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All hail Bock, the king of Genesee beers

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The annual launch of Genesee Brewery’s Ruby Red Kolsch has become something of a Rochester celebration. When the yellow 12-packs of grapefruit wheat beer show up at the grocery store, they’re a harbinger of warmer weather, even if snow is still on the ground.

The jubilation over Kolsch’s yearly return to shelves is deserved. It’s a perfectly fine beer; refreshing and light enough to throw back a few on a hot summer day.

But the ale doesn’t hold a candle to Spring Bock, the vastly superior Genesee beer. I’m pleased to report that many beer drinkers appear to be finding it again.

Spring Bock has been a seasonal staple of the brewery since 1951, traditionally arriving at stores in January and remaining available through March. Through much of its life, it was known simply as Bock Beer. The green can, adorned with its signature goat, an homage to a 17th-century German mispronunciation of a beer style that translated to “billy goat,” has become a mainstay of Rochester’s coldest months.

While there’s little revelry or social media fervor over Bock to rival that of Kolsch, according to sales figures provided by FIFCO USA, the parent company of Genesee Brewery, Bock’s popularity has surged wildly in recent years. In 2018, the beer sold about 30,000 units. Three years later, it sold more than 100,000, enjoying roughly 58 percent growth per year.

By comparison, Kolsch has grown quicker, averaging a 66-percent growth in sales annually over the same timeframe.



Still, the rediscovery of Bock is deserved. A cold-conditioned lager showcasing robust, roasty German malts made on a mass scale at an American brewery is not common. Genesee not only does it, but does it really well.

Kolsch is an everyman’s beer, widely embraced due to its light, crisp character and fruity overtones. It’s a golden ale even beer-averse people can at least tolerate, even if they’re only drinking it because the White Claws have run out.
But Bock is a beer for beer lovers.

It’s unabashedly malty, laced with notes of toffee, caramel, and coffee, and finishes with just enough herbal bite. If the Rochester region is to get excited about a mass-produced beer from a local brewery, Bock is the one which deserves the accolades.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten wrapped up in the Kolsch hysteria too. In 2018, I wrote about how Genesee planned to ramp up production to meet demand.The next year, I wrote about the beer’s mustachioed Captain logo as an example of smart branding.

I like Kolsch. It’s a good beer. It’s just not Bock.

Genesee should get credit for producing some pretty novel beers on a fairly large scale. For example, last year it launched the Cran Orange Kellerbier as the autumnal counterpart to Ruby Red Kolsch.

But classics are classics for a reason, and Bock carries that banner.

It shows up just in time to fortify its fans against the remaining cold months preceding real spring. As the thaw nears, I do what many folks in Rochester do — pretend there isn’t another winter coming right up around the bend.

But alas, the time for Bock will have to wait. You will be missed, see you next winter.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.