This Saturday we’ll be hosting our annual Blessing of the Bock ceremony in our taproom at 2pm. We sat down with Jeff Allen, the founder of the old Stone City Brewing and ring leader of the Blessing ceremony, to learn more about this long running tradition.
Iowa Brewing: To get started, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your favorite beer?
Jeff: I’m Jeff Allen & originally I’m from Cedar Rapids & the surrounding area. I graduated from CR Kennedy in 1976 and graduated from the U of Iowa with a degree in Microbiology. Since I drink seasonally my favorite beers change throughout the year. My all-time favorite beer is Artist Colony Ale, which is a brown ale!
I-Brew: How did you get started in the brewing industry?
Jeff: It all started in Colorado where I was living & home brewing. Dropping into New Belgium Brewing in Ft Collin, CO at the old location to pick up Quality Control bottles & short fills from Kim Jordan, one of the owners. My wife & I would take these bottles home, drink them, then clean them and I would home brew with them. New Belgium made a bottle conditioned Cherry Brown Ale that was killer! That pushed me into home brewing. New Belgium couldn’t duplicate it after they moved to the new location so they stopped production of it. There has never been another cherry brown like it anywhere!
I-Brew: When did you open Stone City Brewing?
Jeff: The idea for Stone City came about while I was living in Colorado. I was brewing every week to keep up with FAC & friends. I looked into starting a brewery in Colorado but there were over 75 micros in Colorado, with more already waiting for approval. Remember this was 1994. So I looked at Iowa as at that time there was only Millstream, Raccoon River, Front Street & Court Avenue. So I looked at Iowa and went for it.
I-Brew: Let’s talk about the Blessing. First of all, what is a bock?
Jeff: Bock beer is a traditional German beer. It can be dark or light in color, but never light in body. It’s high in alcohol , has a nice caramel base and is very malty! It’s brewed under the German beer purity law of 1654. Only 4 ingredients: water, hops, malt & yeast. It is a recipe, not what is left over in the bottoms of the barrels like many people believe. I can hear many brewers laughing at the people who believe that one. Bock is German for goat. Germans buy it to celebrate as it has “extra kick”.
I-Brew: What is the Blessing of the Bock?
Jeff: The blessing of the Bock started at Stone City Brewing in 1997. I know of other “bock fests” across the country. One night while having a few too many beers the 4 partners; Luke Ames, Mark Brower, Sally Allen and myself had been kicking around the idea of a spring fest. We had heard of a bock fest, so we decided on that. Now how the lager head and red hot spike got started, I’m a little fuzzy on that. I think Tim said he remembered something about a hot spike being plunged into beer. So I welded up a spike and we went from there.
I-Brew: What's with the iron spike in the beer? What does it do?
Jeff: The iron spike creates the “Lager head”. A warm foamy head, with cool beer underneath. What it does is a caramelization of the un fermentable sugars in the bock, while releasing some C02 to form the Lager head. The nose is wonderful! Everyone has their own take on what it smells like. I think it smells like a fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookie!
I-Brew: Where did the Blessing of the Bock tradition come from?
Jeff: I think it may have started in Germany hundreds of years ago. The monks blessed the beer and some of them lived on only bock beer during lent. The monks called it “liquid bread”. We started the Blessing in 1997. We did it at Stone City, and then other breweries after we closed for a total of 22 years this spring. At Stone City Brewing we had a line out the door at every blessing!
I-Brew: How did you keep the Blessing of the Bock tradition alive after Stone City Brewing shut down?
Jeff: When Stone City Brewing closed down in 1993 due to health insurance problems, we wanted to keep it alive. Many of our loyal customers approached me and asked if I could keep it alive. I then approached Paul Krutchfield at Old Capital Brew Works in 2003 and we blessed the bock there until 2015. Paul opened Great River Brewing that year and we blessed there for 2 years. In 2016 we started to bless the bock at Backpocket Brewing in Coralville. I met Mike Wing (Head Brewer at Iowa Brewing Company) there & the group decided that we needed to hold a blessing in Cedar Rapids as it is up and coming. We also Blessed the bock at the Iowa City Brew Lab one year. For the last 3 years we have been blessing at Iowa Brewing!
I-Brew: Why was it important to you to keep this tradition alive?
Jeff: Our loyal customers are a big reason. They expect us to keep the good times rolling from Stone City Brewing. Also it allows other fellow brewers & their breweries to carry on a time honored tradition.
I-Brew: The classic Stone City Brewing Bock is named “Aaah Bock”. Where did the name come from?
Jeff: Aaah Bock comes from an episode of Mash where Radar O’Riley has the hots for a nurse that like classical music, something Radar knows nothing about. So Hawkeye tells him to say, “ Aaah Bach” whenever she mentions Bach. So he does. And she asks, “what does that mean”. So he repeats it and looks at Hawkeye. Hawkeye then replies, “once you have said that, it says it all..”.
I-Brew: What should people expect if they come out for the Blessing on Saturday?
Jeff: Something they would never expect to see in Iowa.
I-Brew: Any other fun facts about the Blessing that you’d like to share?
Jeff: I’d like to add that this started out with just myself spiking beer with a red hot rail road spike the 1st year. My mother made me a monks outfit and it took off from there. A friend and customer, Roger Nidey was at the 1st blessing and asked if he could participate as St Arnold. I said sure. He had a costume made and joined me. A year or so after that I was joined by Sally Allen as “Sister Sally” a nun and Tim Rask as “Tim the Enchanter” from Monte Python fame. Along with a “blacksmith”, Dan Beason to do the spiking of the bock as it was too much for myself and Sister Sally. We added the “Alter Girls”, Mary Lund Shumaker & Theresa Klingenberg after the move to Old Capital Brew Works in 2004. The 2nd“Blacksmith”, Tom Banowetz was added at that time. The “Professor”, Matt Brewbaker was added in 2014 I believe. And I’m Fr. Hopps!
The Blessing of the Bock will take place at 2pm on Saturday, March 15th and is open to the public. Join us for freshly spiked Aaah Bock pints and a truly unique Iowa beer tradition.