This winter in Los Angeles has been inordinately cold and wet, the perfect weather to make a drinking person lust for bock beer. Bock, a rich, malty lager originally from Germany, has a smooth drinkability and a chest-warming strength that gives it a reputation for taking off a wintertime chill.
Perfectly timed to help deal with the elements, the inaugural Bock Fest comes to L.A.'s Sawtelle Avenue area Saturday, offering a rare assemblage of winter beers in one location. A $35 ticket gets you unlimited drinking from the 69 different beers on tap and a souvenir pint glass.
The fest features lagers and ales from some of Germany and Austria's oldest breweries, as well as a few California offerings, filling West L.A.'s Olympic Collection banquet hall with rare tastes.
Alan Semsar, founder and chief executive of marketing and events company Barcelona Enterprises, said the Bock Fest was born out of his desire to do something unique — and his own love of beer.
"We do beer festivals year-round. But no one ever celebrates winter beers," Semsar said. "We're going to bring that celebration to L.A., and we're going to crown one of these beers the world champion winter beer."
After having success working with such events as the Malibu Wine & Food Festival and L.A. St. Patrick's Day Festival, Semsar looked to his own tastes when he planned the Bock Fest.
"I love winter beers. You know, they're mostly warm beers and full of flavors," Semsar said.
Rich Marcello, co-owner of the South Bay's Strand Brewing Co., said it was this tradition that attracted him to the Bock Fest, where he will judge the festival's winter beer championship as part of a panel that includes the Food Network's Jay DiEugenio and Tender Greens Executive Chef Eric Hulme.
Marcello said he was looking forward to sampling the bocks made by breweries such as Innstadt, founded in 1318, or Stiegl, founded in 1492. "It's a great opportunity to try beers from these breweries that have been doing it for centuries."
If you're looking for a California take on the classic bock while at the festival, however, try the Anchor Bock, from San Francisco's Anchor Brewing Co.
Mark Carpenter, brewmaster for almost four decades at Anchor Brew Co., said that their Bock was created in memory of John Segal, one of their hop suppliers and an avowed Bock advocate, after his passing in 2006. After decades of not making a bock, Carpenter and Anchor Brew Co. had to brew something special.
"For our bock beer, we were inspired by the very first bock beers, which were not lagers, but were ales," Carpenter said, "Because of our ale yeast, we should have some nice ale-like flavors in there, little fruity flavors and whatnot you wouldn't get in a lager-type bock."
Although Anchor Bock is a healthy 5.5% alcohol by volume, it's a relative lightweight compared with the German bocks. The word "bock" means "buck" in German, as in a male goat or deer, and the drink has the appropriate aggressiveness.
According to Randy Clemens, certified beer judge (yes, it's a real qualification), Bocks have a typical alcohol by volume range around 7.5%, and will be joined at the festival by their concentrated cousins, the Doppelbocks, which range from 7% to 10%, and even a few Eisbocks, which pack a punch of 9% to 14% alcohol by volume.
"All these different sub-styles actually come from different regions of Germany. It's a very cool wintertime beer," said Clemens, who also reminded fest goers to stop and smell the malts, so to speak.
"Bocks are not chugging beers, it should take a little while to enjoy your tasters."
Semsar agrees that drinkers should take it slow, noting that, as a father, he sees the fest as more than just an opportunity for inebriation. That's why Barcelona is donating proceeds from the Bock Fest to the Children's Tumor Foundation, the fourth time Semsar has worked with the group.
"I know that when a child is sick, it rips a parent apart, so I think giving to the children's causes is amazing," Semsar says.
Knowing that your money is going to a good cause makes the beer taste even better.
For the serious beer lover, Bock Fest is an opportunity to try some beers that are not readily available in L.A. When asked which beer he was most excited to try, Semsar said, "I can't pick one out. There's so many I haven't tried, because there's such a huge selection. I'm like, 'Give me the glass! Let's do this!' "
Where: The Olympic Collection Banquet & Conference Center, 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., West. L.A.
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday
Info: (213) 915-8003; http://www.bockfest.net