This summer I was hit with some nostalgia for one of the strongest and most authentic Dutch beer traditions; bokbier.
To understand the importance of bokbier, you need to understand some of the recent history of Dutch beer. Early 1900s the Netherlands had a vivid brewing culture with a great diversity in styles. Witbier, stouts, dark specials, and other styles were brewed by a large number of small independent breweries. In the 1930s the great depression hit the Dutch economy hard and breweries struggled to survive. The second world war was the killing blow for many of the breweries. The Netherlands counted around 180 breweries before the war, but less than 80 were left at the end of it. After the war the number dwindled even further and many of the styles that were brewed before the war disappeared.
By using smart marketing and using the frailty of the market, breweries like Heineken managed to buy out their competition and corner the market. The lowest point of Dutch beer was 1980. In this year the Netherlands counted only 14 breweries. These breweries almost exclusively brewed Pilsner, and the occasional Dordt (this actually might be another style I’d like to explore in the future). There was only one other style that was brewed as a seasonal product, the bokbier. The 14 breweries managed to bring 11 bokbiers to the market, which were the only creative outlet most breweries allowed themselves. In all honesty they shared a lot of similarities – mostly because they were produced by pilsner producing breweries. They were bottom fermented, filtered, left no yeast left in the bottle, added no herbs or spices, and most of them were cloyingly caramel sweet. The Dutch beer brewers were in their darkest age, and the undiscerning public demanded sweet beers.
Luckily the Belgians were there to guide the Netherlands to our age of beer enlightenment. Belgians started exporting beers and these beers quickly gained traction with Dutch consumers. As a result more and more small breweries started appearing in the Netherlands during the 80s. At the same time PINT was founded, a beer consumer group that best comparable to CAMRA. In 1978 a small group of beer aficionados came together in cafe Gollem in Amsterdam to celebrate our only remaining beer culture, bokbier. Two years after these humble beginnings PINT took over the organisation and started growing the bokbier festival.
The festival grew quickly as the Netherlands was experiencing their first wave of Dutch beer renaissance – mostly inspired by Belgian beer styles. New breweries also started to brew the style, but added much needed variations. The first top fermenting bokbier was brewed by Arcen brewery Hertog Jan. Other breweries started adding spices and herbs. The diversity and quality of the style increased a lot. The Belgian beers popularity did not kill bokbier, in fact sales were increasing. To this date it’s the only Dutch style the Belgians have adopted and started brewing themselves. BelgianAcchoufe started brewing their Chouffe-bok in 1983, but most of it is sold in the Netherlands. We Dutch people sure do love a good bokbier..
In the late 2000s the second Dutch beer renaissance happened and the number of breweries really exploded. In 2015 The Netherlands overtook Belgium in terms of active commercial breweries. Instead of pushing the style bokbier out of the market with more exciting or exotic beers, bokbieris still around and going stronger than ever. New breweries like Oersoep and Oedipus have their own unique take on the style. The bokbier festival is now the biggest beer festival in the Netherlands and the biggest single style beer festival in the world. It evolved from a 1 bar, 6 beer and 66 visitor event in 1978 to the biggest single style event in the world. In 2015 edition over 100 Dutch bokbiers could be sampled and over 12.000 people visited the event.
Bokbier is brewed from August until February. Almost all of the big commercial Dutch brewers (Heineken, Amstel, Grolsch, Dommelsch, Brandt, Hertog Jan) still brew this style – which makes it a bit of an oddity in the beer landscape. The launch of the bokbier season is typically the first Monday of October (though it has been moved to October 1st in the last few years). You can best compare it to the Beaujolais Primeur launch, where all producers launch their product at the same date. The start of the season is often accompanied by handing over the first wooden barrel of bokbier to the local major or celebrity and a has its own launch party. Over 10 million litres is produced in the Netherlands annually. Because of the commercial success most breweries also have a spring version called meibok which is a blond beer.
Bokbier or Bockbier is a collection of beers that consists of 6 variants. The rules are not strict at all, but there is but one demand: The original gravity of the wort needs to be at least 15.5 plato (1.063 SG). An older demand was a color should be at least 40 EBC, but this demand has been dropped with the style Meibok (May Bok) becoming popular. While the style originally came over from Germany, the Netherlands have been brewing the style for a long time. By heavily experimenting with the style in the 80s it is save to say that modern day bokbier has broken away from its German ancestor and can be considered as its own style.
off course I have tried my hand on my own bokbier.
Recipe for my 4 grain Bokbier
4300.0 g Munich (DE)
600.0 g Pilsner (BE)
475.0 g CaraMunich (BE)
200.0 g Wheat Malt (UK)
175.0 g Chocolate Rye (DE)
175.0 g Flaked Oats (UK)
75.0 g Chocolate Malt (UK)
15.0 g Magnum (DE) 60 min Boil Leaf 11.6%
30.0 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (DE) 20 min Boil Leaf 3.6%
30.0 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (DE) 10 min Boil Leaf 3.6%
Mangrove Jack M41 Belgian Ale Yeast – 10 g
Mangrove Jack M47 Belgian Abbey Yeast – 10g
I got these satchels of yeast as a sample from my brewing group. I have decided to split the batch and do a 50/50 with these yeasts. The idea behind the Belgian yeast is to dry the beer up when compared to more classical Bokbier. If you have the time you can use a lager yeast.
Batch & Boil
Batch Size 20.0 L
Boil Time 90 min
I used a mash scheme I found for Belgian Tripels. This is again to dry it up a bit more (it has plenty of cara malts).
Mash-in at 38C
Step 1: 20 mins @ 50C
Step 2: 45 mins @ 60
Step 3: 15 mins @ 72
Mash-out at 78C