We love hard-to-translate German words around here. This is a brewing magazine, right?
So, the first word that Florian Kuplent uses to describe a great doppelbock is this: süffig. Virtually always used in the context of drinks, it means something like smooth or drinkable. Quaffable, even.
And a great doppelbock should be quaffable—easier said than done, with a deeply malty beer in the neighborhood of 7 or 8 percent ABV.
“It needs to be complex, yet sessionable,” says Kuplent, cofounder and brewmaster of Urban Chestnut, with breweries in St. Louis and Wolnzach, in the Hallertau region of Germany. “Overall, it shouldn’t be too sweet. I think there needs to be some sweetness, but it cannot be cloying. And I think that’s probably one of the things that I would say is an issue with a lot of doppelbocks—that sweetness is too present. It needs to fit into the overall profile.”
Another thing that shouldn’t be too present, he says, is the alcohol. “I like beers where the high-alcohol content is not initially detectable,” he says. “So despite them being 7 to 8 percent ABV, to me, if they’re hot, or you get that ethanol impression immediately—obviously, you’ll get it at some point when you drink a half-liter or whatever—but to me, it needs to be part of that overall balance.”
While a doppelbock should be complex, Kuplent says, the way to get there isn’t by layering on a bunch of caramel or crystal malts. “Complexity is not being created by adding a large amount of specialty malts. To me, using mostly Munich malt to create that is the better strategy. Caramel malts, in my opinion, sometimes can add a little bit too much of a kind of a vegetal note that I don’t particularly like.”
The mash for Urban Chestnut’s doppelbocks includes a few temperature steps followed by a decoction. It’s a step that deepens—via Maillard reaction—the malty flavor in a way that caramel malt wouldn’t. “It adds another one of those building blocks for complexity, I think,” Kuplent says. “I mean, it definitely does something. I think part of that is philosophical, but obviously there are some chemical reactions that are happening. That will change the flavor and aroma of the beer, and it definitely impacts color. But I wouldn’t say it’s so big that you’ll immediately notice. It’s just one of those building blocks I think that adds to the whole picture.”
Most important, perhaps, is the fermentation. To be süffig and balanced, it needs to be well attenuated. “Just like any other beer, healthy yeast and focus on fermentation to me is critically important,” Kuplent says. “You want to make sure that you pitch enough yeast, you want to make sure that it’s aerated well, and the yeast that gets pitched should be healthy. To me, that’s more important than the yeast strain. I mean, obviously, it’s a lager yeast. But the way the yeast is treated, to me, makes more of an impact on the flavor than the actual selection of the strain.”
In Kuplent’s view, an extra-long lagering time is not strictly necessary. He says that 10 days should be enough for primary fermentation, as long as the beer is clear of diacetyl, then four to six weeks of lagering is plenty. If you go longer, consider racking the beer off the yeast, to lower the risk of autolysis or other off-flavors.
When to drink your doppelbock? “Whenever we brew it, which isn’t that often,” Kuplent says. “I mean, it’s not something I would drink on a daily basis, just like a lot of the stronger beers. I like a bottle or so every once in a while. So, when I was in Germany in November, just having it off the tank—just a small glass at the end of a day—is nice. It’s a special treat that I enjoy a few times a year I would say.”
In Wolnzach, Urban Chestnut Hallertau brews its Wolamot doppelbock only once per year. Traditionally, the time to release bock beers is around Lent, i.e., late winter and early spring—but Kuplent says they have more success releasing it in December, when people are more in the mood for darker, stronger, more special beers. It’s typically available at local drinks markets in crates of 20 half-liter bottles—something of a commitment. The St. Louis brewery also (rarely) produces a doppelbock called Oxnbräu, based on a very similar recipe.
“It’s a pretty limited offering,” Kuplent says. “But for the people who like it, it’s a nice treat.”