Lately, I’ve been trying mix reviews of readily-available beers in with the ones I pick up through travel and regular go-to beer from beer-centric stores. I’d never considered Trader Joe’s a repository for good beer, until some friends out West gave the “house” beers a try and were pleasantly surprised: the beer selection at TJ’s was not only cheap, but quite drinkable and even very good. Well heck, that’s enough recommendation for the Beer Boor!
While Trader Joe’s always contracts the beer, since of course it’s not a brewery, it’s a grocery store, very good breweries are enlisted to whip up batches for the chain. In the case of the Hofbrau line, it’s Gordon Biersch, best known as a brewpub chain largely on the West coast, and almost exclusively brewers of classic German beer styles — hefeweizen, marzen, various bocks, and other lagers. TJ’s carries a Vienna Lager, also made by Gordon Biersch, and, today’s beer, the Bock.
“Bock” means “goat” in German, and though goats rarely have anything to do with brewing beer, the style name stuck, though probably as a corruption of Einbeck, a town that brewed strong malty lagers way back when. At any rate, you’ll see goats adorning the labels of many bocks. The Hofbrau Bock is more or less in the maibock, or May bock, style, which is lighter in color and more heavily hopped, and released in the spring — say, oh, maybe May — for drinking through the summer, whereas regular bockbier is more of a fall thing, and doppelbock, or double bock, reserved for the cold weather when a beer of much higher strength could serve to warm you up in front of the fire. Bocks are lagered, and as a result of using lager yeast they tend to be void of any fruitiness, letting the malt flavors dominate the taste and aroma of the beer, with only maibocks allowing for a significant hoppy bite. So how well does the Hofbrau entry stack up?
Hofbrau Bock pours a crystal-clear, deep golden color, capped by a dense white head that fades to a thin collar over the course of drinking. The sweet malt — probably Vienna malt, possibly some Munich as well — is actually overshadowed, aromatically, by the spicy nature of the Hallertau hops used in the beer. Even at 7% alcohol by volume, there’s nary a trace of heat in the nose. It’s overly hoppy for the style, but no matter, as long as it tastes good, right?
And taste good, it does — mostly. The cookie-dough flavor of the malt is a little subdued, topped by the spiciness of the hops, which are too pronounced here as well. But it is certainly a clean-tasting beer, not muddled or marred by weird flavors that shouldn’t be here. It’s a little on the thin side, but the sweet maltiness, which carries through to the finish, keeps that thinness from being much of a bother. Overall, I’m impressed by this solid, easy-drinking bock.
Would I buy this again? I would, and I will. It’s maybe not the best maibock brewed here or elsewhere, but it is a solid drinker. And, at $5.99 a six-pack, far, far cheaper than most alternatives, certainly any alternatives around here.
If you’re looking for similar beers, you might still be able to find Smuttynose Brewing’s Maibock, or Southampton’s May Bock still on shelves, and still in good enough shape. As the weather grows cooler, look for regular bocks, such as Weltenberger’s Asam-Bock — one of my all-time favorite beers — or even doppelbocks, like Ayinger Celebrator (on the roasty side, but big and tasty) or Victory’s Saint Victorius.
No matter what beer you choose, I hope you enjoy what you drink. Enjoy the weekend!