There was a time in the United States when hundreds of local and regional breweries served the beer drinking public with beers brewed close to home. I’m not talking about today’s craft brewing world. I’m talking about the beer landscape that existed here before prohibition forced many of those breweries out of business and before the great brewery consolidations of the 1960s and 70s finished off most of the rest of them. Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin is one of the few survivors.
The early brewing industry, especially in the upper Midwest, was dominated by German brewers who brought their lager yeast and brewing traditions over with them from the old country. They adapted the beers they enjoyed at home to the ingredients and brewing processes available to them here to create uniquely American versions of those traditional German beers. One of the styles crafted by these brewers, often on a seasonal basis, was Bock. A couple examples of the nineteenth century American style bock beer still exist. Shiner Bock is one and Leinenkugel’s 1888 Bock is another. It’s hard to say at this point how true these versions stay to those early beers, but Leinenkugel does say of their version, “we’ve tapped our families original bock recipe to create Leinenkugel’s 1888 Bock.” It is at least fun to imagine that one is drinking a remnant of America’s beer past. Here’s my notes:
Aroma: Toasted bread dominates with faint herbal hops and roast. Just a hint of fruit.
Appearance: Dark mahogany with reddish highlights. Persistent, creamy, off-white head. Brilliantly clear.
Flavor: Malt balanced but with a fairly high perceived bitterness. Seems more bitter than the 18 IBU listed on the website. The malt shows that same toasted bread character from the aroma with an added grainy sweetness. It is perhaps a bit too sweet, slightly sugary. Doesn’t have the richness and depth that I would like from a bock. A bit thin. Ends with a quick dry finish.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body, lacking the creaminess of a bock. Crisp and prickly, maybe a bit over carbonated (which could have enhanced the perceived bitterness).
Overall Impression: If you are looking for a lower cost beer with some nice bready malt flavor then this could be the beer for you. If you are looking for something like a full-flavored German bockbier then you should look elsewhere. This is a drinkable American style lager beer with enhanced malt character.