Story and Recipe

The Story Behind Winterbok

It’s October which means only one thing: Bokbier!

Sometime ago we launched our first beer Winterbok, our take on one of the strongest and most authentic Dutch beer traditions, the bokbier. In this post I would like to take you on our journey why we brewed this beer and for home brewers, how to brew one yourself. It all started last summer in the UK when Erwin was hit with nostalgia for this typical Dutch style.

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To understand the importance of bokbier, you need to understand some of the recent history of Dutch beer. In the early 1900s the Netherlands had a vivid brewing culture with a great diversity in styles. Witbier, stouts, dark specials and other styles were brewed by a large number of small independent breweries. In the 1930s the Great Depression hit the Dutch economy hard and breweries struggled to survive. The Second World War was the killing blow for many of the breweries. The Netherlands counted around 180 breweries before the war, but less than 80 were left at the end of it.

After the war the number dwindled even further and many of the styles that were brewed before the war disappeared. By using smart marketing and the frailty of the market, breweries like Heineken managed to buy out their competition and corner the market. The lowest point of Dutch beer was 1980. In this year the Netherlands counted only 14 breweries. These breweries almost exclusively brewed Pilsner, and the occasional Dordt (this actually might be another style I’d like to explore in the future). There was only one other style that was brewed as a seasonal product, the bokbier. The 14 breweries managed to bring 11 bokbiers to the market, which were the only creative outlet most breweries allowed themselves. In all honesty they shared a lot of similarities – mostly because they were produced by pilsner producing breweries. They were bottom fermented, filtered, left no yeast left in the bottle, added no herbs or spices, and most of them were cloyingly caramel sweet. The Dutch beer brewers were in their darkest age, and the undiscerning public demanded sweet beers.

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Luckily the Belgians were there to guide the Netherlands to our age of beer enlightenment. Belgians started exporting beers and these beers quickly gained traction with Dutch consumers. As a result more and more small breweries started appearing in the Netherlands during the 80s. At the same time PINT was founded, a beer consumer group best comparable to CAMRA in UK promoting new and original beer tastes. In 1978 a small group of beer aficionados came together in cafe Gollem in Amsterdam to celebrate our only remaining beer culture, bokbier. Two years after these humble beginnings PINT took over the organisation and started growing the bokbier festival.

The festival grew quickly as the Netherlands was experiencing its first wave of Dutch beer renaissance – mostly inspired by Belgian beer styles. New breweries also started to brew the style, but added much needed variations. The first top fermenting bokbier was brewed by Arcen brewery Hertog Jan. Other breweries started adding spices and herbs. The diversity and quality of the style increased a lot. The Belgian beers’ popularity did not kill bokbier, in fact sales were increasing. To this date it’s the only Dutch style the Belgians have adopted and started brewing themselves. The Belgian Brasserie d’Achouffe started brewing their Chouffe-bok in 1983, but most of it is sold in the Netherlands. We Dutch people sure do love a good bokbier.

In the late 2000s the second Dutch beer renaissance happened and the number of breweries really exploded. In 2015 The Netherlands overtook Belgium in terms of active commercial breweries. Instead of pushing the style bokbier out of the market with more exciting or exotic beers, bokbier is still around and going stronger than ever. New breweries like Oersoep and Oedipus have their own unique take on the style. The bokbier festival is now the biggest beer festival in the Netherlands and the biggest single style beer festival in the world. It evolved from a single bar, 6 beer and 66 visitors in 1978 to 12,000 attendees and over 100 Dutch bokbiers for sample in 2015.

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Bokbier is brewed from August until February. Almost all of the big commercial Dutch brewers (Heineken, Amstel, Grolsch, Dommelsch, Brandt, Hertog Jan) still brew this style – which makes it a bit of an oddity in the beer landscape. The launch of the bokbier season is typically the first Monday of October (though it has been moved to October 1st in the last few years). You can best compare it to the Beaujolais Primeur launch, where all producers launch their product at the same date. The start of the season is often accompanied by handing over the first wooden barrel of bokbier to the local major or celebrity and has its own launch party. Over 10 million litres of bokbier is produced in the Netherlands annually and because of the commercial success most breweries also have a spring version called meibok which is a blond beer.

Bokbier or Bockbier is a collection of beers that consists of 6 variants. The rules are not strict at all, but there is but one demand: The original gravity of the wort needs to be at least 15.5 plato (1.063 SG). An older demand was that the color should be at least 40 EBC, but this demand has been dropped with the style Meibok (May Bok) becoming popular. While the style originally came over from Germany, the Netherlands have been brewing the style for a long time. By heavily experimenting with the style in the 80s it is safe to say that modern day bokbier has broken away from its German ancestor and can be considered as its own style.

We have tried to make bokbier of our own and came up with Winterbok.

Please find our recipe attached. If you manage to brew one yourself we are super curious how it turns out. Send us a message and tell us how it compares to our brew!

Recipe Dorst Winterbok

Fermentables
4300.0 g Munich (DE)
600.0 g Pilsner (BE)
475.0 g CaraMunich (BE)
200.0 g Wheat Malt (UK)
175.0 g Chocolate Rye (DE)
175.0 g Flaked Oats (UK)
75.0 g Chocolate Malt (UK)

Hops
15.0 g Magnum (DE) 60 min Boil Leaf 11.6%
30.0 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (DE) 20 min Boil Leaf 3.6%
30.0 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (DE) 10 min Boil Leaf 3.6%

Yeasts
Mangrove Jack M47 Belgian Abbey Yeast – 10g

The choice of yeast was a bit of a lucky coincidence. I got some satchels of yeast as a sample from our Oxford brewing group. I split the batch and fermented with different yeasts. This one is the the version we liked the best. The idea behind the Belgian yeast is to dry the beer up when compared to more classical Bokbier and to add esters and other interesting flavours. If you have the time you can make a variant with a lager yeast.

As for hops, you can switch these out with other noble hops like Styrian Goldings.

Batch & Boil
Batch Size 20.0 L
Boil Time 90 min

Properties
1.068 OG
1.015 FG
36IBU
25SRM
7.0%ABV

If you want to go full traditional you can use the following mash scheme for Belgian Tripels. This also helps a bit to dry it up a bit more (it has plenty of cara malts). Otherwise you can go for a single step mash at 65 degrees C.

Mash-in at 38C
Step 1: 20 mins @ 50C
Step 2: 45 mins @ 60C
Step 3: 15 mins @ 72C
Mash-out at 78C

And that’s it! The beer really benefits from some aging so try a bit fresh and keep most of it to age a bit.

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