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A bock in East London

“I like to dare people a little bit,” says Olga Zubrzycka, founder and brewer at the Mechanic Brewery. This might explain why she has ended up making beers like a candy orange IPA, a lime stout or a grapefruit barleywine. “I have an impression that beers pick me really rather than I pick them.”

Her brewery has been open a little over ten months, but already it has built a reputation for variety and experimentation. Sometimes this can go a bit far, as with the brussels sprout sour. But generally, Olga’s customers are receptive to her unique twists on beer styles.

The beer that caught my eye however was more classic, albeit in a style you won’t see often here in the UK. Olga brews a bock — a powerfully malty German lager finished with peppery hops — that hits you in the chest as it goes down and puts the world to rights. It’s her best seller, beating even the crowd-friendly IPAs. When I first had it one sunny evening in late June, I knew I had found something special.

When Olga and I checked on her Untappd, we couldn’t find any other British brewers making a bock. Olga wouldn’t mind not making it, either. “We did it only for our taproom at the beginning because it’s a beer which takes so much effort. It takes nearly three months to do it from start to finish. And it became everyone’s favourite and now with awful regret I have to say that we must brew it all the time because we don’t want to upset our customers.”

Orange candy IPA takes only two weeks to brew. Olga could make and sell six batches of that in the same time it takes to make one batch of bock. And it’s not just that it hogs her fermenting space. It’s also difficult to brew.

“It’s too much of a fuss with the bock,” Olga says, almost talking to herself at this point. I get the feeling she’s replayed this lament over many a brew. “Because with a bock you have to get the German malt, German hops, German yeast, and it’s all become like: oh why should I bother?”

“The whole secret is the yeast, the original German yeast. Yeast is like people — they come with all sorts of shapes and sizes and personalities. And a bock yeast has the personality of the most annoying and fussy person you have ever met in your life. It has days when it fancies fermenting, then it stops for a while, rethinks then starts again. So it’s more of a relationship with that yeast, you have to really know it by heart.”

Olga tells me she brewed her bock six times before it had the character she was looking for. “That’s a lot. That is a lot. Bock is a very difficult yeast and it’s very picky as well. It’s just like us when we eat fish and chips and we don’t fancy eating the green peas. It decides to leave some type of sugars in the beer and it doesn’t matter that they’re perfectly fine accessible sugars, it just doesn’t want to eat them. So technically it is a difficult beer to make because you have to deal with one yeast from the start to finish, you can’t mix other yeast with that beer; another yeast would be very happy to eat that residual sugar, that green peas your best friend might pick from your plate, and then [the beer] would be ruined.”

I can see why Olga would rather not brew this beer, but I’m glad she does. Make sure you try some before she finally gets fed up with it.

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