, sweet, bitterish black toffee, liquorice, dates smoke, liquorice, toffee, fruit bitter Loads of liquorice and fruit flavours. Still top dog amongst bottom-fermenting boks. Let's hope Heineken leave it alone. 64

Drie Ringen Bock
6.5% dark brown,
toffee, sugar, apple very sweet raisins, sugar apple, raisins very sweet Ludicrously sweet, but some OK fruit flavours and no faults. Like homebrew that hasn't quite worked out right. 39

Gulpener Herfstbock
6.5% pale brown, clear nuts, fruit, caramel, cabbage sweetish, bitterish metal, liquorice hops, toffee bitterish OK aroma, but thin in the mouth and oddly hoppy. Like a bad copy of Amstel. 44

Budels Bock
6.5% mid brown, clear caramel, liquorice, basil sweetish, bitter toffee, liquorice, basil liquorice, perfume, hop bitter A bit too hoppy for the style, but otherwise OK. 56

Lindeboom Herfstbock
6.5% mid brown, clear dust celery sweet caramel. cream caramel. liquorice, hops bitterish Watery andand sugary - no real malt character. Just about acceptable. Let down by a poor aroma. 39

Leeuw Herfstbock
6.5% mid brown, clear grass, tea sweetish, bitter herbal, toffee hop, tea bitter A bit harsh and hoppy. 39

Grolsch Herfstbock
6.5% pale brown, clear cherry, grape, alcohol very, very, very sweet cherry, toffee sugar, hops sweet, bitterish

Much too sweet. The hoppiness doesn't meld with the sweetness - a very disjointed beer. Crap.


Hertog Jan Bockbier
6.5% mid brown, clear dust, meta sweet, sour toffee sugar sour, bitterish Off - but probably would have been crap anyway. The worst this year. 16

Heineken Tarwebok
6.5% pale brown, clear dates, liquorice, alcohol, smoke very sweet, bitterish dates, smoke, liquorice, toffee smoke, liquorice, black toffee sweet, bitter Quite sweet but with plenty of smokiness and some bitterness. Like sugared Amstel. 62

Alfa Bokbier
6.5% dark amber, clear hop, tobacco, cabbage very sweet caramel, sugar, tobacco hop, mint sweetish, bitterish Sugary and hoppy. Not much like a bok. Too pale, as well 37

St. Servattamus Skendelse Bock
7% amber, cloudy grapes, yeast sweet dates. sugar, caramel raisins, caramel sweet Too pale. Too sweet and sugary. At least it's not off. No discernible bitterness at all. 42

Klein Duimpje Slobberbok
6.5% pale brown, clear sherbert, dust, fruit sweetish, bitterish yeast, toast, hop liquorice, hop very bitter This is a novelty - not sweet enough. A bit thin and over-hoppy. 45

3 Horne Horn's Bock
7% dark brown,
lemon, dust sweetish toffee, biscuit nuts, caramel bitterish Bland - like pils with added caramel. 35

Het Ij Biobok
6.5% mid brown, clear toast, dust sweetish, bitte coriander hop, toast very bitter Infected. Not very nice. 36

Maasland Ossebock
6.5% dark brown, clear cherry, yeast sourish, bitterish cherry hop, fruit bitter On the turn. Otherwise disjointed and bland. Not very good. 34

Hoeksch Bokbier
6.5% pale brown honey, fruit, biscuit, caramel sweet/ bitterish caramel, hop, apple treacle, grape, honey sweet, bitter A reasonable beer, if a little too sweet for my taste. 58

Uden's Bockbier
7% pale brown, cloudy lemon, pear sour perfume perfume bitterish Horrible - sour beyond redemption. 24

6.5% dark brown, cloudy biscuit, sour sour, sweetish, bitter smoke hop sour, very bitter Horrible. Very close to being totally undrinkable - sour and bitter. Infected. 17

Scheldebrouwerij Wildebok
6.5% mid brown, cloudy dates, cream. toast, dust sweet, sourish toast, caramel liquorice, herbal sweetish, bitterish Sweet and sourish, with a bit of malt flavour thrown in. 39

Texels Bock
7.5% mid brown, cloudy liquorice, caramel very sweet dates, liquorice, toffee liquorice, toffee, raisins bitter, sweet Too sweet for my taste, but full of dark malt flavours. 54

Jopen Viergranen Bokbier
6.5% pale brown, clear caramel, butter sour, sweetish biscuit perfume sour, bitter Another really bad one. Bitter, sour, infected. 24

SNAB Ijsbok
9.3% ruby red, clear pear drops, grapes, bread, biscuit sweet, bitter dates, hop, liquorice, ginger liquorice, treacle, dates, hop very bitter Alcoholic and complex. 78

Brouwerij de Molen Kruier
7.1% mid brown aniseed. liquorice, ginger, cloves sweetish, bitterish liquorice, caramel, herbal caramel, liquorice, raisins, mint bitter Liquoricey and not too sweet. Supposedly brewed to a medieval recipe. 57
SNAB Ezelenbok 7.5% dark brown liquorice, toffee, cream, herbal sweetish, bitter liquorice, toffee, hop, black chocolate coffee, liquorice, toffee, burnt, caramel very bitter Really rather nice - a mass of dark malt flavours. Complex and very drinkable. 75
De Lekkere
6.5% mid brown liquorice, toffee, fruit, alcohol sweetish, bitter, sourish toffee, liquorice, cream toast, liquorice, burnt very bitter Teetering on the edge of being off. More like a porter than a bok. 48

La Trappe Bockbier
7% mid brown burnt, flowers, rubber sweetish, bitter toffee, liquorice, coffee burnt, espresso, herbal cream bitter A bit too burnt tasting, but otherwise not bad. 60

Us Heit Twels Bokbier
6% dark brown toffee, raisins sweet, bitterish dates, toffee herbal, hop, caramel bitter, sweetish A bit roughn with disparate sweet and bitter elements. 47

EleganT Bruintje
8% pale brown dates, caramel sourish, sweetish grapes, biscuit caramel bitterish Going sour and pretty caramelly. Poor 31
Bierbrouwerij Willibrord Utrechtse Special Bokbier 6.9% mid brown smoke, liquorice sweetish, bitterish bacon, smoke, liquorice, black toffee bacon, smoke, liquorice bitter Tastes like there's some smoked malt in there. Quite nice, if you like smoked beer. Nice and clean. 68
Het Brouwcafé Bockbier ** 6.5% dark brown sherbert, liquorice, cherry, milk sweet cherry, liquorice cherry, cream bitterish A hint of sourness that is slightly worrying. Otherwise sweet and fruity. 44

Pelgrim Bockbier
7% pale brown bread, cherry, liquorice, toffee, alcohol sweet, bitter cream, coffee, black toffee, raisins cream, coffee, black toffee, herbal, liquorice very bitter A beautifully complex bittersweet beer. This year's best. 80
Oirschots Bok * 7% mid brown caramel, cream, malt sweetish, bitter liquorice, caramel, toffee caramel, hop, chicory sweet, bitter Too yeasty - it masks some of the flavours. A hint of sourness, but that could be the yeast. Reasonable. 60

't Swaerte Schaep (Snaterende Brouwers) *
7% amber apple, lemon, mint, cloves, cream sweet, bitter toffee, butterscotch, hop, dates citrus, hop, dates very bitter A good amber bock with toffee malt and citrus hop. Love the really bitter finish. 70
Groningsche Hanzebock * 7.5% yellow hop, chicory, pepper, basil sweetish, bitter vanilla, butter, honey, herbal wood, herbal, hop, pepper, chicory very bitter Delicious. Smoothly malty and devilishly bitter (46 EBU). Very drinkable. 80
Brand Dubbelbock * 7.5% pale brown treacle, biscuit, liquorice, butter sweet, bitterish treacle, biscuit, liquorice, dates black toffee, liquorice sweetish, bitter A bit too sweet, but otherwise pretty good. A shame it's draught-only again. 69

Halve Maan Zondebok *
8% mid brown liquiorice, dates, cream, toffee very sweet raisins, caramel, honey, toffee raisins, liquiorice, chocolate, cream, bitterish Too sweet but quite good. 69
Groningsche Hunebedbock * 7.5% dark amber hop, citrus, mint sweet, bitterish caramel, honey, wood hop, wood, herbal sweetish, bitter Nice and bitter, but not really an autumn bok. More like an amber bok. 62
Mieghelm Bokkedonks Bockbier * 7% dark brown black toffee, liquorice, apple, dates sweet, bitter milk, black toffee, liquorice, burnt liquorice, cream, coffee sweetish, bitter A bit overpowered by some sort of dark malt, but OK. More like an imperial stout. A bit green, too. 64
Huttenkloas Winterbock *     liquorice, coffee sweetish, bitter chicory, hop, caramel, black toffee milk, liquorice, burnt very bitter A beer full of dark malt bitterness. 61
Albert Heijn Herfstbock 6.5% mid brown celery, dust, malt very sweet, bitterish liquorice, herbal, caramel metal, burnt, chicory sweet, bitterish Too sweet and a bit simplistic. 40
Bok Ros 6.5% mid brown lemon, ginger, cloves sweetish, bitterish caramel. ginger, fruit ginger, herbal, toffee bitterish An interestingly spicy bok. 56

Bavaria Hooghe Bock
6.5% pale brown toffee, honey, coffee, dates sweet caramel, toffee, dates, liquorice liquorice, black toffee, herbal bitterish Quite pleasant. Could do with a tad more bitterness, but otherwise OK. 66
Moerenburg Bokbier 7% mid brown cabbage, metal, burnt sweet, sourish wood, burnt black toffee, burnt very bitter Tastes infected. Some OK malt flavours but far too burnt-tasting. 29
Hunebed Bockbier 7.5% amber cabbage, dust sweet, sourish, very bitter cabbage, dust herbal very bitter Too pale. A terrible beer full of off flavours. 17
Dommelsch Jonge Bok 6.5% pale brown chicory, basil sweet, bitter toffee, herbal liquorice, sugar very bitter A very disjointed beer with sugar and hops fighting it out on the tongue. 33

* Sampled draught at the 2004 Bokbier Festival
** Sampled draught at Het Brouwcafé

For comparative purposes, these are the results from my 1997 bokbier tasting and 2003 bokbier tasting.

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