Bock is Buck in Colorado
By Dave Thomas
Bock beer is a strong, dark lager beer style first brewed in the fourteenth century by the brewers in Einbeck, Germany. Einbeck brewers were actually civil servants, the only ones allowed by the Einbeck City Council to brew bock beer in brew kettles that were, in fact, owned by the city. This enabled the brewer to oversee the entire brewing process and certify its final quality before it could be sold. The word “bock” is German for billy goat, and that is why a likeness of this animal or a variation of a goat name is usually associated with this particular beer style, even today. It seemed that many early Colorado brewers playfully changed “bock” to “buck.”
“New Advertisements: The Rocky Mountain Buck, Is to be let loose for three days only, and all those who wish a taste of his quality, during Saturday, Sunday and Monday, may call at any saloon in town and try the strength of the celebrated Rocky Mountain Buck Beer manufactured by Messrs. Endlich and Good.” – Rocky Mountain News, April 19, 1862.
A more fanciful description of the quality control of bock beer was reported in the Denver Daily Times on May 1, 1872:
“Bock Beer – The following Teutonic traditions and ceremonials relating to this famous May Day drink; may not prove altogether uninteresting to the reader. One of the institutions in Munich, in the olden times, was the official brewery, which was established by royal authority, and which for a long time was an important source of revenue to the Prince.
In the sixteenth century there was a great rage for a new sort of beer, which was perfectly white [an early German Weiss bier], but which is not now made. It was to brew this white beer that the official brewery was established. Later, however, this old brewery was devoted exclusively to the manufacture of bock, a kind of beer first made in Einbock of Brunswick, whence it derived its name.
The season opens on the first of May. For weeks before the opening, the cellars of the old brewery are shut fast, and as the tradition goes, the only being allowed inside is the Black Demon, who superintends the perfection of the beverage. Two days before the opening, occurs the official testing.
In ancient times these three lords of the cup were dressed in stag leather and seated upon a bench. They drank the ‘bock’ from two pots, and if at the expiration of an hour they could not stand up, the beer received the verdict of approval. If, however, they were able to stand up the beer was pronounced a failure.”
Bock Beer Day, or “Buck Beer Day”, was celebrated on the first of May each year as announced in this May 2, 1875, story in the Rocky Mountain News. The high alcoholic strength of this beer style is mentioned as well as the editor’s admission that two kegs of free “hiccough medicine” had been delivered to the paper by the Denver Brewing Company.
“Buck Beer Day – Yesterday was a day held in high estimation by lovers of the Teutonic beverage all over the world. On every May Day the brewers furnish their customers with an extra quality of beer, called ‘buck’ or ‘bock.’ The principal merit in this beverage consists in the fact that one glass of it contains more ‘drunk’ than three or four of the ordinary ‘lager.’
The origin of the name is not just clear to us, but the placards announcing the advent of the buck beer are always illustrated by a billy goat rampant. The suggestiveness of the vignette will be thoroughly understood by every one of our citizens who yesterday worshipped diligently at the shrine of Gambrinus. And this reminds us that the Denver Brewing Company have kept pace with the increasing appetite for the May Day drink, and yesterday supplied the town with this beverage.
By accident, two kegs of ‘bock’ were rolled off at the News office, but as editors and compositors have no tooth for such things, they proved to be more ornamental than useful. Hiccoughs, you know, are truly ornamental.”
An article in the Rocky Mountain Sun in Aspen waxes lyrical about the quality of the Bock beer made by the Aspen Brewery. Jacob Mack, of Central City’s Rocky Mountain Brewery fame is specifically mentioned, having operated breweries in Central City, Leadville and Aspen.
“Prof. Schwackhofer of Vienna thinks that beer fully deserves the designation of liquid bread, as it is undoubtedly nutritious, and less liable to be adulterated than wine…
A community is always blessed when it has within its confines a good brewery to supply its inhabitants with a pure article of beer. While all deplore the native taste for whiskey, yet we are glad that we are year by year adopting the drinks of our European brothers. California furnishes wine superior to the imported article, and our own beer equals the German product.
The birthplace of beer is Egypt. A papyrus has been discovered on which a father reproaches his son for lounging about in taverns and drinking too much beer… Beer is ‘liquid strength’: it aids digestion, keeps up the vitality and enables it to throw off disease.
The Bock beer of the Aspen Brewery is a very superior article; perfectly pure, it is devoid of any unpleasant taste. The Aspen Brewery is situated on the north bank of the Roaring Fork, close to town.
Mr. Jake Mack is the proprietor, and they have a most perfect plant, and their Bock beer is highly spoken of by the medical profession as an article suited to restoring strength to the invalid. It is a favorite family beverage.” – Rocky Mountain Sun (Aspen), May 7, 1877.
Closer to home, John S. Beaman of the Central City Bottling Company also sold bottled Bock beer from an unknown brewery. Interestingly, most of the late nineteenth century photographs depicting men inside Western saloons holding glasses of very dark beer may mean that it was dark Bock beer or Stout that they were drinking rather than a traditional brown lager or ale.
“The First of May is gradually approaching, the advent of which is Bock Beer day. This item is to call the attention of all who are fond of that beverage that J. S. Beaman will furnish a superior quality of bottled bock beer to all who call at his bottling works on Spring street.” – Weekly Register-Call, April 17, 1891.
This article was selected from “Of Mines & Beer!,” the history of 19th century brewing in Gilpin County by Dave Thomas. Copies of the book may be obtained at the Gilpin Historical Museum in Central City, the Dostal Alley Brewpub in Central City, the Bobtail Cornerstore in Black Hawk, or online at www.Amazon.com.