If you’re a lager fan, it’s hard not to love doppelbock. It’s a showcase of the virtues of the lager style, offering an abundance of complexity from very few ingredients that are allowed to shine through, thanks to the clean fermentation that the lager yeast cells offer. It’s also, however, a style that many struggle with, and there are far too many out there that end up as overly sweet, overly alcoholic, or overly melanoidin-y (there’s a word construction for ya). You want to make a strong lager that doesn’t scream its presence from across the room. The best doppelbocks, in fact, surprise you when you read what they’re packing in terms of ABV, and they’re surprisingly easy to make if you stay out of your own way!
Doppelbock has surprising range, given what we usually expect from the precision-minded Germans who originated the style. Versions range widely in color, alcohol strength, and flavor. Originally, this was a beer brewed by monks for monks, and tradition suggests it was used as a tool to make fasting more tolerable—not because everyone was drunk, but because it was a thicker, lower-attenuated beer that was considered “liquid bread.” Modern examples differ substantially from their monastic forbearers in that they’re fully attenuated (by comparison to the traditional style) and higher in alcohol, but lighter versions do still exist.
What everyone agrees on, though, is that these are beers that showcase malt. Flavors include, at a minimum, a very strong bready presence, usually with a significant dose of toasty melanoidins. Other malt flavors include caramel or even toffee, and increasingly common are dark pit-fruit flavors. The other major flavor contributor here is alcohol, but it should never be hot (and, truthfully, should rarely even be warm if you can prevent it). Instead, the alcohols should add a baked-apple flavor (think cobbler) and a spicy note on the finish.