It’s no secret
that one of my very favorite German beer styles is doppelbock, aka Double
Bock here in the United States. I just love the style, so rich and decadent
with its deep dark malty flavors. Sure, lots of other styles of beer have
dark malt flavor, but not the way Double Bocks do. There’s just nothing like
the sweet, sticky melanoidin flavors you get from the decoction brewing
process. But more on that later.
One of my favorite doppelbocks is Spaten Optimator, and always has been. It was probably one of the first examples of the style that I ever tasted, and I just never looked back. That shouldn’t be surprising, considering Spaten’s long history of brewing in Munich, Germany. The company can trace its roots all the way back to 1397, and is one of only a handful of breweries authorized to sell its products as Munich’s Oktoberfest.
The name of the brewery is derived from one of the owners, Georg Spaeth. Spaeth was corrupted to Spaten, German for spade or shovel, hence the brewery’s logo featuring a shovel. In 1807, the Sedylmeyer family took control of the brewery, and one of its descendants, Gabriel Sedylmeyer II, is one of the father figures of modern lager brewing.
Spaten Optimator is a lager, as are all doppelbocks. Bock beer is generally stronger than your average lager beer, so as you might expect, doppelbock is stronger still. Spaten’s Optimator has an alcohol content of about 7.2% by volume, about half again as strong as your average lager. This beer does have a kick, though by no means is it the most potent brew in the world. Other styles, such as imperial stouts and barleywines, hit 10% and higher.
Alcohol strength in beer should not be a primary consideration anyway, other than for the fact that higher alcohol beers do tend to have more complex flavor. This is the reason that I love Spaten as much as I do, for its complexity in flavor. That complexity is in large part a result of the decoction brewing process, in which a small portion of the mash (an early stage of beer) is removed and super-heated, then returned to the mash tun.
This process adds all of those wonderfully sweet and sticky, toasty nutty molasses flavors to the finished brew. If you’ve never experienced them, why not pick up a six-pack? Optimator is one of the more readily available examples of the style, and is reasonably priced at about $8 a six-pack. The one drawback-Optimator is packaged in green glass bottles
Spaten Optimator pours to a dark chestnut brown color with a sweet nutty malt nose and a light and creamy head formation. The first thing that hits you when you sip is the full, silky smooth and rich mouthfeel that seems to just glide across the tongue. It’s so luxuriant, almost decadent.
Then the flavors hit you-sweet, toasty nutty malt, molasses, a touch of toffee, a hint of chocolate, all of those wonderful tastes that melanoidins and dark malt can impart. As a lager, the beer is clean of fruity esters. In the finish, sweet malt blends with a touch of alcohol warmth and gentle hop bitterness. Overall, this is a wonderful soft sipping brew.
Spaten Optimator was not the first doppelbock; that honor goes to Paulaner Salvator. I think it’s one of the best, though. Why not try it and decide for yourself?
Update, April 30 2012: A beer brewed for centuries hardly needs an update, but why not? A half liter bottle I enjoyed recently was as wonderful as ever, packed with nutty malty melanoidin goodness. Nobody makes doppelbocks like the Germans do, and this beer was simply amazing with grilled bratwursts on a warm April evening.
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.