Fastenbier ("Lenten beer"), Starkbier ("strong beer")

Pronunciation guide for English-speakers:

Doppelbock (literally "double bock") is a stronger and usually darker version of the Bavarian Bockbier. It is exceptionally malty, with very little bitterness. Standard Doppelbocks may have as much as 7% alcohol by volume. In the strongest versions (around 10 to 13%), you can actually taste the alcohol.

Related beer styles:
Maibock, Eisbock, Weizenbock, Weizendoppelbock, Weizeneisbock

Doppelbock—A Heart Warmer
Literally, Doppelbock means double Bock(bier). It is one of Germany's "biggest" beers, typically with an alcohol content by volume of around 7%, but some Doppelbocks go up to 13% in strength. Doppelbock emerged in the late eighteenth century as a powerful lager variant of the old monastic strong beer, the monks' "liquid bread," which they traditionally brewed for the Lenten season. Living by the strict rules of their order, the monks were regularly required to castigate themselves by periodic bouts of fasting, when next to no solid food was allowed to pass their lips. The longest and most taxing of these periods of culinary abstinence was, of course, Lent, the 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Because the monks believed that liquids not only cleansed the body but also the soul, they would make plenty of liquid instead of solid bread from their grain, and then drink it in copious quantities...the more, the holier. Because the monks were society's role models in those religious did the monks so did the common folk. The secular verson of the sacred strong bier was called a Bockbier.

The first Lenten strong beer was brewed by Paulaner monks at Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Munich. The Paulaners had arrived in Munich from Italy in 1627. They began brewing beer for their own comsumption shortly thereafter—exactly when is not clear. Depending on which documents one can trust, the year was 1630, 1651 or 1670. The Paulaners felt, however, that such a strong brew with such delightful qualities might be just a bit too much of an indulgence for Lent. So they decided to ask the Holy Father in Rome for a special dispensation so that they could continued to brew it with a clear conscience. The Paulaners dispatched a cask of Lenten beer to Rome for the pope to try and to pass judgment. During its transport across the Alps and along the burning sun of Italy, unfortunately—or fortunately—the cask tossed and turned, and heated for several weeks—a classic condition for causing beer to turn sour and undrinkable. So when the Holy Father tasted the much-praised stuff from Munich, he found it (appropriately) disgusting. His decision: Because the brew was so vile, it was probably beneficial for the souls of the Munich monks to make and drink as much of it as they could. Therefore, he willingly gave the brewing of this new, allegedly rotten, beer style his blessing. Little did he know...!

It is a fair guess that the Paulaners' Lenten "liquid bread" got stronger over the years. It is not exactly clear, however, when it reached the strength we now associate with a modern Doppelbock. Obviously, the Paulaners revered their weighty and now papally sanctioned brews, because eventualy they came to name the strongest of their strong beers "Salvator," after the Savior, their other passion in life.

Though initially intended only for themselves, the Paulaners must have let some of their beer leak out, for cash, to the population. This, under stringent feudal rules, required a permit from the civil authorities, which the Paulaners did not possess; and soon the Paulaners were brewing not only beer but trouble, too. We know so, because of many civil complaints on record about public rowdiness and drunkenness in the streets around the monastery. There is even evidence that the monks served Doppelbock illegally on April 2, 1751, the names day of their patron saint, Saint Francis of Paula.

It took until 1780 for the Paulaners to finally obtain an official permit from Elector Duke Karl-Theodor to disburse their brew to the public. However, their joy was to be short-lived, because in 1799, a calamity befell the Paulaners' strong Lenten potion. It came in the person of Napoleon Bonaparte. Under Napoleon's new policy of secularization, which he imposed on all the lands he had conquered, including Bavaria, the Paulaner monastery was forcibly dissolved and its brewery confiscated by the State. Napoleon's actions, inspired by the Enlightenment, were designed to institute a strict separation between church and state. Unlike in Europe's feudal past, in the new order, governed by his Code Civil, the church was no longer allowed to own property, levy taxes, or engage in more pursuits of earthly riches, just the shepherding of man's immortal soul.

Thus the Paulaner brewery lay in disuse until 1806, when it was rented out to a "civilian" brewer named Franz Xaver Zacherl, the owner of the Münchener Hellerbräu. Franz Xaver swiftly ended the "salvatorless" period. By 1813, he was able to purchase the old Paulaner brewery outright...and, like the monks before him, he promptly got himself into touble with the law. There were countless court challenges to his license to dispense his drink, because the public, it seemed, was always ready to "disturb the peace." In small-minded fashion, always fearful that their subjects might have too good a time, the civic administrators simply tried to shut Franz Xaver down. It is in testimony in support of brew master Zacherl during one of those hearings, on November 10, 1835, that of a witness speaking called Zacherl's brew Salvator. Though the name had been in use for many decades before, this is the oldest documentary reference to the name Salvator for a Doppelbock.

But things soon improved for Herr Zacherl. His Majesty himself, King Ludwig I of Bavaria, issued an ordinance of favor of the Paulaner brewer on March 25, 1837. "As long as I do not decree otherwise," the King proclaimed, "the authorities are herewith empowered to grant an annual permit for the dispensing of Salvator beer. Regular closing hours, however, must be observed, but no taxes may be levied, because this beer is to be considered a luxury item." Having found a friend for his brew in the highest place in the land, Zacherl continued to pour his Salvator Doppelbock every Lent until his death in 1846. His heirs and successors, the Brothers Schmederer, continued the annual ritual of serving Salvator in the cold outdoors in a beer garden adjacent to the old monastery. By the mid-1860s however, it became clear that the public needed an enclosed beer hall to enjoy their Lenten brew. Thus was erected what is today—albeit completely renovated after a fire on November 27, 1999—the Salvatorkeller at the Nockherberg.

Soon the Salvator brew found many imitators. By 1890, many other breweries were selling their own strong beer under the name Salvator, and the Brothers Schmederer began to object. But effective legal action had to wait until the German Empire had a patent law on the books. Such a law was passed on January 12, 1894, and within two years the Brothers owned their registered trademark for Salvator, and other breweries had to choose new names for their Doppelbocks. Virtually all of them selected names ending in the suffix "ator," such as Maximator, Triumphator, or Celebrator. Today their are some 200 "-ator" Doppelbock names registered with the German patent office. Perhaps one of the better-known Doppelbocks available in North America is the Ayinger Celebrator and the amber-colored, fiery Kulmbacher EKU Kulminator 28. The latter has an alcohol by volume level of 11%.

The original Paulaner Salvator is still brewed on location. It is now lagered 72 feet underground, in the world's deepest lager cellar, before it is sent to beer connoisseurs all over the world. As an escape from the rigors of the Lenten season, thousands of Munich residents still gather annually in the Paulaner beer hall at the Nockherberg, around St. Joseph's Day (March 19), to kick off two weeks of official Bockbier drinking. The season's first cask of Paulaner Salvator Doppelbock is always tapped by a celebrity, usually the mayor of Munich.

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